Croydon Saffron Central will feature on BBC Radio 4′s Food Programme this Sunday, 28th January

By - Friday 26th January, 2018

Croydon’s urban saffron farm will be on the airwaves again this weekend

Photo author’s own.

This Sunday Yasmin Khan, who was born in Croydon, presents a very special programme called Britain’s Secret Saffron Story for The Food Programme on the BBC’s Radio 4. I was lucky enough to be interviewed just before Christmas at Broadcasting House and shared all that I knew, as best I could, on Croydon’s connection to the saffron crocus.

It was an amazing opportunity and showed how far we’ve come since 2013, when I auditioned for a slot with Croydon Radio to present a show which would celebrate positive people living, working or originating in this town. They would select music that inspired them, drove their ambitions and reflected where they were at in life at the point of the interview. They kindly gave me a Tuesday morning slot and the show was named Made In Croydon.

I thoroughly enjoyed chatting to all of my guests, but when I had nobody booked in I would browse the internet in the hope of discovering an interesting historical event or fact that had a link to Croydon on the date of each show. This was the origin of my interest in the crocuses of Croydon.

Legend had it that Croydon’s name was thought to mean ‘crocus valley’. It was spring time so I thought that I’d see if any were about and started to photograph them and encourage listeners to share sightings about town. And so ‘Croydon Crocus Watch’ was born – not particularly compelling listening on the radio, but something to talk about, something that belonged to us.

As time passed that year it became apparent that I’d actually been onto the wrong crocuses. The crocus linked to Croydon’s name was the crocus sativus which flowers in the autumn, and this little beauty presents three strands of saffron when it opens up.

I bought eighty corms and potted them up in my back garden at Jellyfish Heights, Waddon-on-Wandle. Twenty-seven bloomed, giving me eighty-one saffron strands! The following spring, their siblings were all out and about and #Croydon #CrocusWatch continued. By 2015 I’d discovered a fantastic digital mapping tool called TiCL which allowed one to take a picture of crocuses and map exactly where they are with the GPS facility. This meant that we could go out and discover the crocuses of Croydon with our phones! In March I wrote this piece for the Citizen, encouraging everyone to join in.

Croydon Saffron Central is a place of inspiration

Photo author’s own.

In the summer of 2015 I had an idea to create a pop up saffron farm on the old Taberner House site to celebrate the heritage of Croydon’s name, and to try to recreate the crocus valley by sharing the plants around Croydon. The response was immense. Councillors, the council, the media and the community backed the project, and Croydon Saffron Central and its success have been well documented for the past two and half years.

I work in central Croydon and sometimes I feel an inner calling to take a stroll into the Queens Gardens. It is a space of inspiration, immersed and surrounded by many layers of heritage, influence and community. Having spent the past five years developing an obsession with crocuses (which has bordered on unhealthy on several occasions), I was absolutely delighted to discover my first crocus of 2018 in bloom on 10th January.

Can we honestly believe that the Romans grew saffron in Croydon around 1,800 years ago? There is no doubt that the Romans and Anglo-Saxons hung out around these parts. There’s a burial site 200 yards to the south. The valleys and rivers of Croydon amalgamate 400 yards to the west of the Queens Gardens and this afternoon I saw hundreds of yellow crocuses in bloom near Roman Way.

There are ninety species of crocus and the way that I see it is that this is the flower of Croydon. The crocus sativus will always be my favourite but as #Croydon #CrocusWatch 2018 has now kicked off with its springtime cousins, please marvel in their beauty, take pictures, use hashtags, share with the community… and I will present a bag of saffron to whoever takes the finest picture (which must, of course, be Made in Croydon).

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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  • Jeannegenius

    A very inspiring story backed up with lots of hard work and dedication. Will try and catch programme on Sunday (or if not on catch up!)

  • Charles Barber

    Have just listened t the delightful radio broadcast – long may the community growing and harvesting of saffron in Croydon continue.