On Wednesday, I went out and bought some peat-free compost and bark chips, and replanted the perennials bed. This isn’t that story.
This story starts a few days earlier, when I was unplanting the perennials bed, taking out the unruly and unproductive occupants so it could be topped up and replanted with things we might eat. This story is about what I found when I turned the soil over, which would have been difficult to photograph – tiny weeny saffron corms. Masses of tiny weeny saffron corms, and no big ones.
When I originally planted up the perennials bed, I included saffron corms that (iirc) I brought with me from the old garden. In the old garden I got a few flowers, and harvested some saffron. Since bringing my corms here, I’ve seen a bit of foliage, and that’s it. I’ve pretty much forgotten where I planted the corms. I should have made a note somewhere, but I think in the rush to plant up the new beds I may have forgotten.
So… it is perhaps not surprising that these saffron corms haven’t come to much, as they were woefully overshadowed by the unruly perennials. I can’t imagine they ever got much light. We’ll have to see whether they fare any better whilst the bed is a bit more sparsely populated (a situation I don’t expect to continue for very long!).
But it did make me wonder. We were all sold the idea that saffron was as easy to grow as onions, with a harvest that would be small, but infinitely more valuable. After all, saffron used to be grown as a crop in this country – that’s why Saffron Waldon is called that. (In fact, there’s still Norfolk Saffron.)
So I asked my the more adventurous GYOers on Twitter whether they’d achieved proper, ongoing success with saffron. These are the replies:
No, they may flower once but that's it. I've tried everything.
— catofstripes (@catofstripes) August 10, 2018
ah – depends what you mean by success. Grown the bulbs – easy and pretty flowers but I fond the stamens always got sodden with rain so in practice I didn't get much saffron to dry off. Could see it could work undercover maybe.
— Liz Dobbs (@Gardenslady) August 10, 2018
I forgot about the saffron bulbs I planted last summer… weeded out some pathetic looking grass this spring… then remembered what it was & stuck it back…. but the bulbs had shrunk so much you could hardly tell they were… no sign of it now…
— Helen (@Helenintgarden) August 10, 2018
Tried a few where they should do well but they never came up the second year.
— Bob Hobden (@BertNodules) August 10, 2018
No. Most continue to survive, and a couple of bulbs flower sporadically. Have an idea for a small raised bed on south-facing slope full of rich but well drained compost.
— Badger Mash (@BadgerMash) August 10, 2018
There have definitely been diminishing returns over the past 3 years. But partly I suspect because we sometimes forget where it is in the summer and plant over it!
— Vicki Cooke (@VixCooke) August 10, 2018
— Michelle Chapman (@Malvernmeet) August 10, 2018
No! The voles eat the bulbs outdoors. The ones in the greenhouse flower, but only if they don't have competition while growing, which is a bit demanding of space
— Wendy Pillar (@jwPillar) August 10, 2018
No – only ever for two or three years at a time. Planted it several times over 20+ years, and always the same story.
— MorningStar Garden (@StarGardening) August 10, 2018
— Barbara Segall (@gardenbarbara) August 10, 2018
I'm not growing it this year, but my experiences have been very similar to the others.
— Rhizowen (@Rhizowen) August 11, 2018
Mine too. It just quietly dwindled away.
— Victoria BC Gardens (@VicBCGardens) August 11, 2018
Really useful round up of replies, thanks. I was wondering the same thing. Last time I tried planting them in the garden they disappeared after a few years. Trying again this year in pots so I can keep track of them & growing conditions better.
— Mazzy (@unfurlingnet) 11 August 2018
I appear to be bucking the trend. Increasing success with saffon here in suburbia. 😀
I am on my 4th season and excited to see what the harvest is this year. I have gone from 1 bed to 2, and am likely to increase that to 3 next year.
— Beryl (@mudandgluts) August 14, 2018
Weeded, well-drained, full winter sun, fed after flowering, am experimenting with growing a shortlived crop on top when they are dormant. Growing advice is to keep separate I thought?
— Beryl (@mudandgluts) August 14, 2018
I suspect that Wendy may have hit the nail on the head with the comment about competition. As a crop in a field environment, kept weeded, saffron may thrive in this country. In a garden, where gardeners are making the best of their space and hoping saffron will crop underneath/behind/in with everything else, perhaps not. In a dedicated space, saffron doesn’t have much to offer gardeners – it’s foliage isn’t striking, and disappears entirely during the summer. The flowers are rather lovely, but rarely produced in profusion, short-lived, and – as Liz says – often battered by the weather as they appear in autumn.
And so the question remains – what’s the secret to success with saffron, and can gardeners get a good crop from this perennial spice? It’s certainly not as simple as we were led to believe.