I’ve always been a strictly vegetative gardener. When I say strictly, I’m not including the many insects and birds and sometimes possums that occupy my garden. But in terms of planting, I have always avoided planting creatures of any kind amidst my beds. Until last year.
Nana arrived for my daughter’s birthday with a proud and plump Blue Australorp hen who was promptly named Chelsea after the children’s favourite babysitter. Chelsea was definitely a city slicker of a chick. The intention was always to add to the flock once she had established herself but in the meantime, she joined our flock. She followed us everywhere and terrorised the cats, taking her place as chief hen. She was a cuddly type of hen and laid her first egg for my daughter’s birthday. As well as eggs, she produced an extraordinary amount of poop. Everywhere in the large dust bowl she prepared in the middle of the lawn, in any shoes left on the door mat, and across the deck a footstep apart. Somehow though, her large fluffy bottom endeared us to accept this somewhat compromised existence.
Then one day we come home and Chelsea was gone. Well not totally gone; a trail of her feathers and droplets of blood led to pile of soft ashen grey feathers. A neighbour’s dog had stalked and removed our plump chook for a lunch time snack.
It was too soon to consider a new brood and with the cooler months arriving we left her coup vacant with thoughts of maybe more feathered friends once bigger fences had been built in the spring. But then our next-door neighbour introduced a new flock to the hood. Beneath the mandarin hedge each day three red heads would appear. This gang were no broody city chicks, they were serious about their foraging.
I’ve always laughed at the state of my garden. So often forsaken for everyone else’s, but I’ve also delighted in its wildness. Soft creeping edges, to quote Edna Walling; “A garden should always be slightly bigger than you can manage.” In my life that's not very big but it had a joy to it. Until the sisters arrived. My well mulched garden was a joy to them and they proceeded day after day spreading the delicious rich layers of goodness from the garden beds across the lawn like the debris bought in by the tide. The side path could be seen no more as every loose bit of mulch in the garden was flicked from the beds on to the little path.
They took there laying seriously enough and also hid some treats in our garden. One haul of 11 eggs sitting amongst the hen and chicken ferns was shared by both the neighbours and ourselves one Saturday morning.
But despite the occasional shared spoiling’s, this gang took the chaos of my garden to a new level and has made me feel assured that when it comes to gardening, I’m a vegetarian type. I prefer my chicken poop in a bag and my mulch in my borders. I’m certainly no uptight gardener, but that chicken fence will be up by the end of winter when I might finally have the chance to reclaim my garden for myself. And my feathered friends can keep to the tree tops.