The strange life of saffron


It looks dead all summer, and often gets pulled up as a stringy little clump of weed. Just as the Alpine garden, at 1,000 metres, is winding down in mid-October, green leaves appear overnight. Within a couple of weeks, if we have the right magical mix of some rain and plenty of sunshine, the flowers open. At 10:00 on a sunny day I pick them, carry them gently to a wind-free corner of the veranda where I pluck out the fine red threads with rounded tip tweezers and set them on a square of paper towel to dry. Then they head into a well-sealed storage jar which has a remarkably intense smell when you lift off the lid.

And now it’s icy out there, sub-zero temperatures and after one big snow that melted, the ground is bare and plants are left to fight the cold. But hey, check out the saffron, growing and dividing and looking happy enough. In late May I’ll divide and replant and get another tiny, if slightly larger November crop, droughts and early snowstorms aside.

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