Here & now

We meet… Mark Diacono

The Green Spaces exhibition at Paddington Central celebrates innovative gardeners. We met the award-winning grower, food writer and photographer behind the images

Mark Diacono is strolling through the orchards of Otter Farm, his sustainable smallholding in East Devon. “It’s a funny place,” he says. “We grow a real mix of things. There’s a vineyard and lots of orchards with walnuts, Szechuan peppers, Asian pears, apples, plums, mulberries (my favourite), almonds and pecans.”

Mark began cultivating this eclectic range of plants more than a decade ago. He thought about the foods he enjoyed eating and set about growing them in the 17 acres of Otter Farm. Now, it is a thriving sustainable community, where visitors come to learn about gardening, cooking and photography.

“It’s quite accidental what happened here,” says Mark. “I kind if made it up as I went along, which I think is best because you end up doing your own thing.”

Portrait of a gardener

Recently, Mark has been photographing green projects around the world, created by people with a similarly personal approach to growing. This collaboration with Lia Leendertz resulted in the book My Cool Allotment.

“It was such a brilliant book to work on,” he says. “There is so much that people are doing in their own spaces – you can see from the pictures how different they all are. Some of them are tucked away in the middle of nowhere; you had to row to get to one of them. It was so heart-warming and life-affirming to see all of the things these people have made.”

Images from the book are on display beneath the Westway in Paddington until the end of April, bringing unique green scenes to a concrete environment. But even in the capital there’s always a spot of nature nearby – around 33% of Greater London is public green space.

“We need those green moments, whether it is in the city or out of the city,” says Mark. “We need them for all kinds of reasons and we shouldn’t be forgetting that. Whether you’re popping to Kew Gardens or your local park, don’t think about what you’ll be doing later. Soak it up. Be there.”

Do it yourself

Most of the people Mark photographed, like him, grow edible produce. Some were even based in cities. Mark encourages Londoners to try it themselves.

“Grow six herbs in pots outside your back door and you can change every single meal you eat, which is a very powerful thing to do,” he says. “It’s not about volume, it’s about making that connection with where our food comes from. Doing very little can bring a very large reward.”

To make the most of small spaces, Mark recommends focusing on plants that produce big flavours, such as chilli and garlic. And, of course, only grow things you enjoy eating.

“Growing and being in a green space reminds you that you’re part of a bigger thing,” says Mark. “That is rather marvellous.”

  • Find out more about Mark and Otter Farm here