Ever heard of a "Saint’s Garden"? Not a garden decorated with black and gold fleur-de-lis and dedicated to an NFL team, but rather a type of spiritual garden dedicated to or reminiscent of the spirit of some of the saints of Christian tradition. Like any spiritual garden, a "Saint’s Garden" is an oasis for peace and private contemplation—a place where quiet introspection can occur as well as a great place for prayer and meditation. Let’s learn more about this little-known type of garden, shall we?
Statuary plays an important role in this type of garden as do other objects which would remind us of a certain saint or reflect that saint’s character in the garden. For example, in an area dedicated to St. Cecilia, the patron saint of music, one might honor her or show women of her admired qualities with hanging wind chimes…or maybe with some tall grasses that create a sort of music of their own when the winds blow. As with any spiritual garden, the music of water is a peaceful addition and is soothing to both the gardener and the visitor.
In a Saint’s Garden there is also a need for seclusion and privacy. Therefore, gates and garden walls are an especially important feature. The enclosed garden is itself an image drawn from the Song of Solomon and many say it references one of the most prominent of the garden saints—Mary, the mother of Jesus. It is said to reference her immaculate conception as well as the mystery of the Annunciation. It is easy to imagine many statues dedicated to Mary as well as some of the plants named in her honor (like marigolds—"Mary’s gold") in a Saint’s Garden. Other similar plants include the Madonna lily, Virgin’s bower (Clematis virginianna) and a single rose bush.
Other saints commonly remembered as part of a Saint’s garden include St. Francis of Assisi ("The Saint of Saints") and St. Fiacre (the "Patron Saint of Gardeners"). St. Francis was a man who went from rich to poor of his own free-will, shedding all material possessions to help others in need. He is known for building a brotherhood of men who loved nature and God’s creation. That is why many statues of St. Francis depict him with wild birds. He is said to have preached to hundreds of birds about being thankful for their colorful "clothes." St. Francis is remembered in a Saint’s Garden by a bench nearby a water feature or bird bath, by statues of him and by plants that attract and feed wildlife.
St. Fiacre is also often depicted with birds in statues, but he is best known for creating gardens and for healing. Born in a monastery, St. Fiacre had access to plants and seeds a normal peasant in those days would’ve never even heard of. He grew plants and herbs with healing powers and was therefore able to help many of his fellow men. Many miracles were attributed to him and, after his death in 670 A.D., the place where he was buried became a place of pilgrimage for the sick and afflicted.
St. Fiacre can be remembered in a sacred garden with planting of spiritual/healing herbs like lavender, hyssop, chamomile, echinacea, dill, etc. A peaceful place like this where we can escape the hustle and bustle of modern life is truly a healing garden in the 21st century!
Not only are plants, water, gates and walls important features of a Saint’s Garden, but we also can use other Christian symbols like bells, crosses, water basins, candles and other ecumenical symbolisms. It’s also important to remember, just as in a Zen or Shinto garden, the space devoted to contemplate God and the saints of Christendom can also nurture the gardener by the very word of tending and maintaining it…..if we allow it.
Spiritual gardens are an important feature in helping to solve many of our modern day dilemmas. That’s why the Alabama Cooperative Extension System, Urban Affairs and New Nontraditional Programs division, wants you to know about them and to experience the benefits they bring. That is also why the S.T.A.R. team of Urban Extension is developing demonstration gardens and resource materials to help cities, communities, towns and individuals to develop theses contemplative and introspective gardens. They really do help! Visit our website at www.faithgardens.org for more information.
Jerry A. Chenault is an Urban Extension Agent for the New and Nontraditional Extension Programs.