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The splash of colour provided in the first warm days of spring, or in late autumn when little else is in flower, makes crocuses universally loved by gardeners. The large gaudy flowers of the Dutch hybrid are derived from a European species, but the exquisite smaller, earlier-flowering ‘botanical’ crocuses have their origins in the exposed hill and mountain slopes of Anatolia. Andrew Byfield gives a field guide to both north and south
Crocuses are grassland plants par excellence, and nearly all of Turkey’s thirty-five species are found in meadows and open hillsides. Any grassland plant must ensure that its stem is tall enough to get the best of the sun and pollinating insects, yet short enough to evade the teeth of grazing herbivores. Crocuses achieve this balancing act with enormous panache, flowering when few other plants are in growth. The growing season can remain short, and they do not need wind to disperse the seeds – a tactic of tall-growing, small-seeded plants.
Instead, each seed bears a handle, a sweet and sticky morsel beloved by ants. The ant benefits from an easy meal; and the crocus seed, carried away to the ant’s larder, is effectively sown underground, ready to germinate the following year.
It is illegal to collect crocuses and take them out of Turkey. However, many Turkish crocuses are available in cultivation in Western Europe…Do not assume that all crocuses offered by suppliers are nursery produced. A few unscrupulous dealers still offer wild-collected bulbs to unsuspecting gardeners.
Beyond the towering Black Sea Mountains lies a hidden landscape rich with forgotten medieval churches. For centuries they were ignored, their ancient glories allowed to crumble to dust. Before new roads reached the Coruh Valley, Brian Sewell had to enlist the help of shepherds on his quest to find these forerunners of Romanesque and Gothic architecture.
In the rain forests of Turkey’s Black Sea Mountains, where jackals howl and the River Firtina (the Storm) crashes towards the Black Sea, live the Hemşinli people, who were here when Jason came in search of the Golden Fleece. In more recent years they prospered as bakers and restaurateurs in Tsarist Russia, returning to their beautiful, haunting country houses hidden in the hills east of Trabzon. Patrica Daunt visits one family and shares their memories of a Chekovian rural life.
Also see Cornucopia 34, Land of a Thousand Mansions
For centuries the masters of great dishes have owed their success to the egg. It both combines and flatters.
More cookery features
Outside the seraglio, away from the discreet charm of the bourgeoisie, the Turkish interior is a source of inspiration for modern designers: ergonomic, minimalist, refreshingly white-washed.
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