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Cleopatra’s Crocus

Cleopatra’s Crocus

Irish Independent Weekend Magazine | 14 March 2015

There is something about yellow. Particularly at times of the year, where late frost and snow are making us snuggle deeper into our scarves and coats and feel like this winter will never end. Of all the early Spring bloomers the one that makes me smile the most is the humble yellow Crocus. The golden, rich warm hues of the early Spring flowering bulb are subtle and yet strong in colour and effect. Particularly when they are planted in drifts, they give a scattering of sunshine colour in the garden. No grand statements here, just subtle, papery soft petals that open up into wide saucer shaped dots of gold amongst the green and draw you in to look closer.

The small flower, which belongs to the Iris family, is a perennial bulb with almost stemless flowers. It likes a free draining soil and does best in a sunny spot in the garden. This particular Crocus naturalizes really well, meaning that if you plant them out in a lawn underneath a deciduous tree -they don’t like too much shade- they will eventually spread to become a carpet of colour. Perfect for this time of the year. This variety also gives 4-5 flowers per plant which will give a really lovely display of colour.

For this article I thought I’d plant up a little arrangement in a lovely old soup bowl. The bowl which I picked up on in a vintage shop in Charente Maritime in the South of France has a great wide shape and a pistachio green rim around the base which goes really well with the green of the plant foliage. I teamed up the Crocus plants with some incredibly scented Daffodils with orange yellow centres, giving the arrangement a little height. I used three Crocus from Homeland in Sligo and if you like you can add some moss to cover the soil though I actually quite like the dark base of the patted down, exposed soil. I love the idea of this arrangement on a table top for a lunch or even as a centre piece for Easter.

An interesting fact is that the small deep red strings of spice Saffron we use for making delicious dishes in the kitchen comes from the autumn blooming Crocus sativus plant! If you look closely at the plant you will notice the golden yellow stigmas in the center of the flower. The name of the genus Crocus actually means ‘Saffron’ and the cultivation and harvesting was first documented in Frescoes on the Island of Crete in Greece. Each flower has just three stigmas making this the most expensive spice available.

Apart from being used as a flavour in food Saffron is used to dye textiles and it was once more expensive than gold! My favourite Crocus fact is that Cleopatra used to bathe in the Saffron from the Crocus sativus plant which was said to improve lovemaking. Pure decadence.

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