a french garden


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Saffron harvest 2017

I’ve looked forward to my saffron every October since I brought my six gift corms back from our visit to the Limousin in 2008.  I planted them as an experiment, as I had never seen saffron flowering before, and I was doubtful that I would succeed.

If any one has a similar climate to here, and a fancy to try growing saffron then I can attest to the pleasure of harvesting the short lived crop.  There is no need to start with so few bulbs as I did because the bulbs are not expensive.  Just make sure you are getting Crocus sativus and not the autumn crocus (Colchicum autumnale) which is toxic.

The one constraint is that you must be at home at the beginning of October when they first push through the ground and start flowering.  This year I gathered 78 flowers on the 5 October then 96 the next day, after that the numbers dropped  to the twenties and have just petered out to single flowers in the last few days.

Each day I pick out the three red pistils and put them on a plate to air dry.  I am pleased with my saffron harvest this year.  I cannot weigh it as I do not have a scale that is accurate enough for such a light weight but you can get an idea of how much I gathered from the picture of it on the dinner plate.

On the 15 October I was busy and it was 8 o’clock in the evening before I had time to gather the flowers.

I had just time to stop myself squashing a bumble bee on the first flower that I reached for. The bee did not budge and I carefully picked up all the flowers from the plants around it and I did not disturb it at all.  It remained fast asleep!  It is nice to see that it is not just me that appreciates the saffron flowers.

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I’m just mad about saffron

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?