Gardening

Laidback Gardener Tip of the Day

August 30: the Feast of St. Fiacre

août 30Did you know that gardeners have a patron saint? Saint Fiacre is little known in English-speaking countries, but much more in France, where he was for many years one of the most popular saints. But why is he the patron saint of gardeners? And who is he exactly?

The true story of St. Fiacre (Fiachra in Irish) is a bit nebulous, but most historians believe he was born in Ireland in the 7th century. Raised in a monastery in science and piety, he became an expert in the cultivation of edible and healing plants. Even as a youth his healing abilities were recognized and attracted crowds of worshipers. However, he wanted to live as a hermit, so he left Ireland for France in search of greater solitude.

The Bishop of Meaux, Saint Faro, offered him a plot where he could establish a hermitage and there Fiacre built an oratory dedicated to the Virgin Mary. Although before long new followers began to surround him, Fiacre still lived in a simple bare cell apart from the others, eating little and sharing all that he has with patients who come for his healing. All the while, he personally took care of the gardens where his medicinal plants grew. Hence his reputation as the patron saint of gardeners.

But the growing community soon ran out of space and supplies, so Fiacre went to see the bishop to obtain more land. Saint Faro offered him the “as much land as he might entrench in one day with a furrow”. Fiacre meditated on the subject, then got up and walked, dragging his staff behind him. The  staff miraculously dug a wide and deep trench and even the trees if touched fell as if they were stalks of wheat. Fiacre thus outlined a huge lot, amply large enough to support his entire flock.

However a suspicious woman who witnessed the miracle ran to the bishop to denounce Fiacre as a sorcerer. Poor Fiacre, discouraged, sat on a rock which then molded to his shape, creating a comfortable seat. But the bishop did not believe the woman. Instead he saw Fiacre’s trench as a miracle of God and sent her home. Since that time, you can still find that the trench Fiacre dug in the town of Saint-Fiacre (Seine-et-Marne), France, as well as the rock that was turned into a stone seat.

But Fiacre had lost trust in women and banished them from the precincts of his monastery. Apparently any woman who did enter the monastery was struck by a divine punishment: hemorrhoids. Thus, Saint Fiacre is also the patron saint of hemorrhoid sufferers, from then on called St. Fiacre’s curse. Today even non-believers can enjoy his healing gift, as apparently you just have to sit on the seat of Saint Fiacre to be healed of hemorrhoids.

Saint Fiacre died as he had always wished, in piety, prayer and solitude, surrounded by gardens, on 18 August 670 … or maybe August 11 or 30 or even September 1st! In fact, no one knows the exact date and his feast day is celebrated on different dates in different countries, depending on local customs. August 30 is however his usual feast day in English- and French-speaking countries.

Larry Hodgson is one of Canada’s best-known garden communicators. He has notably been editor-in-chief of HousePlant Magazine, Fleurs, Plantes et Jardins, À Fleur de Pot and Houseplant Forum magazines and is currently the garden correspondent for Le Soleil and radio garden commentator for CKIA-FM Radio. He has written for many garden publications in both the United States and Canada, including Canadian Gardening, Harrowsmith, Horticulture, Fine Gardening and Organic Gardening. He also speaks frequently to horticultural groups throughout Canada and the U.S. His book credits include The Garden Lover’s Guide to Canada, Complete Guide to Houseplants, Making the Most of Shade, Perennials for Every Purpose, Annuals for Every Purpose, and Houseplants for Dummies, as well as nearly 60 other titles in English and French. He is a past president of the Garden Writers Association (now Garden Communicators International) and the winner of the prestigious 2006 Garden Media Promoter Award offered by the Perennial Plant Association. He resides in Quebec City, Quebec, Canada.

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