The Festa degli amici di San Fiacre – party time in the garden

Did you know that there is a patron saint of gardeners?  Of course there is! There’s a patron saint for almost everything!

A few years ago a friend here wanted to celebrate finishing a gardening course she’d undertaken but she wanted the party to become the means for people interested in gardens or nature or growing their own food to come together to share plants and seeds and, this being Italy, share a good lunch too!  She did some research and found that the patron saint of gardeners is San Fiacre and that his feast day is either 30th of August or 1st of September.  To make it easy for people to participate the celebration has taken place on the last Sunday in August.

The end of August is probably the time an Italian garden looks at its very worst so not ideal for people to show off the beauties of their gardens!  The feast has been held in a different garden for the past eight years but the number of people volunteering to host the event has become a problem; no-one wants their garden to be seen when it isn’t looking great.

The wisteria covered terrace is perfect for hosting large parties

The wisteria covered terrace is perfect for hosting large parties

Last year the Botanic Garden of Viterbo was offered as the venue which had plusses and minuses; it lost its individual garden appeal but it had to be held on a different day so opening up the possibility that we could celebrate on various dates of our choosing.  The venue for this year had been decided many months ago but some late problems meant that another garden needed to be found quickly so that we could celebrate with a meal outside and October was going to be too late; so that although I hosted the event in 2009 I offered to host again this year.  There followed a frantic couple of weeks trying to make the garden presentable.

Dessert time!

Dessert time!

About 40 friends were expected; the day was perfect with sunshine and a few high clouds.  Each of the guests brought with them a dish they had prepared (many with produce from their own gardens); gardeners here seem to have a sweet tooth and there were as many desserts as there were savoury dishes!  But of course many had fruit to harvest so fruit based desserts were an obvious choice.

Left foreground, Lucia Arena the instigator of the 'Festa'

Left foreground, Lucia Arena the instigator of the ‘Festa’

So who was St. Fiacre?

St. Fiacre (Fiachra) is not mentioned in the earlier Irish calendars, but it is said that he was born in Ireland, that he sailed over to France in quest of more solitude, in which he might devote himself to God, unknown to the world.  He arrived at Meaux, where Saint Faro, who was the bishop of that city, gave him a solitary dwelling in a forest which was his own patrimony, called Breuil, in the province of Brie.  There is a legend that St. Faro offered him as much land as he could turn up in a day, and that St. Fiacre, instead of driving his furrow with a plough, turned the top of the soil with the point of his staff.  The anchorite cleared the ground of trees and briers, made himself a cell with a garden, built an oratory in honour of the Blessed Virgin, and made a hospice for travellers which developed into the village of Saint-Fiacre in Seine-et-Marne. Many resorted to him for advice, and the poor, for relief.  His charity moved him to attend cheerfully those that came to consult him; and in his hospice he entertained all comers, serving them with his own hands, and sometimes miraculously restored to health those that were sick.  He never allowed any women to enter the enclosure of his hermitage, and Saint Fiacre extended the prohibition even to his chapel; several rather ill-natured legends profess to account for it.

The fame of Saint Fiacre’s miracles of healing continued after his death and crowds visited his shrine for centuries. Many people found relief from their maladies.  Anne of Austria attributed the recovery of Louis XIII at Lyons, where he had been dangerously ill to the meditation of this saint; in thanksgiving for which she made, on foot, a pilgrimage to the shrine in 1641.  She also sent to his shrine, a token in acknowledgement of his intervention in the birth of her son, Louis XIV.  Many miracles were claimed through his working the land and interceding for others.

The children were given the task of choosing the raffle ticket winners

The children were given the task of choosing the raffle ticket winners

The prizes were all plants of course!

I picked masses of the Jerusalem artichoke flowers and some stems of Aster Monch to quickly put together some flowers for all the tables.  On Monday I showed the arrangement in the pewter jug that graced the table on which the food was served.  Here are some images of the other vases.

The little vases waiting to be placed on the tables

The little vases waiting to be placed on the  tables

A slightly larger arrangement for the large table

A slightly larger arrangement for the large table

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My little Campari  bottles were perfect for the flowers

My little Campari bottles were perfect for the flowers

The North East side of the Terrace doesn't feature very often in my posts.  Looking towards the vegetable garden

The North East side of the Terrace doesn’t feature very often in my posts. Looking towards the vegetable garden

At the end of the afternoon someone collected all the small vases onto one table to photograph them together

At the end of the afternoon someone collected all the small vases onto one table to photograph them together

I gave a couple of tours of the garden, explaining my plant choices and the ideas behind my design.  During the early evening as some people began to leave and others chose a warmer place to sit (shade had been sought out by everyone for lunch) I managed the capture some images of how the garden looked on the day.  You may spot a small statue of San Fiacre who was present in the garden for the celebrations.

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As I think we’d all appreciate some help with trench digging or any digging, come to that.  Maybe next year we bloggers could all post on 30th August about some miracle in our own gardens, what do you think?

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61 thoughts on “The Festa degli amici di San Fiacre – party time in the garden

  1. Yes, I think its a wonderful idea! I’m sure everyone was charmed by your garden, it certainly looks as though you all had a wonderful day.
    I first found out about St. Fiacre about 15 years ago on a visit to Ireland. We went to the National stud where all the wonderful race horses are bred, as well as seeing all the fantastic horses living in absolute luxury, there are 3 gardens within the vast grounds. A Japanese garden, one that I have completely forgotten and St Fiacre’s garden. It was originally a small damp valley where nothing would grow, so it was turned into a lake with bog oak rising from the water, the lake was surrounded by silver birch, which they said would have covered the land in the saints time. Three hermit cells were built at the lakeside, based on the hermit cells off the west coast of Ireland, also a waterfall and a bronze sculpture of St Fiacre sitting by the lake holding a seedpod. It was such a peaceful, calming place to be, I must have been impressed because when I came home I painted a picture of it from my photos and it is still hanging in one of the spare bedrooms!
    I think the french word for ” taxi” is” fiacre”, derived from the horse drawn carriages which used to ply between Paris and the hermitage.

    • Yes, that’s right about the taxis Pauline; what a wonderful group of knowledgeable gardeners read my posts; I’m so lucky! You could show you picture Pauline, I’d love to see it.

      • There are hundreds all around Ireland; the water was supposed to have restorative qualities. Many pre-date Christian times. They became centres of devotion & are sometimes accompanied by a rag tree, where people would tie a rag as a wish or a prayer. We are a very superstitious/spiritual people!

        • I love learning about all these myths and customs. It is also interesting that Christianity often continued with ancient customs and included them in the Christian calendar.

        • Thanks Christina. If you have time you may like to read a recent post I wrote on Ireland’s ancient pagan site of Tara; there’s a rag tree in it!

  2. How fun to gather fellow gardeners to celebrate the past and present. Everyone must have been very grateful for your hospitality, especially on such short notice. It certainly looks like a comfortable, congenial event; wish I could have been there. Maybe we should all post AND have a party next year!

  3. Oh Christina, to share lunch with like minded folk and with produce grown and shared is wonderful, sounds a perfect day. Your garden actually does look fabulous and what a great entertaining space you have too. Count me in for the 30th August next year.

  4. Ah! The Campari bottles! They all look lovely, Christina. It sounds like a great idea for a party. I’m sure you all had such fun. The garden’s looking great. I’m sure that didn’t need a miracle, though, despite the time of year!

  5. Sounds like a lovely day. I’m very envious you have so many garden loving friends. Most the people we know live in flats, rent or have gardens which have been taken over by trampolines and swings. 😉 My husband’s piano teacher has a similar get together though which is lovely. It’s designed to give her adult students the chance to play in front of other people. Often there’s a summer barbecue accompanied by piano, violin, saxophone and cello and a winter meal of large stews and puddings with roaring fires and music. Everyone seems so strapped for time that it’s great to get together. I think I’d have to call on gardening blogger friends or fellow British flower growers if I was to replicate your party. Maybe that’s an idea ….

  6. What a fantastic party and well done to you for stepping into the breach! The garden looks lovely and very suitably summery. It is a lovely idea to have annual gatherings to admire and talk gardens. The tables and flowers looked so inviting for an extra special lunch. I am not sure whether St. Fiacre would have approved of all the cakes. Amelia

  7. What a lovely day you all must have had! The garden looks great … as do the flower arrangements! I bet there were some interesting horticultural discussions to be had around those tables !

    • Yes, indeed there were! But mostly discussion about the ‘terrible’ summer we’ve had – it really wasn’t so dreadful, perfect for the garden but most Italians think there has been no summer at all.

  8. What a wonderful event, and how lovely of you to host again. I smiled thinking of you getting the garden ready. There’s garden and garden ready…I recognize the distinction. You pulled it all together beautifully. I had fun poring over all the pictures of your lovely tables, the vases and your gardening guests. Terrific post.

  9. You put together a nice party and the garden for a backdrop looks fantastic. You have also nearly tempted me to plant the Jerusalem artichokes, the flowers may grace the table more effectively than the soup 😉
    Interesting about the taxis, one more thing I never knew!

  10. Well, I’ve learned something new from your post! And a garden party with lots of gardener guests sounds fabulous… if you remind me nearer the time, I’d love to join your blogger’s party next year.

  11. Everyone at a party has a good time when the hostess is warm and casually laid back. You make it sound so easy. Wonderful! As for St. Fiacre … My garden thrives under the watchful eye of a statue of him leaning on his spade as he stands on the edge of my patio looking down upon it. Found it twenty years ago in a nearby nursery and he makes me smile every day.

  12. I love the idea of a garden party, and I love the idea of maybe visiting each other’s gardens too.
    How about this for an idea then. We don’t just have parties on one day, but we have a series of parties over the summer – those of us in more northern climes could have parties earlier in the season than those further south. What would be really cool, but probably impossible to organise was if some sort of beacon/trophy was passed from one garden to the next as the party travelled south! That might be a bit ambitious for next year, but maybe we could think about it for the future if the idea takes off? We could maybe do the party as some sort of fundraising event – maybe support a charity that uses gardens or gardening to heal? Though not sure how people would feel about bringing food and also donating to charity. Lots to think about, but I would definitely like to do something.

    • Yes, I wondered about doing some kind of fund raiser, might be difficult in Italy with the strange complicated tax system, but we could try. The party we have here people bring plants and seeds to share.

  13. What a brilliant way to celebrate such an auspicious feast day with like minded friends Christina. Great to see the next generation of gardeners joining in the fun too.

  14. Wow, splendid idea and what better place than your garden which is really so beautiful all year round! How long have you been living in Italy? I think it’s great that you socialize with locals too as so often ex-pats tend to stay among their own. This is so obvious where we now live. What is the grey carpet-forming plant in the last pic?

    • It’s a thyme, very low growing and the colour is pale sage green rather than grey or silver. We’ve been living in Italy since 2003 and at this house since December 2007. Almost all our friends are Italian; this isn’t really an area of ex-pats unlike Tuscany.

  15. Christina what a stunning party in your garden. I would love to see your garden in person one day. I have the date of 8/30 on my calendar for next year…should we have a host to link up or just all post. Oh and your vases were perfect, stunning and so like mine this week.

    • I haven’t thought about the details yet. It is good if we all link back to one place then we can easily read all the posts and hear about all the parties! I’d be happy to host as it’s just once a year. If you ever come to Italy of course you must come to visit me.

  16. Pingback: In a vase on Monday – Going for it! | Creating my own garden of the Hesperides

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