My saffron arrived from Victoriana Nursery at the weekend - not single bulbs as I'd expected but little clumps in full growth! I planted them in a trough at home so I can keep a close eye on them.
Saffron goes dormant during the summer - so these leaves will die down when everything else is springing up - and flowers in the autumn. The bulbs don't like to be wet when they're dormant so I'll have to remember not to over-water them in summer when I'm drenching everything else. (When these go to sleep, I might also mix some sand in with the soil to improve drainage and top up the depth, but I was in a hurry to just get them in safely!) I expect they'll need some protection from mice too.
Saffron is the world's most expensive spice; worth more than its weight in gold, I'm told, because it's so labour intensive to harvest. It is the stigmas of the crocus sativus flower (some crocuses are poisonous so don't try picking any old crocus stigmas for your kitchen!), and each flower yields just three strands which must be hand-picked on the day the flower opens. I have never actually cooked with it, simply because I could never bring myself to buy it, but having a permanent supply in my garden is definitely something I can go for! Over the years, my ten bulbs will multiply over and over, for bigger and bigger harvests.
The bulbs must be planted by August (and ideally during the summer months, when they're dormant), 4-6 inches apart and 4-6 inches deep, in good soil and a sunny position. Despite being most popular in Mediterranean and Asian cuisines, saffron copes very well with our British climate, as long as the bulbs get a decent amount of heat and dryness in summer (maybe I'll pop them under a plastic cover to keep them dry and increase heat), and some say it actually has a better flavour grown here - mellower and richer. It is said to have significant medicinal properties too, with antioxidant, antidepressant and anticarcinogenic properties, and is said to be a huge mood-improver - I even found a recipe for 'psychoactive saffron hot chocolate'!
Now my only problem is what else to grow in the trough? Is there any good companion plant for bulbs that must be kept dry all summer? Or am I doomed to keep this container empty all summer long?