Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Some Good, Some Bad

The blog has been neglected this past week or so, in part because I took one of my general exams this past Friday - this one went under the heading of "Indo-Muslim History and Culture" - and in the last days leading up to that pretty much every free minute was spent in frantic attempts to cram more and more information into my brain by reading and re-reading stacks of books and articles. However, this is also the time of year when I often feel as though there is nothing positive to report from the garden. The garden outside has largely gone into hibernation, and between being moved inside and the generally low light levels and short days many of the tender plants in containers appear to be deteriorating noticeably. Then there are the little moments of frustration, like this morning when the last flower bud on my young camellias dropped off just before opening, the tips of a few bright pink petals already showing. There had been five buds between the two plants that had been developing well all summer but in the last two months they dried up and dropped off the plants one after another. The plants are still very small and they seem to be healthy otherwise, so perhaps I will have better luck next year. And of course other flowers will begin to bloom eventually in my little indoor garden - Christmas cacti (Schlumbergera cv.), forced narcissi and maybe some hyacinths, freesias...

Then again, even today there were not just dropping buds and yellowing foliage and the beginnings of infestations of whitefly and spidermites but also a bit of a success, as the very first bloom appeared in my little bed of saffron crocuses (Crocus sativus).

Saffron crocus (Crocus sativus)

Also, for lunch we had, among other things, a lovely bowl of mâche (Valerianella locusta) salad, also from the garden. Mâche is perhaps the most German thing I grow, despite the French name I use for it in English. In Germany it is a very popular salad green in the colder part of the year, and we always wish it was more widely available here. Unsurprisingly, given how common and traditional it is in German-speaking countries, it has many names in German: Feldsalat, Ackersalat, Rapunzel (as in the name of the fairy tale, in which a pregnancy craving for these greens forms a part of the plot), Nüsschen, Nüssli...

 A salad of our home-grown mâche; the dressing is yogurt and lemon juice with some salt and pepper

The cultivation of saffron, incidentally, features prominently in all of the historic Persian-language horticultural texts on which I have been working, not surprisingly perhaps considering that even today Iran is the world's largest saffron producer. The Irshād az-zirā’ah, for example, devotes over two pages to this crop in the modern print edition, significantly more than for most other plants. Ānand Rām Mukhliṣ, too, discusses the saffron crocus in his Mir’āt-ul-Iṣṭilāḥ or "Mirror of Terminology" (1745). Here is what he writes, in the original and my attempt at a translation:

ویران شهر: نام جایی است که در آنجا زعفران به هم می رسد. سلیم گفته

از حال خراب من خبر می گوید
رنگم که چو زعفران ویران شهری است

معلوم باد که به هندوستان زعفران همین به شهر کشمیر پیدا می شود و به مملکتهای دیگراز آنجا به تحفگی برند. اگرچه راقم اوراق به کشمیر نرفته ام، لیکن گل زعفران سیر کرده ام. چه ناظم کشمیر در چمنهای چوبی بته های زعفران نشانده، برای نواب صاحب وزیر الممالک اعتماد الدوله (چین بهادر) مرسل داشته بود و بعد رسیدن به شاهجهانآباد به موسم خود گل کرد. رنگ گلش بنفش بود و ریشه های زردی داشت که زعفران عبارت از آن است. آصفی گوید

کبودی رخ زردم ز سنگ اغیار است
تو را خیال که گل کرده زعفرانزار است

گویند چون آصفی وزیرزاده بود، این مطلع گفت، بنا بر نازکی معنی تا سه روز نقاره شادی نواخت

Vīrānshahr [possibly a locality in what is now the far northwest of Iran]: This is the name of a place where saffron is found. Salīm has said,

My color, which is like saffron from Vīrānshahr, 
Tells of my distraught condition.

May it be known that that in India saffron is found in the region of Kashmir and is sent to the other kingdoms from there as a gift. Although the compiler of these pages has not gone to Kashmir, I have seen the saffron flower. For the governor of Kashmir planted saffron clumps in wooden containers and sent them to Navāb Ṣāḥib Vazīr ul-mamālik I'timād ud-daulah (Chain Bahādur) and after arriving in Shāhjahānābād [Delhi] they flowered in their proper season. The color of its flower is violet and it has a yellow stigmas which are what is properly called saffron. Āṣafī says,

The purple bruising of my pale, yellowish face is from the stones of rivals
To you it appears like a saffron field in bloom.

They say that since Āṣafī was the son of a minister, when he recited this opening couplet due to its delicacy of meaning the drums of celebration were beat for three days.

Maybe next fall my saffron crocuses will bloom a bit earlier and there will be enough flowers to clothe the saffron bed in purple in such a way as once allowed that clever poet to make that startling comparison between a blossoming saffron field and a purplish bruise on pallid skin.


Mukhli, Ānand Rām. Mir’āt-ul-Iṣṭilāḥ. Prakashika Series. Delhi: National Mission for Manuscripts, 2013.


  1. We couldn't grow crocuses here. I think it's too hot. Your saffron crocus looks so beautiful, I like the color.

    1. Yes, I think they do like a distinct cold period as part of their annual cycle, and probably also do not like constant humidity, although the saffron crocus seems to be one of the more heat-loving species since it is grown in warmer regions than most of the purely ornamental species commonly are.

  2. Sometimes real life gets in the way but that should be the priority anyway :)

    1. Yes, and at least in the case of my studies it is a largely fun aspect of real life.

  3. I'm sure you passed your exam with flying colors - saffron purple and yellow perhaps?


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