I’m Mark Diacono, a writer, cook, gardener, walker and photographer. I live in the south west of England.

I once led the garden team at River Cottage and I created the groundbreaking Otter Farm.

I am very happy to say I’m an Honorary Professor at Liverpool University.

©Cris Barnett


I’ve written over a dozen books, winning Food Book of the Year twice, and Garden Book of the Year twice. My book SOUR was shortlisted for a prestigious James Beard Foundation Award in 2020. I also won Garden Blog of the Year twice.

I write a monthly cookbook column for Delicious Magazine and a monthly gardening column for Country Life magazine.

Late as it may be, I found something I’m good at.

Innovative gardening

In 2004, I created Otter Farm from two blank fields in southwest England. It become a ground-breaking 17 acre smallholding, growing almost certainly the most diverse range of edible plants in the country. Plants such as pecans, Nepalese pepper, Asian pears and Chilean guava growing alongside asparagus, apples and grapevines in orchards and forest gardens.

Although I no longer live at the farm, the nursery continues to encourage people to grow unusual and forgotten food along with the best of the familiar, and I use those principles in my new garden.

River Cottage

I was involved in the early days of River Cottage, leading the garden team, running courses and events, and appearing in the TV series. I wrote three of their best selling Handbooks, including Veg Patch.

Before that

Having woken from a sustained period of idleness, a million gigs and the occasional foray abroad, I took a degree followed by a Masters in Environmental Management, and ran a consultancy advising government agencies and local authorities in sustainably managing the landscape.

What will you find here?

I write about a few things.

  • I’m writing a book live, in weekly instalments

  • I’m doing what I can to explore and help others with writing process

  • There are occasional dives into gardening and recipes that are not connected to the book

  • Whatever else falls into my easily distractible mind

I’ll post 5-6 times a month; sometimes this will be 4, others perhaps 8.

Abundance: A Year of Stories and Recipes from a Gardening Cook

I am writing a book live, here, in weekly instalments. There’s more about it and why I’m writing it here.

Here’s the synopsis.

Written chronologically and presented across a year, I’ll share the abundance of produce and flavours we can call on through the seasons, the wealth of pleasure, the sense of connectivity and rootedness, and the sharing of love that comes with placing seasonal food a little more towards the heart of our lives. 

It will have one foot in the kitchen and one in the garden, with delicious punchlines throughout.

Abundance includes 100+ recipes, spread across the year, each highly adaptable to the changing seasons; what works in January can be tweaked for spring, and so on.  The book will major in seasonal celebrations - asparagus in May, onion soup and celeriac dauph to warm the shortest days, apple and quince cake, blackberry vinegar as summer dips into autumn, and iced cherries for when the sun is hot and high - as well as widely accessible wild harvests such as elderflower, wild garlic, lime flowers - that embellish the best of what the season brings to the gardener and seasonal shopper. 

It’ll give you a window into my garden as it moves towards a new kind of kitchen garden.

I’ll have recipes for you. They’ll be seasonal, making the best of what’s at its peak - grown or bought.

The writing process

This is the place I explore the process of writing. Having written over a dozen books and won a few awards, I am frequently asked how do I approach a publisher, do I need an agent, can you mentor me, is there a standard way to I write a proposal, how does that germ of an idea become a book, and so on. I will share all I know.

I hope you will ask questions; I may run workshops, writing intensives, and more. I imagine there will be snapshots of whatever book I am working on, you might virtually join a photoshoot; you might even make a connection for a book that I hadn’t.

I’m currently running a monthly (ish) series of zoom meetings that subscribers can attend on different aspects of getting a book idea from light bulb moment to hitting the shelves.

I will also talk with publishers, other authors and whoever else I feel can help us feel better equipped to do what we do - write.

From The Garden To The Table

Here is where you’ll find the occasional post, along with expert guides to things you might find useful. Kitchen gardening is generally believing the back of the packet - do that, and you’ll have a good degree of success - but there are some things, such as growing chillis, that years of experience can help you better navigate. I will happily share that experience with you.

I’ll be inviting others from the food and gardening world to talk to us; to share their experiences but also so we might get to know them more as actual humans.

Dead Letter Office

A Dead Letter Office is where all mail that cannot be delivered to the addressee or returned to the sender resides: everything I write that has little connection to kitchen, garden or the writing process will find its home here.

The Round Up

Occasionally, I might post a round up that will include some, all or none of the following:

  • links to everything I’ve written elsewhere

  • events and courses

  • features and posts that have caught my eye

  • what’s good to eat now

  • what’s good to be sowing, planting or harvesting

  • what I’ve enjoyed reading

  • a playlist of what’s soundtracked my month

Why The Imperfect Umbrella?

You may have read some of the award-winning blog I began in 2002, which held much of my non-book writing, and if you have one of my books you’ll know a rice pudding recipe might include a story about my favourite childhood bicycle handlebars, or that time I was chased through the streets of Istanbul for reasons unclear.

I know it is usual to constrain the words here under a narrow umbrella of a title, an idea easily described in a few words, but I know I may write about subjects as seemingly unrelated as mulberries, that I knew - before I was told - that my father was dead, of the time I locked eyes with Eli Wallach, of the best £13 I’ve ever spent, and of waking up on the tube opposite the bandleader of the Buena Vista Social Club as I was on my way to buy their album; hence needing The Imperfect Umbrella under which to shelter it all.

Food, landscape, walking, music, sustainability, the nature of existence and biscuits are all likely to be threads. Experience tells me that I am likely to do the best writing if I allow there to be natural threads rather than place myself under an umbrella I’m constantly looking out from under. I hope you agree.

Why subscribe?

Writing is a beautifully solitary pursuit. I am deeply happy when alone, yet very sociable a little of the time. As much as I enjoy writing in solitude, I love discussing and sharing ideas, and offering my experience to other writers while benefitting from theirs. I’d love this to become a place of conversation as much as reading. One of the things that helps the words fall more easily onto the page is hearing from a bookshop in Seattle, a fermenter in Seoul, a forest gardener in Hobart or a house-husband in Stroud that my book, recipe, Instagram post or interview in some way affected their day: a well as everything else, by subscribing you’ll be showing me there is more of a point in letting one sentence follow another.

I hope to be a welcome distraction in your inbox.

Here is different too: you are not part of an algorithm, there are no ads. This is all about me, you and the words.

When you subscribe, you have free access to most of my words, and you’ll become a really valued part of this writing community. I will also post a regular compendium of what is flowing into my eyes, ears, nose and mouth as it will be affecting what pours out of these fingers, and it may be that some of it brings you pleasure.

Why pay-subscribe?

Firstly, some of the writing here will always be free.

I also make some things available to paying subscribers: mostly that is the book I’m writing live, plus some of what sits under the banner The Writing Process.

The Writing Process (link in the main navigation) forms a mini-umbrella of posts where I can help with the process of writing a book.

I remember very well that feeling of a wall standing between me and where I wanted to be - in the land of published writers - and I’m very dedicated to helping people find their way over, round and through that wall.

I can help you understand what to focus on when writing a draft proposal, getting it to a publisher, the compromises involved, the changes, the creative leaps, how to deal with self doubt and other hesitancies. This will - I hope - be a pleasure, but it’s also professional development, a creative insight into what to do. It is also quite sensitive - people can be very emotionally invested in their ideas and ambitions - so knowing that we have a trusted community where we can interact openly (rather than anyone being able to anonymously scroll) is crucial.

There will be interviews with other writers, publishers and significant others: you may find some or all really help your progress as a writer.

These insights and experiences are rarely shared outside costly courses, so making it available at a low cost to more people hopefully allows me to do it and you to not only benefit from it but also be part of it.

I also want to create something that is sustainable, where my best writing has a home and where I can share the experiences of having written so many books, columns and articles. More support allows for more content, and that will always mean more free content too. So if you can support me, this, please consider doing so.

You can also gift this subscription - if there’s agreement on one thing among Substack readers I’ve spoken to, it’s that a subscription makes an easy, thoughtful present that keeps on giving.

Paying subscribers in mainland UK are also eligible for other benefits:

  • membership of the Otter Farm nursery website, which gives you 25% off plants and seeds. For more about this and to claim your Otter Farm nursery membership, click here.

  • you can buy a signed copy of my book SPICE (RRP £25) for only £3.50 +p&p from my website. Instructions as to how, here.

Lastly, I think it’s important to recognise that paying for enjoyable content should extend beyond print media. I welcome the opportunity for a direct connection between my enjoyment of the writing and the support of writer that Substack provides; I, you, are able to make those words happen, and I like that. I hope you do too.


Thank you for subscribing.

You’ll be a valued part of a community of people who share your interests, who have insights and experiences that might enrich your life. I’m not quite sure where the road ahead leads, but I’m excited.

Let’s see where it takes us.

Subscribe to Mark Diacono's Imperfect Umbrella

Food, from plot to plate: writing a book here live, the writing process, and more, by multi award-winning author and photographer Mark Diacono, of Otter Farm, once of River Cottage


Award winning food and garden writer and photographer, walker, cook, gardener, music, writing about writing.