Genius loci

By - Tuesday 24th November, 2015

Andrew Dickinson looks back at Croydon’s summer of saffron

Photo by Saffron Central, used with permission.

A good number of Croydon residents have been fortunate enough to be involved with the incredible, horticultural, community heritage project that is Saffron Central, which has been attracting a lot of interest and enthusiasm.

I visited the site on 8th November to help harvest what may be the last of any great quantity of saffron as temperature and time are probably now against many more of the shoots flowering. Amazingly, however, around ten thousand saffron stigmas have been harvested at the time of this article being written.

Are there now beehives in Croydon producing saffron-flavoured honey?

I’ve been on the saffron farm several times in the latter parts of September and October, during that late spell of good weather, and I was struck each time by the atmosphere and spirit of the place – its genius loci. It is an area of calm and tranquillity that leaves you with a feeling of serenity in amidst the discordant confluence of Barclay Road, Park Lane and the flyover road system – there, amongst this automotive hustle and bustle, lies what might well be the world’s largest urban saffron farm. If you’ve been on site when the crocuses have been at their peak bloom, with the sun shining, then you will have noticed the magical, aromatic aroma of the saffron hanging in the air. The smell of the road fumes doesn’t penetrate the site, so the fragrance of saffron rises and dominates the air, adding to the enchanted atmosphere of the place.

Some of the largest bumble bees that I have ever seen have staggered into flight after gorging on the pollen that this late and unexpected glut of blooms brings. I would have paid good money to see the waggle dance that the first excited bee did on getting back to his hive to explain the directions to the farm – twerking for apiarists! I wonder if somewhere there’s a hive that will produce honey which carries the tantalising flavour of locally-grown saffron.

Hard graft, humour and a bruised thumb helped build what might well be Croydon’s first saffron farm since Roman times

So there you find yourself, in one of London’s largest metropolitan centres, and you are on your knees, tweezers and jar in hand, with bees working alongside you, smiling to yourself whilst extracting and keeping count of the beautiful, golden-red strands of saffron as you harvest them. Saffron is the world’s most expensive spice, and it is growing right here in Croydon!

The intense physical toil that has gone into building the infrastructure of the farm has given it its unique character. Supplied initially by the handful of volunteers who were allowed on site that first day in September, they gave hard graft, humour and a bruised thumb to transform a bare concrete base into what might well be Croydon’s first saffron farm since Roman times. A week later, upwards of a hundred and fifty volunteers gave their time, sweat and spirit to pot up some twenty thousand – yes, twenty thousand – corms and then move the pots into place, filling the gravel-lined beds. Being back on the site brought back the memories of that potting day and the buzz of goodwill and community spirit from all the characters that came and gave a hand. You all left your mark on the site.

So, if you are passing Queen’s Gardens, take a look through the viewing window set into the purple hoardings which mark where Taberner House once stood, so that you too can gain an appreciation of this one-off project. And please spread the word about the power of community that Croydon possesses and what greatness it can achieve.

Andrew Dickinson

Andrew Dickinson

I'm a long term resident of Croydon and I'm lucky to live and work in the borough. As a schoolboy my proudest moments were playing representative football for Croydon where I would fight tooth and nail to win for the borough and contribute towards its sporting reputation. For 18 years I worked up in London and became distanced from the town. Now I've re-engaged with the place over the last 20 years and feel frustrated in finding a way to vent my passion for Croydon (as I'm too old to play football) so I'm always on the lookout for any new initiatives to bring positivity to the place. I live on Bramley Hill with my lovely family and I have an allotment locally. I'm a keen amateur in gardening, environmentalism, permaculture, photography and website design. I'm an oyster mushroom farmer, run a social enterprise called Green Croydon, I'm part of the Croydon Fairtrade steering group, part of the Croydon ReUse Organisation, current chair of Croydon Transition Town and a community gardener; I'm on the borough Food Programme, Parks and Social Enterprise steering groups and a community apple presser. I currently work for the council as an officer creating and promoting community events in the beautiful Wandle Park. I put on the Croydon Environmental Fair each year and the Summer of Love theme and festival was something I dreamed up. I inspired the 'I would make Croydon better by' theme. There's also the Give and Take events in Surrey Street. I started the monthly Arts, Crafts and Vintage market in Exchange Square. Formerly I was a Turf Projects trustee, a Croydon Radio presenter and part of the Old Town business association.Between all this, I write the occasional article for the Citizen. I support local artists and local musicians by enabling the space for them to create I also support local independent journalism.

More Posts - Website - Twitter

  • Jeannegenius

    Lovely article about a very inspiring project