Showing posts from February, 2016


Drifts of crocuses in flower amid clumps of hellebores at RHS Wisley
It seems odd to think that once upon a time, saffron was widely grown as a crop in Britain. Place names such as Saffron Walden and even Croydon (a corruption of Croh Denu, the Old English for “crocus valley”) bear testament to the fact that in the Middle Ages, England was the world’s biggest saffron producer. Today we think of saffron as an exotic - and expensive - spice. Ounce for ounce, it costs more than gold, and although much of the saffron we buy in the supermarket is labelled “Spanish saffron”, it is probably grown in Iran, which now produces just over 90 per cent of the world’s crop. Saffron has to be harvested by hand, and such a labour-intensive process became uneconomic in the UK centuries ago. Each flower has three thread-like stigma, and for every 1lb (450g) of dry saffron you need 50,000–75,000 flowers. We may not produce saffron commercially any more, but you only have to look at parks and gardens at th…