Skip to content

Wot? No Olives?

September 20, 2020

By Paul Homewood



Sometimes  it is fun looking back in time, like this story from 2006:



An environmental consultant in Devon has taken advantage of global warming to plant what is believed to be Britain’s first commercial olive grove.

Mark Diacono

Mark Diacono prepared his land to suit the needs of his olives

Mark Diacono has planted 120 of the trees on his 17-acre smallholding on the banks of the Otter, near Honiton, and hopes to harvest his first crop in five to seven years.

He said temperatures had risen so much he believed the climate in southern England would be hot enough for olive cultivation. "The question is, have I done this 10 or 20 years too early?" he said. "I don’t think so."

Olive trees thrive in subtropical zones, such as Morocco, Mediterranean countries, south-western United States and parts of South America. 


We ought to start by explaining that Diacono is no ordinary commercial farmer. He was in fact Head Gardener at Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s River Cottage. (You did not really think Hugh did his own gardening, did you?)

Diacono is really more of an experimental gardener/environmental consultant, which of course is fair enough.

So how did those olive trees turn out?

Unfortunately, according to the Independent, they all died out in the winter of 2009/10. Undaunted however, Diacono planted some more of a different variety that summer.

Sadly, these don’t appear to have fared any better. Rick Stein reported a few years ago that no olive oil was commercially available from Diacono’s Otter Farm.

And Otter Farm have confirmed to me today that the olive trees have now been removed from the farm.

In fact, according to Caradoc Doy, the Devon based horticulturist, olive trees are not new to Britain. The oldest is over 100 years old and fruits in decent summers.

As he explains:

You can expect flowers in the early summer which will develop fruit, but do not expect the fruit to ripen. Even in hot Mediterranean climates the fruit are not harvested until November or later. The summer of 2006 was hot enough for fruit to develop on some of my trees. Sadly, we still need much more sunshine in Britain before a regular harvest makes it anywhere near the kitchen!

Olive trees have apparently been increasing in popularity in Britain, but mainly for decorative purposes. Some varieties are hardier than might have been expected, and can thrive with proper care.

But you can forget about a regular harvest every year.

  1. Thomas Carr permalink
    September 20, 2020 6:48 pm

    A step too far with olives. However there is a banana tree in Norwich.

  2. Pancho Plail permalink
    September 20, 2020 7:04 pm

    I bought an olive 3 years ago, it was bearing fruit of course (that is marketing for you) but not even a shriveled apology of an olive since then. However they are not edible without some pretty unpleasant processing, so I content myself with a pale grey green lollipop in a pot.

  3. Phillip Bratby permalink
    September 20, 2020 7:09 pm

    Didn’t I reference this article a couple of days ago?

    • September 20, 2020 7:35 pm

      I knew somebody had!!! (Sorry)

      • Phillip Bratby permalink
        September 20, 2020 7:46 pm

        That’s OK. Your article on vineyards in Devon triggered my memory of olive groves in Devon. I couldn’t believe the article was written as long ago as 2006. How many people have been conned by global warming over the years? I know the RHS are always going on about the plants and trees we should be planting now to take advantage of the Mediterranean climate we can expect any day now.

      • A C Osborn permalink
        September 20, 2020 8:41 pm

        Phillip, I am an avid Science Fiction reader, many books (and films) had Global Warming as a substantial part of the story.
        So even they were sold a bill of goods.
        Peter F Hamilton and Ian Douglas in particular.

      • Gerry, England permalink
        September 21, 2020 4:59 pm

        The RFS are of the same vein – what to plant to resist our burning hot summers. Fair enough to look at different species that might get a better return but surely what has grown in our forests for hundreds of years gives you a good idea of what works.

    • MrGrimNasty permalink
      September 21, 2020 10:41 am

      Don’t worry Phillip, what’s really annoying is when someone cuts and pastes one of your own replies on one blog as a reply to you on another!

  4. Patsy Lacey permalink
    September 20, 2020 7:51 pm

    We lived in the Undercliff in the south of the Isle of Wight which is reckoned to have a micro climate similar to that of Madeira.
    There was a famous chest hospital for TB patients where beds were pushed out onto balconies to take advantage of the climate.
    We grew a number of olive trees which bore black olives intermittently. My husband used to cure them with salt and our grandchildren ate them all. We also grew bananas which were really invasive but bore a small hand of bananas only once in 20 years.

    • john cooknell permalink
      September 20, 2020 8:08 pm

      Patsy, just a comment on your story of TB patients, with beds pushed outside onto balconies, to enjoy the climate.

      This was not the case, the TB patients were outside because that is the only way the medical and nursing staff could be protected from contracting TB, much like today’s respiratory pandemic, infection rates were much lower in the fresh air. It didn’t do the patients any good at all.

      However, what I am waiting for is to see my first prickly pear in the English countryside.

      • bobn permalink
        September 21, 2020 1:41 am

        During the Spanish Flu epidemic the patients nursed outdoors at the Boston Hospital USA had twice the survival rate of those nursed indoors. Fresh air has a long history of being better for you than stagnant locked-up indoor air.

      • TedL permalink
        September 21, 2020 2:02 am

        Sunshine produces Vitamin D in the skin. Vitamin D regulates the immune system. This article – about a British GP named Hope-Simpson – provides detail (and explains why influenza outbreaks occur in the winter). This post on a blog by Malcolm Kendrick, a Scottish GP, explains how the Sunshine Vitamin determined the spread and virulence of the coronavirus:


      • TedL permalink
        September 21, 2020 2:04 am

        the influenza article:

      • Phoenix44 permalink
        September 21, 2020 8:40 am

        Contracting TB is a matter of proximity, not being in the open air or not. TB is rife in open-air slums and villages for example.

      • Phoenix44 permalink
        September 21, 2020 8:46 am

        Vitamin D probably has little to do with TB. It’s a seasonal disease but with higher incidence in spring and summer. But also Vitamin D deficiency is a symptom of age and other issues rather than a cause itself. Old people find it very hard to absorb Vitamin D both from their diet and from sunlight.

  5. September 20, 2020 8:22 pm

    20:17pm Channel 4 item on extra landslip protection being put into a place in the West Highland land
    .. a reminder of the lowland line accident.
    This would have been recorded before tha.

  6. Tonyb permalink
    September 20, 2020 9:18 pm

    We live in south Devon and have two flourishing olive trees. However we might get a couple of olives every other year or two but no basis at all for an industry

    The comment about tb beds was interesting.

    I had an apartment in a famous ex tb resort in Switzerland. the rooms balconies, lifts and terraces were specifically designed so patients could be pushed in their beds( on wheels) from their room to the great outdoors, it was most certainly done to enjoy the climate .

    As you rightly say infection rates were lower outdoors but a big part of the treatment was to be outdoors. Can’t comment if the same applied in this country

  7. Ben Vorlich permalink
    September 20, 2020 9:39 pm

    I have a couple of ornamental olives here in Limousin, most summers I get one or two fruit which nearly repen.

  8. September 20, 2020 10:31 pm

    Due to Climate Change this year the Lincolnshire banana & pineapple harvest has been fantastic
    … NOT

    • Tonyb permalink
      September 21, 2020 1:43 am

      Stew green

      Of course Devon is much warmer than Lincolnshire which is why we harvest our pineapples and bananas during the winter. During the summer it is much too hot for them.

      • Phillip Bratby permalink
        September 21, 2020 6:10 am

        It is now so hot in Devon that my neighbouring sheep farmer shears his flock twice a year.

      • sixlittlerabbits permalink
        September 21, 2020 6:26 am

        LOLROTF at your witty examples.

      • Eternaloptimist permalink
        September 21, 2020 6:49 am

        In Manchester its getting so hot that geese stop here for the winter

      • roger permalink
        September 21, 2020 3:45 pm

        Would that be the black body ones?

      • roger permalink
        September 21, 2020 3:50 pm

        I wonder. is this the same fellow that planted apricots about the same time?

  9. Leedschris permalink
    September 20, 2020 10:51 pm

    All utter nonsense. Even in France olives are only grown in the SE. Traditionally the town of Valence, south of Lyon, ‘where the Midi begins’ was the northernmost area for olives and here mean maximum temperatures are above 21c from May to late September and mean maxima of 28-29c in July and August. Even our hottest summers fail to get that warm. Even in Italy olives are only grown in the far south. The idea that olives could be grown commercially in the UK is fantasy.

    • Graeme No.3 permalink
      September 20, 2020 11:21 pm

      Who was it, Cato perhaps? Who wrote that from 100BC olive were now being grown near Rome.

  10. Mack permalink
    September 20, 2020 11:17 pm

    Have had olive trees growing healthily in the the Rhins of Galloway for the past 10 years enjoying the last lick of the Gulf Stream. Even so, they’ve never produced an edible fruit and have to go in to a glasshouse with heaters for 6 months of the year to survive. Apart from that they are perfect evidence of the UK enjoying a ‘long predicted’ (albeit little evidenced) Mediterranean climate as foretold by our all knowing Met Office. Zzzzzzz.

  11. Steve (original) permalink
    September 21, 2020 8:56 am

    My Green voting neighbour has bought some new olive trees for her roof terrace after the old ones died. They are exposed to the south westerly gales. She may be hoping that the 1deg C rise shoots up by 4 degrees thanks to the extra ‘carbon’.

    • Chaswarnertoo permalink
      September 21, 2020 1:28 pm

      Proof that you can’t fix stupid.

  12. RICHARD JARMAN permalink
    September 21, 2020 9:06 am

    The occasional spell of hot weather does not mean climate change – it would have been more interesting and for a follow up story to say why the olive grove failed but that would be inconvenient for the narrative

  13. Charles Robert Bradshaw permalink
    September 21, 2020 9:42 am

    The olives sold commercially come from grafted branches. The tree itself grows from seeds dispersed, probably by birds droppings, and produces the small bitter fruits. What the farmers have done over the centuries is identify and graft the commercial variants for sale.
    Grafting of olives is not difficult. I have done it many times in Portugal when the native tree has become established and I have grafted a twig from a known tree. Sometimes I have grafted different strains on the same tree. In my case it has been an interesting activity but commercially it might be necessary to plant the strain in disciplined rows. In UK the trees on sale are unlikely to be grafted and are sold as attractive garden shrubs. It is a disappointment for gardeners that no edible olives are farmed. However this has no bearing on whether the olives can now withstand our winters because the average seasonal temperatures are generally higher than previously. Olives are not greatly affected by frosts, they have frosts in Greece and Spain.
    It does not give proof of anthropogenic global warming.

  14. MrGrimNasty permalink
    September 21, 2020 10:47 am

    What’s more alarming is the nursery trade in Olive trees in the UK full stop, including really old ‘spent’ specimens (pictured in the BBC article), the bio-security risk is off-the-scale with all the disease currently ravaging them. Hopefully current stock is old imports or homegrown, but I wouldn’t be surprised if it isn’t.

  15. Simon Derricutt permalink
    September 21, 2020 12:35 pm

    If you don’t get olives, you can at least make tea from the leaves. See or do a search on Olive Leaf Tea to get some information that may or may not be accurate (health benefits are claimed for lots of stuff). It’s quite expensive to buy, so if you like it (and have Olive trees in the garden) then the lack of actual olives may not be a problem, given that Olives are not that expensive to buy or difficult to find.

Comments are closed.

%d bloggers like this: