Within weeks of beginning my job as gardener at the Stoke factory, I realised that the large space that is the main factory courtyard was crying out for colour and a sense of life. The small walled courtyard garden is too much of a secret at times – being at the back of the gift shop, it’s not in the best place to ensure the maximum number of visitors to it. For this reason I saw the main factory courtyard, the entrance for many of our visitors and staff, as the prime place to start a whole new area of the factory garden!
I had just arrived back from spending the week with Sarah Raven at Perch Hill in September when the first of the courtyard concrete was triumphantly being lifted in preparation for the new raised rose bed. At the time of writing, the bed has now finally been fully planted, after being filled with 11 tons of soil! Already it looks as if it’s been there for almost ever, with its sleek black sleepers containing the sleeping beauty within as it sits alongside the café wall.
I wanted us to have a rose bed due to both my love of roses and them being the subject of one our most favourite and popular patterns, Rose & Bee. We get though tons of cut flowers here at the factory – just a single rose bloom takes the beauty of a bunch of cut flowers up to a whole new dimension. A lot of the newly planted roses and other plants are high in pollen and nectar too, so the new bed will attract lots of vital and fabulous pollinating insects – including, of course, bees! This means that you'll be able to actually see a real life rose and bee relationship occurring, which is part of what my job is all about – connecting our pottery with the flowers and chickens that inspire its concept.
Nothing beats the scent and style of a freshly cut rose of English garden origin – they have an incomparable individuality, being totally different creatures to the shipped in, greenhouse grown roses that you buy at the supermarket.
In Sarah’s rose garden she has trailed many roses for scent, cut flower production and resistance to disease. We no longer have the sulphur-packed air which garden roses flourished in 50 or so years ago; this means that plant diseases like black spot can be a real ailment to some varieties of old roses. For this reason I’ve planted lots of varieties of modern David Austin roses, which have all the beauty of the old roses but with more modern vigour and a longer flowering season.
Sarah has combined the roses in her garden with other beautiful flowering perennials to ensure a long season of colour and added interest. This is the style that I’ve taken inspiration from. Around the roses I’ve planted the blowsy and deep berry sorbet Oriental poppy ‘Patty’s Plum’, Penstemon which will flower into October, red fennel for frizzy clouds of smoky foliage and the pollinator mecca that is the plume thistle Cirsium rivulare ‘Atropurpureum’.
Hundreds of ‘Gentle Giant’ tulips will begin the season before the perennials and roses get going. The ones I’ve planted are a new Darwin hybrid type of tulip, and they should bloom in a huge range of pink to deep scarlet almost orange-punch-like colours. Once these have faded, alliums will pick up the colour baton with their purple, sparkler like flowers.
Some of our new roses to be found in our rose bed:
- - ‘Tuscany Superb’ – this was once grown a lot at Sissinghurst castle in Kent by Vita Sack-Ville West, as was the similar ‘Tuscany’. These both flower with large open centres, so are fabulous for visiting bumble bees too.
- - ‘Burgundy Ice’ – A newly-bred, deep purple, tea-styled rose which has been bred with the cut flower element in mind. I’ve also planted the recently bred ‘Darcy Bussell’.
- - ‘Charles de Mills’ – A rose with great arching stems and lavish, highly scented flowers of tight petals, and one of good disease resistance. A recorded favourite of Monty Don’s!
Roses can be set now as bare root plants. At this time of year, rose suppliers have the best range of varieties to choose from. Roses are hungry plants which do best in full sun with a very rich, moist soil. They will arrive as they are described, plants with no soil! Due to this, soak them in a bucket of water over night so that they can rehydrate before you plant them. Matthews’s new Old Rose mug is one piece from our new spring range that I totally adore, and it’s helping me remain patient before the garden begins to properly awake.
Our bare root rose plants were supplied by SarahRaven.com and Britishroses.co.uk
Thanks for reading,
12th January 2016
People are often surprised to be told that the allium is, in fact, an onion! The game is easily given away, however, if you accidently dig a bulb up from damp earth or slice one in half with a spade – easily done, you’ll soon smell a strong odour more familiar to the frying pan than the flower border. While the tulip gets all the major attention in the autumn bulb catalogues and garden centre displays, the allium proves its worth in several ways, most notably in its perennial habit and its flowering time, filling the lull of the dreaded May time gap. Alliums are also a favourite bloom of the bumble bee.
The alliums begin to bloom most years with the late flowering tulips such as the silky, princess ball- gown-like ‘Blue Parrot’. If your garden is to be filled with tulips, then it’s a good idea to place 1 allium bulb for every 5 tulip bulbs when planting them in the autumn, so that you don’t just have a seemingly decaying mass of gone over tulips – an especially important factor to give consideration to when planting a small garden.
To do well, alliums require a soil of good drainage like most bulbs, and they do like sun too. If your soil is heavy with a large amount of clay, add handfuls of sharp grit mixed with spent compost to their planting hole so that they don’t become soggy and rot during the winter.
The strappy, smooth, leaves of alliums will appear early in the year. They become a bit shabby by the time the flowering stems have risen up from their centres but at this stage you can cut the leaves off without harming next year’s display. Given the mentioned conditions, alliums will last in the garden for decades, with the display getting better each year, while the blowsiest and most luscious of tulips will do well to come back with a decent flower in their third season. You can cut alliums for the vase inside, but their water must have a teaspoon of bleach added to prevent the stems sap fowling the water within hours.
I am very thankful for the alliums at the factory this spring, having picked up the flower baton as soon as the tulips began to shed their petals. The variety we have the most of is the old favourite ‘Purple Sensation’.
The days are getting warmer but the nights are still quite nippy here, so the summer bedding has yet to begin its journey down from the factory’s rooftop greenhouses to the courtyard beds and planters. Hopefully next week, planting can commence with earnest – although the wallflowers look far too good currently to be dug up!
The crested ducklings are eating non- stop and growing at full pelt. They are being allowed total liberty of the garden, as ducks are not as destructive to the plants as the bantam hens. Each day, they get to swim in a beautiful, old tin bath that I have brought here from my mother’s garden in Nottingham. They have yet to be given any names as I am yet to know for sure if they are ducks or drakes!
With best wishes,
24th May 2016
A packet of sweet pea seeds in a nice greeting card makes a great Christmas present. The main reason being is because that these seeds can then be sown by the recipient on Boxing Day! Sweet peas are vibrant and full of scent. A bunch of them is a beautiful thing to behold to the senses, but they are one of the most demanding cut flowers to grow – so if you’re going to try growing them, it’s good to know the easiest ways of how to get the very best from them.
I've just sown next year’s sweet peas for the factory garden in the greenhouse here. Three seeds go into a deep rather than square pot – the sort that you buy rose plants in that holds two litres of soil. This is because sweet peas like a long root run from the start of their germination. Traditionally, sweet peas are sown into cardboard tubes. The cardboard however, once wet, often becomes mouldy and rots away within a few weeks so I find that plastic works better. Each seed goes into the pot at about an inch deep, to the first knuckle on your finger.
You can also use root trainers that copy the idea of a bunch of cardboard tubes. Whatever you choose, it’s good to sow these hardy, climbing annuals now, ideally before March so that they can form strong root structures.
If you don't have a greenhouse, plant the seeds on a cool windowsill. I don’t soak the seeds in water beforehand. Without being soaked overnight (which does speed up germination) they will normally take a good two weeks to germinate. If you have a greenhouse, then it’s vital to make sure that it is free from mice, as they will treat the seeds like their Christmas Ferrero Rochers!
Once the seedlings are an inch tall, move them to somewhere sheltered, frost free but cold and light, such as a porch or a slug-proof glass garden cloche. With all seeds, and especially sweet peas, you want bulky, chubby little plants not long, thin whips.
When the little seedlings have four pairs of leaves each, pinch their tips out. This well-known treatment will encourage the plants to form side shoots, resulting in more flowers.
A mature root system will help the young seedlings to get going with gusto when they are planted out in the garden. This happens normally here in late April. Strong sweet peas are less likely to succumb to mildew. They will happily climb up twiggy silver birch and hazel stems; otherwise, you can use canes wrapped strung through tightly with brown twine.
They are hungry plants, so feed them from the outset of planting them in their final positions with well-rotted chicken manure, dug well into the soil before planting them out. If you don't have this, then organic chicken manure pellets are a good alternative. Once they are flowering, you must pick them and continue to do so as much as you can. The tendrils are best removed weekly as blooming starts. This is a long job, but if left, the tendrils will take a lot of the plants’ energy and will trap emerging flowers. Regular watering in the summer is also vital.
Winter sown sweet peas will out do spring sown plants by miles. Once you’ve sown them in the winter and seen or rather picked the difference, you’ll never sow them in the spring again!
The sweet pea tunnel in the garden this year was a huge success and was well worth all the above mentioned efforts. I'm repeating it next year but using other climbing annuals more, such as black eyed Susan's to ensure that the tunnel looks colourful deep into late summer. When the sweet peas eventually go to seed and become brown, these later flowering annual climbers, will keep the vertical display looking vibrant into October.
Arthur's favourite sweet peas all have a good stem length and a good, strong scent - 'Lord Nelson' 'Barry Dare' 'Almost Black' - available from sarahraven.com.
Chickens will always be my first love. They are, in fact, what made me begin to notice plants as a child: having let the chickens out of the back garden one afternoon, my mother was very upset at the sight of her leafless wallflowers, half of which had been flung onto the lawn by my cuckoo Marans. Very good layers they were, but garden conscious they were not.
These hearty girls (known as layers, or dual purpose breeds to us poultry fanciers) are best never to be allowed out from behind the chicken wire when it comes to a garden, but some breeds of fowl make very good garden hens if eggs are not your main concern.
I now would never wish to be in a garden that does not have hens within it. They bring comical movement, and their company is very much underrated. Her Grace Deborah Devonshire introduced poultry to the gardens at Chatsworth in Derbyshire long before it became a fashionable pursuit; she selected big fluffy pyjama-plumed buff cochins who would plod about the kitchen garden.
Four chickens have spent the summer with me in Stoke – they were relocated from Matthew’s poultry pens in Bampton, and will return there in the next few weeks as the garden is cleared for winter. I selected them with the garden in mind, as I like to let them out every day for a good few hours. Quite often that turns into an all day affair, so I needed birds that would not go on the rampage as soon as my back was turned.
I have 2 Wyandotte bantam hens, a supposedly lavender Araucana of interesting bloodline (she lays pink rather than the intended blue eggs) and in charge of them has been a sweet-natured cockerel, a chamois Poland bantam named Damian. Damian's crest means he is more docile in nature and not able to peck about with much vigour, but Polands need to be checked very often for mites due to their profusion of feathers.
Every month I have also been hatching chicks, and I've had incubators sat on a shelf in the shop stock room quietly incubating various eggs. I enjoy ordering eggs from eBay where poultry breeders put up for sale great clutches of temptation, from golden pheasants to Jubilee Orpingtons!
The eggs arrive in polystyrene egg boxes. Once they have rested for a day after being jingled around in the post I place them in the incubator, which turns them several times each day and keeps them at a precise temperature. Three days before the eggs are due to hatch, I add water to the incubator – this increases the humidity around the eggs and softens the egg membrane so that the chicks can easily hatch. The chicks go into their brooder once they have fluffed up after a few hours.
It's been a delight to see the excited faces of both children and adults alike upon realising their presence in the decorating studio. The chicks grow quickly, and on warm days I take them out into the garden to discover the great outdoors. At about four weeks old they go back with Matthew to the farm in Oxford, in a box on the back seat. My favourite chicks to have hatched this year have been the silver laced Wyandotte bantams, which were particularly cute and chubby as chicks and are maturing into beautiful youngsters with striking black and white plumage.
I already have an exciting list of breeds that I want to hatch next year, so bring on spring 2016!
With best wishes,
13th October 2015
I love containers within a garden. For the factory garden, the trick was finding something that matched the factory’s industry look. My mum always grew plants in dolly tubs but these vintage old dears now command a high price. In a corner of the factory garden when I arrived were two dustbins full of rotten corn. I emptied and washed them, then stood back and admired them – suddenly there was something solid amongst the vastness of the gravel. I realised that these would be the containers for the garden here, and they are now one of its most asked-about aspects. This blog is about how I plant them up seasonally.
The bins arrive shiny and fresh looking but within a year, they weather up nicely. Before filling each bin, I turn them upside down and then drill several holes into the base. The holes are essential, so that water doesn’t sit in the bin’s base. Soggy water leads to the rotting of bulbs over the winter. I fill the base of the bins with a deep layer (about 15 inches) of crocks to further aid the drainage of water. Broken bowls are in no short supply here but broken terracotta, roof tiles, gravel and even polystyrene all make good materials to use as drainage, in containers.
After the crocks, in goes the compost, by the bagful. The bins eat compost up and each takes a full 70 litre bag of multipurpose, then another few extra spadefuls. If I have it, I’ll mix well-rotted manure into the compost too as I’m filling the bins, so that the compost has an immediate, extra additive of nutrients. The plantswoman Carol Klein once said a very good thing that every gardener should give thought to: “I never feed my plants, I feed my soil”. This will show in the growth of your plants – feed the soil and you’re feeding the foliage and flowers, so try to add muck and mulches during the whole year when planting things both in pots and the open ground.
Right now the dahlias and cosmos within the bins are reaching their peak. Both of these plants, one being a half hardy perennial (dahlia), and the other being a half hardy annual (cosmos), like to be allowed to grow a large root ball and be fed often throughout the growing season to maximise their flowering. The growth size of the plants gives the needed scale from these containers – I don’t tend to like dinky, small plants, but lush towering scale.
I feed the dahlias every 2 weeks with a mushed up soup of smelly organic chicken manure pellets. These are solid when you buy them in pelleted form, but I soak them and then once they have turned to a soup, I’ll add more water to the bucket and pour the brown liquid full of goodness into the watering can to then water the dahlias with. In November, when the frosts blacken the dahlia foliage, I’ll lift all the tubers and over winter in the greenhouse in crates of dry compost to reawaken in March. Each bin will then be planted with about 30 tulip bulbs, which are over planted with wallflowers. Once the tulips have finished flowering, the bulbs are lifted with their foliage intact and dried off – some of which will be replanted, if they are still chunky enough – while the bins are replanted for summer with dahlias and other summer annuals. Each time the bins are replanted, I add manure and blood and bone feed to the soil, which in turn feeds the plants and the resulting flora display.
The dahlias in the bins this summer are a lovely bee-friendly, anemone type dahlia called ‘Totally Tangerine’. They have supporting foliage in the forms of trailing plectrathus, a tender perennial, and an annual grass called Panicum ‘Frosted Explosion’ that has beautiful firework-like, airy seed heads.
9th August 2016
August can be a month where the garden feels tired – the lushness of the spring green has long since gone, and it takes a good knowledge of planting combinations to ensure a full and rich feeling. I’ve grown just enough plants to keep the garden looking full – but only by a whisker. The raised beds are thirsty for water, so watering and feeding of the beds is key to success. They will need a good sprinkling of manure come the winter.
The courtyard garden at least seems to be brimming with single-flowering nectar rich blooms, and looks none the worse for choosing such varieties as opposed to more gaudy and traditional summer bedding plants. As well as being great for insects, they are also good as cut flowers, and are to be seen in vases all over the shop and café.
One of the best and easiest plants to grow for bees, moths and butterflies is Buddleia davidii. It is often forgotten about by gardeners, seen as a weedy thug adorning derelict buildings, railway embankments, walls and wasteland in almost every part of the UK. Across the road from the factory is the site of a long-demolished building – only its foundations remain, and here the Buddleia has flourished. Self-seeded into every nook and cranny, at the time of writing it is in full heady height of violet, indigo and white bloom. Some of the flower tassels are huge, made up of thousands of individual little flowers, each one of which is packed full of nectar.
For the past few weeks I've been picking them to use in the shops as well as at the Collectors Club Days. They smell beautiful, though sadly last only 3 days (despite putting their stem ends into boiling water for 30 seconds to help them last longer before arranging). The cutting of these ‘wild’ Buddleias will actually help them. They are woody shrubs which just get wildly and tall if not cut, producing fewer flowers each season. This is why those in gardens are pruned hard back in late spring to ensure a good profusion of flowers each summer. You can buy dwarf Buddleias that are happy and beautiful when grown in a pot, staying at a more delicate and manageable size but still just as good a magnet to pollinators. Larger garden cultivars include the white and my favourite, the deep blackcurrant-jam- blooming ‘Black Knight'.
The sweet peas have begun to slow down now, with the flower stems getting shorter week by week and the leaves losing their vigour, often succumbing to mildew – especially if they are stressed though lack of water. I have replaced them on one wigwam with Cobaea scandens. Cobaea is like a morning glory on steroids, and makes a good exotic cut flower. It climbs fast and should flower until the first frost.
In the greenhouse the tomatoes have started to ripen – albeit in a trickling fashion! I am sowing lots of wallflower seeds now too. These sweetly scented bi- annuals look beautiful with tulips and last well as a cut flower, so they are well worth growing despite them not currently being at their height of fashion.
Finally, Matthew and I have just finalized our list of tulip bulbs to be ordered for the factory; if you miss the boat with ordering tulips and bulbs of many kinds you don’t always get the varieties you want, so it’s worth looking at bulb catalogues now.
With very best wishes
18th August 2015
Ducklings are arguably cuter than baby chickens, staying at the cuddly stage for much longer – so this spring at the factory, I wanted to incubate some duck eggs. I chose bantam ducks eggs of a breed known as the crested Appleyard duck. This old breed of duck comes in both large fowl and bantam form. The crested varieties of domestic ducks, all whose ancestor is the cheerful, wild mallard, was bred in the 17th century, as seen in the oil paintings from this era. Matthew and Emma had a beautiful duck of this breed at their farm but alas last summer, she was late going back to the hen house and Mr Fox had his wicked way with her. Ducks can be quite poor at putting themselves to bed!
The eggs came through the post from a breeder, selling eggs on eBay. They were a mixture of duck egg blue (naturally) and stained white – duck eggs rarely stay clean for very long in the hustle and bustle of a duck house floor!
When incubating duck eggs, the humidity in the incubator has be fairly high to imitate a mother ducks wet feathers while she sits upon her eggs. 28 days later, the incubator was alive with cheeping movement. 3 eggs had successfully hatched! Within half an hour, a duckling can stand, walk and feed itself, so the 3 little crested bundles were swiftly moved from their incubator to the brooder in the decorating studio.
This wooden box was made for me by my dad as a present several years ago, and it has been a trustworthy, silent and still mother hen to countless broods of chicks now over the years. The heat lamp has a dimmer which helps slowly ease chicks off needing the heat as they begin to grow their own feathers which will keep them warm. The ducklings snuggled down, tired from hatching, next to their very own pot hen on nest!
The next day I carried them around in my cardigan pockets while cutting tulips and tidying the garden, they were very snug! Ducklings are easily imprinted and anything that moves in front of them, is viewed as possible parental figure!
While very small, they cannot be allowed much access to water to swim in, surprisingly. This is because without a mother duck (whom would instinctively preen her ducklings feathers with oil from her own preen gland) the ducklings are not waterproof, and as a result could easily and fatally chill.
They are allowed little swims in a trifle bowl each morning for now. Ducklings make quite a mess, so after their bath, they wait in a bucket while they are given a good clean out!
Once adult, the ducks (or indeed drakes, as I’m not sure of their genders yet) will hopefully live in the courtyard garden and have the liberty of bathing in an old galvanised, tin bath. The gravel of the gardens paths will hopefully stop the mud! In small gardens ducks are best kept separately from hens, as hens dislike the mess ducks create; a duck pen is best designed to be one of a hard surface which can be swilled down easily. Ducks are great eaters of slugs! I’m looking forward to seeing the ducklings among the fox gloves in the coming month like a scene from Beatrix Potter’s Jemima Puddle-Duck!
Do visit the courtyard garden as the tulips just keep getting better and better, and you may see me playing mother duck to the ducklings too!
Thanks for reading - Arthur
13th May 2016
The butterfly bush, or Buddleja davidii, is a plant often faced with a reputation as a thug and a wasteland weed. It sows itself and spreads like wildfire, upon derelict land and along railway tracks up and down the country. People are fearful of its ability to grow from seemingly nothing, up from cracks in paving and from the mortar around brick work. Despite its ability to conquer vast areas, the buddleia is not native – it was introduced from China in the 1890s.
Left unmanaged, it grows quickly into a towering woody monster; why then should I proclaim its worthy qualities? I’ve always liked it, imagining how dull train journeys would be in summer without its purple flowering haze. Like most plants, if given attention, the buddleia can be garden-worthy and a beautiful addition to the border.
The key factor is that it needs seasonal winter pruning, which can be carried out from November to February. This pruning is some of the harshest to be carried out upon anything ornamental, and while some gardeners will be less rash with a hand held saw, I am not. A mature buddleia can take being cut right back each year, leaving 10 inches of the main woody stem from the ground. As soon as spring takes over from winter, the stump will sprout many shoots that will quickly become tall and arching.
If it is a young plant then the pruning should not be as brutal – but it should still be carried out, taking back the previous summer’s flowering growth by half. The reason for this pruning is because they flower best on fresh growth, so the long tassel flowers will be bigger and better. It is the flowers that are the main – and perhaps only true – draw of the plant.
On the wastelands around Stoke, the buddleias are all mongrels. Reigning supreme is the normal lilac, which is pretty enough, but some cross-pollinated jewels of royal blue and magenta are to be found too – while white ones in full bloom remind me of white peacocks displaying with their tail feathers fanned out, swaying in mid-air.
I pick the flowers for events at this time of year, including our Collectors Club days. They only look good for three days at a push, but for a one-day event or party, they are brilliant crammed together en masse in a vase. Strip all the leaves from the stems as these flop, making the arrangement look ugly. Last winter, I pruned a few of the largest bushes growing across the road from the factory and along the canal to get larger flowers to pick this summer. The plants have skyrocketed with great profusion, with huge flowers dangling like bunches of grapes.
At Chatsworth, the gardeners have planted a buddleia avenue that looks especially beautiful, with plants planted in unmown grass and a path mown between them. While walking amongst these here and picking their flowers on a hot day, their honey scent fills the air. Its common name of “butterfly bush” is due to it being rich in nectar and attracting in late summer clouds of butterflies. Sadly, this year – possibly due to it being so cold at night – I am yet to see clouds of any red admirals, painted ladies or peacocks around the factory, with all these pollinators facing declines.
In the courtyard garden, I have planted the buddleia cultivar ‘Black Knight’. This one has the deepest purple flowers like a hummingbird’s breast. I’ll be keeping them in trim but am glad to have them among the cosmos for this summer and for many more to come.
23rd August 2016
When I first visited the courtyard garden it was on a rather depressingly grey February day. Here I was met with a largely blank canvas of earth and gravel. I stood in its centre and surveyed; surrounded by a seemingly lifeless, human-world of bricks and mortar and the sound of the always busy Litchfield road, thundering like rockets taking off speedily over the courtyard walls. I pruned the dormant espaliered pears as they were fast asleep then, bending their upright stems reluctantly into curved arches. The movement of my feet upon the raised beds caused a fat, wiggly worm to arise to the surface. I smiled. I knew that this space once used as a factory dump created though the vision of Matthew Rice was something very special and would within months be a canvas of colour, beauty and a zest for life. It’s now June and the garden is becoming a green archipelago. Almost all the plants to be seen have been grown either here, at the factory, or in Oxford with the help of marvellous Martin, Matthew and Emma’s head gardener there. On the factory roof are greenhouses – you can see these though a window if you go on a factory tour! Here I am growing basil and tomatoes for the café in the largest of the two and using the smaller one for propagation - at the time of writing I am sowing ornamental cabbages for shop displays during the winter. Currently in the shops and café, I am filling vases with flowers and seeding grasses picked from the much ignored meadows which lie adjacent to the factory sown by Matthew several years ago. Although, at the moment, the vases look very Jane Austin in style, by July we will have zinnias, cosmos and the first dahlias to pick from which will jazz things up no end. My job is not just to garden but to bring flowers and fowl (I also look after the poultry), to the forefront of a visit to the factory, after all, both are entwined in Emma and Matthews’s designs- from purple veg jugs to light Sussex hen mugs! While I do work largely alone, the passion and interest shown from the staff here at Stoke has made me feel that I am anything but that. I hope all those who visit the factory, will very much delight in visiting the garden this year and enjoy reading this blog which will follow its growth throughout the summer. – With Very best wishes, Arthur Parkinson
2nd June 2015
Chickens are a huge part of the garden at the factory. Until now, we have had a mixed flock of pure breed Bantams, consisting of tea-cosy-like Pekin Bantams, sleek feathered Wyandottes and Polands with feathered hats. I take a great pleasure in hatching the eggs, in incubators or under broody hens. Over the summer, the garden has seen various broods of chicks and ducklings grow up within it.
The problem with a mixed flock, however, is that the resulting eggs do not hatch pure breed chicks. They grow up to be a totally mixed bag of appearances, some of which result in very pretty hens, but I feel it’s important to help preserve the rare pure breeds.
To ensure this, the cocks and hens must be of the same breed and match the required standards that are set out by individual breed clubs. Most chicken breeds have their own club, with a dedicated following of fanciers. Some fanciers breed to show, exhibiting their finest birds up and down the country. The pursuit of breeding the finest bird often takes a lifetime to achieve; others stay loyal just for the love they have of a breed, due to a hen’s looks and personality (which do differ greatly).
The largest poultry show is the National, held in Telford. Here, over 7000 birds of almost every recognised pure breed in existence are prepped with shampooed hot baths, Vaseline-d legs and are stroked over with silk handkerchiefs in the run up to them being placed in their judging cages.
The birds will have been taught to relax in such surroundings from being weeks old, and judges will deem a bird that is not standing with grace as a poor entry. Eggs are also shown, with hours being spent over selecting a clutch with exact similarities.
Birds are sold, and money changes hands that would baffle those not involved in buying exhibition birds. The best bloodlines in the country are all under one roof, and competition for birds from lines of the winners is fierce. Every feather is looked at by a judge; the comb, the eye colour, the ear lobe and leg colour. All these aspects add up to a bird gaining a rosette on their cage – or for a large number, sadly nothing.
Regardless of if chickens are kept as pets, for eggs, for meat or in my case for the enjoyment of simply having them around for comfort and movement, they are for many people a huge part of life and a true tonic to it.
My birthday was last month; it was marked by the traditional trip to Chatsworth. I bought a pair of young Buff Cochin chickens from the farmyard there. The farmyard has a number of pure breeds at large, but the most famous and most photographed are the Buff Cochins. The hens lay little more than 80 eggs in a season, so to get these two young birds is a real privilege. I’m sure their huge size and character will be a hit with visitors to the factory when they are on show next year.
They came back on the train with me from the farmyard in a box and the next day were lifted out and into their new winter home, the greenhouse on the factory roof – here they will be warm and sheltered from the winter wind and rain. After being reared in a stable with lots of other pure breed chickens, they at first seemed confused as to what to make of their new glass-walled, marigold-strewn hen house…
Now, about a month on, they have settled down and are relishing the dry soil in which they dust bathe. I’ve since bought other new Bantams, and these also will spend the winter in the greenhouse and go down to the garden in the spring. A pair of Belgian Booted Millefleur Bantam hens arrived last week, with a cockerel of unrelated origin due to join them in due course. I am also looking to find a pair of cuckoo Pekin Bantams. The Bantams will live in arks and be let out in turn on alternate days into the walled garden, while the Cochins will reside in the large hen house and run that backs against the wall. Its solid roof and concrete floor will keep them dry. The Booted Millefleur Bantams will be kept in a hen ark that will be placed in the middle of the new courtyard flower bed as well as an ark in the main garden, a thousand flowers indeed among a thousand flowers!
Due to their comical bathing activities during the Literary Festival this year, I’ll hatch ducklings again in May – probably some Cayugas, as Matthew used to keep them in Norfolk but doesn’t have any at Bampton. They are known for laying almost black shelled eggs and have beautiful emerald green feathers, almost oil-dipped-like, and the ducklings hatch with black fluffy down.
21st November 2016
When the bulk of a garden’s summer show comes from annuals that die in the first frosts of winter, reliable perennial flowering plants are the best props. These perennials will die down visually but stay alive under the earth, ready to reawaken come the spring and give a better show as each year passes.
One such perennial plant that I'm filling the garden at the factory with is Crocosmia. Crocosmia is also known to many as montbretia. These are cormous perennials, native to the grasslands of southern and eastern Africa. Despite their savannah heritage, they are hardy plants that can cope with the winter cold, and are tolerant of many soil types and being planted in dry places.
The corms are hard bulbous lumps – when you buy one in flower and tip it out of its pot, you'll see the roots coming from these corms. In the spring, many varieties can be bought more cheaply from garden centres as dormant corms. These can then be potted up in the greenhouse in plastic pots and planted out in their permanent spots once they are growing well in late spring.
Below are two of my favourite varieties. Other Crocosmia can be a little thuggish and rampant but if you have a garden that needs ground cover, orange flowering varieties such as ‘Carmin Brilliant’ are very helpful and will normally spread happily all over the garden.
Crocosmia ‘George Davidson’ - I first saw this new variety at the Great Dixter plant fair last year and liked it immediately. It gets to about 40cm tall and will spread well. It’s a beautiful, organic egg-yolk-yellow that I’ve combined in the garden with the equally golden yellow, perennial flowering rudbeckia, ‘Goldstrum’, and my favourite gladioli which is the sultry, cherry-liqueur-flowering ‘Plum Tart’. The flower buds start off as a golden orange opening to the yellow, so buy it in full flower to ensure you’re getting the right variety.
Crocosmia ‘Lucifer’ – I love to see this in flower at Paradise Park, a bird garden in Cornwall, St Ives, where great clumps of it grow in the flower beds as supporting acts to a flock of orange- and pink-plumed Caribbean flamingos. This is the tallest and most dramatic of the Crocosmia, sending up its flaming red, funnel shaped flowers from lush green, sword-like foliage.
It looks best when allowed to form a large, statuesque clump in the garden. In windy places, the whole clump is best staked with fan-shaped branches of silver birch or hazel, that are pushed into the clump’s heart in the spring before the leaves get too tall. Combine it with lime green euphorbias and purple smoke bush for a reliable year-on-year hardy display, or for a more intense summer show, plant tender dahlias, gladioli and annual sunflowers around a clump of it. It also makes a very good cut flower filler to a summer arrangement, and lasts well out of the water – making a good buttonhole choice for an exotic summer wedding!
In Sarah Raven’s garden at Perch Hill it has been combined with the hard flowering, scented perennial phlox ‘Blue Paradise’, which is another of my favourite perennial plants.
Thanks for reading – Arthur
12th September 2016
Suddenly, seemingly overnight, the winter battered, bare earth surface of the garden's soil has erupted with the pointed beaks of bulbs and the ever expanding, fresh green rosette of awakening perennials.
The wallflowers and sweet Williams who have been stood like half dead sticks all winter long against the wind and rain, have undressed their battered attire and changed into their fresh, spring wardrobes in preparation for their flowering graduations.
The courtyard garden has taken on a green carpet very quickly this spring, due to me planting it last summer with many herbaceous perennials and hundreds of bulbs. The blossom buds on the outstretched arms of the espaliered pears on the garden walls grow fatter as the daylight hours become ever longer.
In the courtyard, the planted cattle troughs are splatted with a rich, lemon yellow, given off by the now in flower Narcissi ‘Vip Van Winkle’, which is like an eccentric star made up from tissue paper. The roses that I planted last autumn are coming into bud now, and are surrounded by emerging tulips called ‘Gentle Giants’.
In the greenhouse the potting benches are suddenly groaning with the weight of dozens of seed trays upon them, and the floor is covered in pots of awakening dahlias. I’m really looking forward to growing several new varieties of dahlias this year. Many of them I saw in Sarah Raven’s trial garden last summer.
The Buff Orpington chicks, who hatched on the 1st of March, are often to be found under the rosemary bushes exploring and dustbathing. Six adult hens, several of which I hatched at the factory last year, have returned to the hen house this spring too. It is lovely to have the company of hens once again while gardening.
Jobs in Garden for this month –
Plant oriental lily bulbs now, either in deep pots or in the ground. These bulbs need good drainage so add grit to their planting holes.
Sow seeds of Cosmos now. ‘Purity’ is a delicate white while ‘Rubenza’ is a deep cherry liquor red. Cosmos are the best and easiest annual cut flowers to grow! Sow sunflowers at the end of April, so that they flower right into October and can be planted out quickly into the garden – My favourite is ‘Valentine’ which is the best cut flower.
Gather silver birch and hazel before it comes into leaf now, so that you can create beautiful and natural looking plant stakes for free!
Check the hen house each week from now until the autumn for red mite. This is a nocturnal parasite that hides under the hen’s perches and sucks their blood while they sleep! Dust the perches and nesting boxes Diatomaceous earth to prevent them affecting your hens.
Please do come and see the garden over the coming weeks as the colours will only intensify as spring progresses, and why not make a full day of garden visits - by visiting the garden here then driving onto the nearby Trentham gardens, about a 15- minute drive from the factory for a true tulip extravaganza!
Happy Gardening and thanks for reading – Arthur
11th April 2016