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The Comedy of Errors

Why Nottingham Crocus Volunteers Are Aiming to Plant More of These Iconic Flowers Around the City

27 September 21 words: Michael Krawec

Michael Krawec, founder of the Nottingham Crocus Volunteers group, delves into why planting more of these iconic flowers will add a bit of colour around the city and help locals reconnect with their natural heritage…

Nottingham from the Meadows at Crocus Time (1890) by Thomas William Hammond

South of Nottingham city centre lies The Meadows, a housing area home to approximately 10,000 people. But before the houses were built, The Meadows was, well, actual meadows. It was where Nottingham’s cowkeepers pastured their cows, and for the rest of the Nottingham population it was an area of natural beauty that was popular for walks and recreation, as described by Matthew Henry Barker in his 1835 book Walks Round Nottingham:

"There are but few places in the kingdom that can boast of sweeter spots for recreation than Nottingham," he wrote. "How delightful it is, when weary with the bustle and the noise of business, to escape from the narrow streets filled almost to suffocation and to spring over the bridge near the Navigation Inn, bursting at once upon Nature, arrayed in her richest verdure!"

Every spring, thousands upon thousands of lilac Crocus flowers would bloom in the Meadows. The beauty of the Meadows in Spring inspired local poets and painters: for example, Mary Howitt wrote a poem titled The Wild Spring Crocus in Nottingham Meadows, and Thomas William Hammond painted Nottingham from the Meadows at Crocus Time (1890).

Crocus flowers are not native to the UK, but two species are strongly associated with Nottingham – the Spring flowering Crocus vernus and the autumn flowering Crocus nudiflorus. These were brought to Nottingham centuries ago from Southern Europe, and they naturalised and spread, becoming especially abundant in the Meadows, and they became a local symbol for Nottingham and Nottinghamshire. 

Neither Nottingham crocus is as common as it used to be, largely due to development as the city expanded from the mid-nineteenth century. Two hundred years ago, Nottingham had a severe housing crisis with the vast majority of the working population living in deeply unpleasant slums. Building houses on the Meadows was one step towards alleviating this crisis and making conditions better in the town; it was the only real option the town had, and on balance the loss of the Meadows as a beauty spot and recreational area was the lesser evil compared to allowing Nottingham’s unhealthy overcrowding to continue.

It is my hope that the Nottingham Crocus could have a resurgence, especially in the Meadows, where they used to grow in such abundance

Nevertheless, the development was unpopular with many Nottingham residents. Local poet Anne Taylor Gilbert wrote The Last Dying Speech of the Crocuses, lamenting the death of the crocuses: 

‘While o'er its head a coming spring in brick-red trance is seen,

As factory, mill and wharf besoiled our home of meadow green.

One gentle shriek the silence broke, one quiver of despair,

'Our fatherland, farewell!' we cried, 'Farewell, ye meadows fair!'

'Dear children born of yester-spring, —dear children, yet to be—

Ye shall but read of Crocuses, no more alas! to see.'’

As development followed development over the decades, the Nottingham crocuses reduced further in number. Today you can only find small patches of them scattered around the city; they are not as strong a local symbol as they used to be. It is my hope that the Nottingham Crocus could have a resurgence, especially in the Meadows, where they used to grow in such abundance. There are plenty of patches of grassland throughout the Meadows today: between the houses, along Meadows Way, on Queen’s Walk and Recreation Ground, and along the Embankment. Crocus bulbs could be planted in this greenery, to bloom in spring, and naturalise and spread year on year. This would add a bit of colour to the area in late winter and early spring, provide an early nectar source for our struggling pollinators, and give the area a stronger connection with its history.

I got in touch with a bunch of local organisations – Nottingham City Council, Green Meadows, Nottinghamshire Wildlife Trust, to name but a few – to ask if anything was being done about the crocus, and it turns out that the council’s Biodiversity and Greenspace Officer, Charlie Roberts, is putting together a plan to translocate crocus bulbs from existing colonies to new sites around the city, including in the Meadows.

Details are still being finalised, but at time of writing the plan is for a group of volunteers to meet up on 21 September to help dig up the bulbs at donor sites, transport them across the city, and plant them to create new colonies which should grow in size year on year. If you’d like to stay updated, to find out where and when to meet, you can join the Nottingham Crocus Volunteers Facebook group, and together we can begin to restore this iconic Nottingham flower.

Join the Nottingham Crocus Volunteers Facebook group to get involved

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