While I was at Hampton Court I met a very nice man called Mark Diacono, who was telling me all about his olive crop.
He doesn’t live in Italy, or in France, or anywhere warmer than rainy old Devon, where he has a 17-acre farm where for the last three years he’s been experimenting with what you can do in a world where the climate is changing. These days, life in Devon is a good few degrees warmer overall than it used to be, allowing Mark to really push the boundaries and grow all sorts of borderline fruit which most of us wouldn’t dare to try outside the greenhouse. As well as his olives, he grows apricots, peaches and pecans, all stuff we’re used to thinking of as exotics here in the UK.
It’s a real vision of the future. If what the government and the Met Office are predicting about the climate comes to pass, apricots and olives will become normal British fare. Mind you, like most trailblazers, Mark isn’t having a straightforward time of it: the last two wet and gloomy summers did their best to bludgeon his olives into submission, and then we had last winter. It turns out, luckily for Mark, that olives are incredibly tough trees and despite losing pretty nearly all their leaves they came back again and have been flourishing in this year’s heatwave. Now, if you didn’t have people like Mark doing what he’s doing you wouldn’t believe olives could survive last winter outside in this country, would you? It makes me think I might try planting mine outside in the garden instead of making it languish in a pot all year round.
The other wonderful thing he’s doing is reviving old near-forgotten English fruits such as medlars, quince and mulberries. If you want to read more about his extraordinary project, visit the Otter Farm website here, and Mark’s blog which is here.