a french garden

I’m just mad about saffron

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First saffron flower

At last the glacial cold spell is loosing its grip and the thermometer is rising above zero!  However, the crisp, icy weather and blue skies has been replaced with a thick cloud covering.  Somebody nearby is getting snow. I should be grateful – it could have been worse.  Never-the-less I fret for my plants and it will not be for some time before I will be able to count all the damages.  I doubt whether my saffron bulbs will return this autumn.

I had always nurtured a desire to grow saffron.  I use the saffron to colour and aromatise my rice and the idea to actually produce my own home-grown variety was tantalising.  I had never had the time to consecrate to the finer details during my first years battling in the garden, there was just too much to do.

It was when we went on a trip to the Limousin 2008 that I noticed a mention of an exhibition by a saffron producer in a touristic leaflet. I wanted to explore the region and so set of on the hunt for the saffron exhibition.  Very little information had been provided but after a visit to the local Mairie where they kindly photocopied a local map I had a better idea of where it might be. Furnished with improved directions I headed off in search of my saffron producer. After some time and having exhausted all possible leads I stopped to ask the only human I had seen since leaving the Mairie.  He was tending to something in his field and I approached clutching my tourist brochure and asked him if he knew where the saffron exhibition was that was mentioned in the leaflet.  He seemed quite bemused and pointed out to me that it was September.  Tourists only come in July and August.  I apologised but pointed out that here I was and I was indeed a tourist even if it was September, as he had quite correctly noted.  To my surprise I discovered that I was talking to my saffron producer himself and after our initial misunderstanding and realising we were from the Charente-Maritime he kindly invited us to have a private viewing of his exhibition which he kept in his shed next to his house.  It was not an extensive collection but the visit was memorable by its warmth and shared interest.  As we left he selected six bulbs for me to try in my garden.  I was very touched by the gift which increased my determination to try my own saffron plantation.

My bulbs were duly planted on the 5 September 2008 and much to my surprise all produced flowers the following year!

Such a beautiful crop!  Watching the purple flowers push through and snipping off the stigmas as they opened is such suitable occupation for a lady gardener.  Here, I note, I am fantasising not only of being a gardener but being a lady gardener!

My saffron producer advised me to dig the bulbs up each year and store them in a cool, dry place where they would not be frozen.  I forgot, but the following year I was rewarded for my carelessness by an even larger crop of saffron flowers.  I assumed that our mild winters allowed the bulbs to be left in the soil and I liked the idea of the leaves enjoying our warm, sunny autumns to provide plenty of energy for more bulbs and flowers in subsequent seasons.  I, therefore decided to leave the saffron bulbs in the soil all year round.

The saffron crocus (Crocus sativus ) likes warm, free draining alkaline soil and sunshine, perfect for my garden.  However, it takes 500 flowers to produce 3 grams of dried saffron so I am not yet self-sufficient in saffron.  Only the three red stigmas are used but they air dry easily if left inside before being stored in a sealed container.

Part of last year's harvest

I have been looking forward to my autumn saffron as even from my first harvest of 18 stigmas I was able to make a little saffron rice which I presented with pride to my sister who was visiting.  This year I must make a decision.  Should I buy more saffron bulbs in August or leave my saffron plantation to chance?

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Author: afrenchgarden

Born in Scotland I have lived in England, Iran, USA and Greece. The house and land was bought twelve years ago in fulfilment of the dream of living in France that my Francophile husband nurtured. We had spent frequent holidays in France touring the more northerly parts and enjoying the food, scenery, architecture and of course gardens. However, we felt that to retire in France and enjoy a more clement climate than we currently had in Aberdeen we would need to find somewhere south of the river Loire but not too south to make returning to visit the UK onerous. The year 2000 saw us buying our house and setting it up to receive us and the family on holidays. The garden was more a field and we were helped by my son to remove the fencing that had separated the previous owners’ goats, sheep and chickens. We did inherit some lovely old trees and decided to plant more fruit trees that would survive and mature with the minimum of care until we took up permanent residence. The move took place in 2006 and the love hate relation with the “garden” started. There was so much to do in the house that there was little energy left for the hard tasks in the garden. It was very much a slow process and a steep learning curve. Expenditures have been kept to a minimum. The majority of the plants have been cuttings and I try to gather seeds wherever I can. The fruit trees have all been bought but we have tender hearts and cannot resist the little unloved shrub at a discount price and take it as a matter of honour to nurse it back to health. This year I have launched my Blog hoping to reach out to other gardeners in other countries. My aim is to make a garden for people to enjoy, providing shady and sunny spots with plants that enjoy living in this area with its limestone based subsoil and low rainfall in a warm summer. Exchanging ideas and exploring mutual problems will enrich my experience trying to form my French garden.

4 thoughts on “I’m just mad about saffron

  1. Here, in Touraine du Sud, there is a Saffron day held at Preuilly-sur-Claise in February each year. The producers then hold a bulb selling market at the beginning of July. We took some home to Leeds to try and grow some there, but failed dismally… I don’t think they liked the sandy soil!
    The producers here give the same advice about lifting them.
    I suppose, having read this entry on your blog, we ought to try again… but it will have to wait until the potager is finished… only then will we know where to plant them.
    Given the price of saffron, go on… buy more… you know it makes sense.

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    • My soil is sandy and limy. I think they are a lovely thing to try and grow. I do not know whether they will have survived this year’s very low February temperature or not and also the Gaura has covered them partly and it is so dry I can’t move the Gaura yet.
      Saffron Waldon got its name from saffron so it must be possible in the UK too.

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      • Ours is limey.. but not over sandy. It changes little down the valley towards Grand Pressigny. The allotment soil in Leeds was ph Neutral and everyone [ie. the older guys] used to lime their soil for the cabbages.
        We can always try to add sand to the soil where we do decide to put them.
        Saffron Walden is definately on sandy soil – greensand is the subsoil there.
        This dry period is really bad… we’ve lost two of our cucumbers… they’ve just shut down limbs… we had 40 Centigrade here in that last hot spell and I think that they couldn’t cope. They were watered well enough but just couldn’t get it to the tips as quickly as they needed it!

        I came to your blog via Jim’s l’Union Bar site… we are all waiting on tenterhooks here… our French neighbour used to go there regularly with friends for the music and was most upset when it closed.

        If you look at my blog you’ll see where we are.

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  2. Pingback: Saffron harvest 2017 | a french garden

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