Crocus Watch Needs You! Let’s help celebrate the origins of Croydon

By - Thursday 5th March, 2015

Ally McKinlay’s Crocus Watch project has made Croydon the first town in Britain to map spring

Crocuses in the shadow of Taberner House.
Photo author’s own.

A lot can happen in week in Croydon it seems: the whiff of an FA Cup quarter-final for Palace, the whiff of paint aerosols being used to transform St. George’s Walk, and the rise of the mighty crocus.

Many believe that Croydon is named after the beautiful flower and the valley of our lands. Certainly people have been living in Croham for thousands of years and ‘croh’ in Anglo-Saxon means crocus.

There’s enough belief to build a 43-storey skyscraper next door to St Mary’s on Wellesley Road, name it Saffron Square and clad it with panels in shades of pink, lilac and purple that reflect the colours of crocuses. The council has also adopted the latter colour for signs, upholstery and neon lighting.

Croydon once produced the most saffron in the world

A carpet of crocuses.
Photo author’s own.

How many people are aware of the link between the crocus and Croydon town? I’ve recently been told that, for four centuries, Croydon produced the most saffron in the world. A quick search suggests that 90% is now produced in Iran.

Un-phased by the competition, I purchased a hundred and ten bulbs of Crocus sativus (the saffron crocus) in the summer of 2013 and am cultivating saffron in Waddon-on-Wandle. But these little beauties don’t flower until the autumn, so what have we popping up all about town now? Your guess is as good as mine on the exact crocus species, although I’d wager that I’ve seen longiflorus, ligusticus, vernus, and maybe tommasinianus. But whatever they are, they’re popping up all about town, and I believe Croydon citizens should not only appreciate them but help spread the word – and the corms – to help rebuild the Crocus Valley.

If you see a crocus in a public space, take a picture

The 75 to Crocus Valley by Lis Watkins.
Photo by Oast House Archive, used under Creative Commons licence.

My daydream of mapping this was presented to me via Twitter by @ParkHillFriends who suggested using a tech start-up called TiCL. You can view the ‘Crocus Watch’ map here or download the TiCL app for free. Better still, you can get involved right now! If you see a crocus in a public space, take a picture, upload it to the map and, provided you have geo-tagging enabled for your smartphone’s camera, GPS will automatically place your photo in the correct location. A word of warning though: crocus-spotters can be keen and determined folk, so please avoid uploading pictures taken on private land.

Remember how much pleasure the Croydon bus trail gave people? I give you The Great Croydon Crocus Watch! The crocus season is short, so don’t delay. For me this is a time that says the light is returning and winter is on its way out. This should be a springboard for Croydon to remember who we are, celebrate the origins of our place name, and then dive into a great year ahead.

Ally McKinlay

Ally McKinlay

Ally McKinlay was born in Mayday, raised in Sanderstead and has matured in Waddon-on-Wandle for most of the 21st century. His degree in Human Geography with Urban Studies is testimony to his interests in how people interact with place and he has a keen eye on Croydon developments. Ally has worked with young people in Croydon since 2001 promoting sport and recreation, art and creativity with a particular focus on good food and healthy living. In July 2015 he dreamed up Croydon Saffron Central and has not woken up yet...

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  • Andrew Dickinson

    great project Ally and i’m proud to be part of it. power to the crocus!