Things are pretty busy on the plot right now but it’s good to have a quiet moment once in a while to reflect, take stock and get a bit of inspiration from a good book. With this in mind, once a month,we’re going to try to review a gardening book that we’ve found particularly inspiring. Think of it as a public service and look out for it on the second Sunday of the month.
Our June offering is ‘A Year at Otter Farm’ by Mark Diacono and has only just been published. I have to say that its arrival on the doormat was greeted with more than a little excitement at my house. ‘A Year at Otter Farm’ charts the first few years of dreaming, planning, growing, rearing and eating on Mark’s Devon smallholding. I read it on a short break to rainy West Wales over Half Term and loved the dreamy mix of anecdote, aspiration and good advice on growing and cooking.
You may know Mark from his time spent at River Cottage, where he wrote three of the River Cottage Handbooks. You may know him from his award winning recipe book or his blog or his climate change smallholding. You may not know him at all. Well. Now you do. Anyone who can show me an edible use for those stalwarts of granny’s gardens everywhere – fuscias – deserves world-wide recognition. (Not included in the book, however.)
Mark’s approach to growing is based on producing tasty food. How refreshingly sensible! He has a whopping 17 acres to play with but even a few pots of unusual herbs and a mulberry bush will make a difference to what you can serve up to your family and friends. I know, because that’s what I started with on a windy North London balcony many years ago. This book will inspire you to experiment in the space you have available. It isn’t the work of a trained horticulturist or chef but that of an experienced,experimental and observational gardener and cook with a knack of communicating just the right balance of inspiration and realism to make you believe that your life will be made that little bit richer by planting salsify, foraging for wild garlic or keeping chickens.
The parallels with our approach to growing aren’t difficult to spot. Use the space you have; grow what you like that’s unusual or difficult to get hold of in the shops; experiment; learn from your mistakes; try to be as sustainable as possible. It’s no wonder I loved this book so much.
Divided up month by month, Mark documents activity on the farm, outlines which crops are at their peak and gives hints and tips for growing them successfully. At the end of each quarter a few delicious sounding recipes are included as a starting point for what you can rustle up in your own kitchen. There are one or two of his famous cocktails and plenty of original ways of using veggies. I may have fallen in love with Jerusalem artichokes again as a result of his Jerusalem Artichoke cake!
If you’re interested in a warts and all account of growing exciting and unusual food successfully despite changing weather patterns then this is the book for you. Engaging, humorous and rooted in reality (see ‘Dear Henry’on page 54) it’s beautifully photographed too – mostly by Mark himself. Some people are sickeningly talented, aren’t they? Sara takes most of the pics for Our Flower Patch. She’s pretty good at it too. (I blame my camera!!)
The only omission in ‘Otter Farm’ is the lack of a cut flower patch to provide beautiful blooms for the table. But we can advise on that. Mark – cut flower patch – do it now. You’ll be able to eat many of the blooms too. Win. Win!
Published in hardback by Bloomsbury and available priced at £18 from here. It’s well worth a read.