Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Crocus Focus

Posted by Picasa I've been perusing E.A. Bowles' Handbook of Crocus and Colchicum. I say perusing, as it's too dense to read; I've got his revised edition of 1954, written 30 years after the first edition, filled with a lifetime of knowledge from the man who surely knew more about small bulbs than anyone else. I've got only a few crocuses (like the little blue, un-named charmer above) in our garden, as it's too shady and there is too much competition, but a couple of minor mysteries that I'd run into in growing these little bulbs were cleared up by this book. First of all, from time to time I'd notice the foliage of a crocus laying on the ground all by itself. In his book, Mr. Bowles states that was a common occurence in his garden, and he attributes it to birds pulling out the whole plant by its leaves, eating the bulb, and leaving the foliage... now, he mentions chaffinches as one of the culprits, and I've not noticed any of these little English finches hopping about on the greensward, but he states that sparrows are also guilty, and THESE we've got. In fact, of course, our house sparrow's ancestors were probably pulling up crocus bulbs in England not too long ago. I was also quite interested reading about the saffron crocus, C. sativus. In reality, Bowles states, this is probably not a true species, but rather a garden bulb that was one of the very first cultivated flowers. It may be a selected form of C. orsinii, which grows wild in Italy. In our garden, I've noticed that its pale lilac flowers with their bright orange stigmata appear faithfully, like little ghosts, every October for a few years, then the plants slowly fade away... I had them planted under a creeping sedum, which gave a very pleasing effect. Bowles states that the saffron crocus really needs a bright, sunny spot with no competition, and must be lifted and divided at least every three years, or it will stop blooming, and die. Since mine were lifted like... well, never, I guess that answers that. I must find them a spot of their own.

Where you aware that saffron is the world's most expensive spice by weight? If you can get it to grow you can dry the red/orange stigma to use as a spice. they add WONDERFUL flavor to many dishes. It takes some 100,000-200,000 flowers to produce 1kg of saffron spice, which is why it's so expensive
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