The Joy of Saffron

What could be more of an event than saffron? Punishingly pricey to buy in the shops, it never gets cheap. The vaguely affordable stuff only gets to be so because it’s bottom-end quality but it’s one of the easiest events a gardener can have.

Just because the saffron that appears in the shops is from exotic places like Turkey doesn’t mean to say it can’t be grown very successfully in the UK. Just ask the good burghers of Saffron Walden, a town in Essex that made (one of) its fortunes on the little purple flowers with the golden stamens. I understand Croydon, in south London, gets its name from a corruption of the town’s former chief product: Crocus.

Saffron Walden Church is HUGE – far too big for the size of its medieval congregation. But they could afford it thanks to a certain little purple flower

So why is it so darned expensive? Two simple reasons: space and time.

You need to set aside a space for the bulbs, and leave them in there. To get anything like a decent crop you need a decent-sized space and for 80% of the year it just looks like there’s nothing in there.

It takes years for a saffron crocus corm to get big enough to flower. This is easily circumnavigated by just buying bigger bulbs but you have to pay proper money for them. Don’t be tempted, like me, by ads in the back pages of gardening mags who send tiny bulblets that will see you collect a pension before you get a single strand of saffron.

When it does flower in the last week or so of October/first week of November, it involves a chilly trudge up to the allotment every morning before the new blooms have a chance to open. They’re also quite a delicacy for slugs and snails, and although they don’t tend to touch the stamens, yuck...

But here’s the good news. You get a nicely fertile soil, bung in the corms and, er that’s it. The only real work is harvesting – and that’s an Event, so it doesn’t count.

In the next post I’ll explain how to do it.

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