The Rose of Saffron

The Rose of Saffron: The World’s Most Expensive Spice

by Sharee Solow

Some spices cut like a knife, but sultry saffron envelopes classic ingredients with an alluring color and scent that can be difficult to describe. Use a blindfold on your keenest gourmand and see if they can identify the taste and aroma of this ancient culinary additive! To this day, the Castilla La Mancha region of Spain, with a unique combination of soil and climate, celebrates a thriving tradition of cultivating the “rose of saffron.” With a little background information, you can savor and grow this revered spice of legendary heroes and gods. Easier to grow than vegetables, anyone with a sunny window or garden spot can have enough of this ancient luxury for cooking those golden fall dishes or perfuming a cup of tea. Sometimes called “red gold,” it shouldn’t be confused with often suggested substitutes like paprika or turmeric, there is no substitute for the real thing.

To see the entire magazine article in the most recent issue of Mediterranean Gardening and Outdoor Living, click the .pdf in my website under the tab “In the News”. Don’t worry, all four pages are in English.

“Paprika – The Red Gold of Kalocsa”

My latest magazine article in Mediterranean Gardening & Outdoor Living

Being half Hungarian, Paprika is a spice I use more often than most other people I know. But what is in those tins and where does it come from? The search turned out to be a fascinating mix of culinary, botanic, and cultural history so let me give you a little taste (pun intended) of what I found out! Although I’ve eaten my share of stuffed peppers, the dish I cook most often, that most speaks to me as a symbol of paprika fare, is Chicken Paprikash. I’m in good company because this happened to be the favorite dish of the lovely Queen Elizabeth of Hungary and Empress of Austria (wife of Franz Josef I) whose photo is below. Earlier, it was added to the menu for the House of Lords in 1844, which established it as the spice that is iconic to Hungarian cuisine today. Decades later, in 1879, Escoffier himself took paprika from Szeged to Monte Carlo for introducing the French to Guylas Hongrois and Pouletau Paprika (Hungarian Goulash, Chicken Paprikash).

Queen Elizabeth Hungary_photo_1867

That is just a glimpse but you can read the entire article from the October 2014 issue of Mediterranean Gardening & Outdoor Living by going to the tab “In the News” in my website.


The spring season was packed with designs, plantings, weeds, and a few bugs so it’s time to take a trip. I have been negligent about posting to my new blog (I know I join a legion of others on that score) so I will be compensating with a deluge of photos from a little trip. A rather long trip, in fact, touring dozens of gardens from the top to the bottom of France.

Tomorrow I fly to Paris with my horticultural travel companion extraordinaire, Charles Cresson, for an intensive schedule of Metro stops to visit the 3 V’s: Vaux le Vicomte, Versailles, and Villandry. We will also be heading south to Toulouse for a few days which will be new terrain for us both. In the middle of all this, we join the Scott Arboretum tour group to head northwest of Paris into the Loire Valley, Normandy and Brittany with plenty of private garden stops along the way. We will be looking for historic roses, Japanese-style gardens, potager gardens, gardening techniques, new cultivars, and extreme design. Since I took about 5,000 photos in my 3 weeks in Japan, this should require at least that many!

Then there is the wine and cheese, de rigueur for traveling in France. And, if a few escargot float by in garlic and butter I may have to eat those too.

Astilbe Angst Averted

Astilbe Angst Averted
The Master Gardeners who host the Springfest Flower and Garden Show in New Jersey have a lovely program with short garden articles. I was so pleased to find mine included.


Sharing Memories

Sharing Memories article003

The Master Gardeners who host the Springfest Flower and Garden Show in New Jersey have a lovely program with short garden articles. I was so pleased to find mine included.



They can look so exotic and foreign that I think many shoppers might think they would be impossible to have in the garden. Although they do have some specific growing requirements (consistent moisture, sun) these cool plants aren’t so different from other plants, except, they eat bugs!! I have them at my front door where everyone walking by asks about the strange spring flowers and the bracts continue to look good after the petals fall. By then, the leaves are pushing up with a crazy diversity of colors and forms. They come tall, short, red, yellow, white, fat, skinny and each phase of growth is equally fabulous. A funny thing happened when I first put the plants in the ground. As soon as the empty pots were cleared away a bee flew right down one of the tube-shaped leaves. I happened to have my camera to catch it for my DIY talk on what else: building a raised bog planter at your front door! Since Saracennias never get fertilizer and rain fills the reservoir under the soil line, I consider it a very low maintenance planter. It’s quite pleasant to occasionally sit  on the stone edge and clean it of fallen leaves or spent flowers. The plants look cool and the flowers are unbelievable. What more could you want?

Need Something New? How about a Variegated Hydrangea?

Hydrangea ‘Lemon Wave’



Hydrangea macrophylla ‘Lemon Wave’

When you have a chartreuse garden, you tend to look for matching plants. This broken stick in a pot was in the year-end discount area of a nursery with a tag showing a yellow variegated hydrangea so I thought, perfect! My friends said that it wouldn’t bloom and would revert. Neither of those things has happened, in fact, it has been fully fabulously variegated with bright yellow to cream splashes every year and sets pale lilac trusses of flowers.