Book Review A Taste of the Unexpected How to grow your own remarkable fruit, vegetables, nuts, herbs, spices and flowers
by Marc Diacono
Hdbck 192pp Quadrille publishing 2011
Marc Diacono runs Otter Farm in Devon, “the UK’s only climate change farm where we’ve planting olives, peaches, pecans, persimmons, apricots, szechuan pepper, vines and much more.” He is also leads the Garden Team at Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s River Cottage. He has worked closely with forest garden guruMartin Crawford whose influence in some of the choice of plants described here is evident, and the two appeared together on a recent R4 Food programme.
The notion of a climate change farm is an interesting one: facing the prospect of a warming climate Marc has started growing crops like those listed above that would have been considered marginal for Britain until recently. “The idea is beautifully sustainable” explains Marc- “if we can take advantage of climate change to grow food usually sourced from overseas we will be producing low carbon food for a domestic market – helping arrest the acceleration of climate change. As a result Otter Farm has become known as the ‘Climate Change Farm’.”
In this video clip from Jan 2009 Marc can be heard saying how mild the winters have become and how the grass doesn’t stop growing- this is quite surprising since it was in the middle of the first of the past two really cold winters we have had in Ireland at any rate, and I am wondering if he still thinks the winters are likely to be that mild, and whether he has lost some more tender stuff recently. For example, I lost many of my small Myrtus Ugni during the past two winters- and in this book, Marc does advise “if you live in a colder region, I’d be tempted to keep your plants undercover, at least through the colder months.” I live in a milder part of Ireland, and this is a plant that should be hardy to -10degrees C, so this does perhaps give an indication of the difficulties of adapting in terms of the plants we might grow to a climate that is unlikely to change in a linear fashion.
That being said, this is a sumptuously illustrated book full of good ideas and lots of sensible practical advice on both growing, preparing and cooking some really interesting food crops not found in the average allotment.
Marc’s philosophy is very simple and makes a lot of sense: why grow the same old standard staple veg like potatoes and cabbage, which can easily be bought cheaply (good old intensive industrial agriculture) when you could fill your garden with exquisitely delicious food crops like mulberries, Szechuan pepper, apricots and yacon?
he also advises to choose “easy winners” and going for perennials and plants that don’t need too much attention.
There is a great chapter on nut trees, in which he recommends perhaps surprisingly, in addition to chestnuts and walnuts- if you have space for them- also pecans which apparently he is having success with.
Under soft fruit he includes blue honeysuckle, autumn olive -Eleagnis umbellata- and fuchsia (ever tasted a fuchsia berry?).
Many of the plants he includes I am familiar with and am growing myself; one that was quite new to me is the perennial vegetable Kai lan, apparently a cross between kale, asparagus and broccoli, which sounds fantastic and definitely one I will try for next year.
All in all a lovely book, the perfect present etc., an essential addition to the forest gardening bookshelf and a great companion to Martin Crawford’s Creating a Forest Garden.