Now that I have created a garden, however much of a joke, it is inevitable that I am regularly tempted to put more plants in. My friend Jill, who has a beautiful little garden tucked away behind her house in Preuilly, gave me some irises. They are very tough and will be easy to move once we want to make the real garden, so they have gone in.
And on the first Saturday in July, M. Mériguet was in the market place, with his excess stock of saffron bulbs. He is largely responsible for the revival of saffron growing around Preuilly and the revival of the Saffron Fair. For the past few years, the third Saturday in February has been the date of the fair, when one can buy the dried orange stigmas for cooking and dyeing, followed six months later with a bulb sale on the first Saturday in July.
Saffron was once an important crop in several areas of France and an important source of tax revenue for the King. It was principally used as a dye stuff, but some was always destined for the pharmacopia or the kitchen. But by 1930, a series of hard winters, the cost of harvesting and processing by hand (it cannot be harvested mechanically), the exodus of the rural population to the cities, and the discovery of synthetic chemical dyes had finally killed off the industry.
M. Mériguet assures me saffron is very easy to grow and suited to the local soil and conditions. I bought 22 large healthy looking bulbs for €10 and planted them immediately (using the crowbar to lever a shallow hole for each bulb). M. Mériguet says they will flower in October, and multiply quickly.