We've all heard that every American has turned to vegetable gardening in a big way, and that none of us will be able to attend potlucks this summer unless we can bring our own homegrown tomatoes (this includes Manhattanites who garden on fire escapes). Now it appears that our farming genes have gone hog wild and we are in Old MacDonald mode--where a man's home is no longer his castle, but instead his fully-fledged farm complete with chickens.
My first hint that this trend was on the wing was when I read that Heather at Idaho Small Goat Garden was frantic for fowl, and just barely got her order for chicks filled. In gardening we often look to England for our advisers, and the lovely visage of the leading Chicken Lady of them all sprang instantly to my mind.
England's most famous chicken owner is the Dowager Duchess of Devonshire--also known as Deborah, Debo, or, most often, Her Grace.
As the chatelaine of Chatsworth, the ducal stately home in Derbyshire, she continued her own Mitford family tradition of keeping chickens.
The Dowager Duchess is the youngest of the flock of famous Mitford sisters. She grew up in Gloucestershire caring for Rhode Island Reds and White Leghorns, and at Chatsworth raised award-winning Dorkings, Derbyshire Redcaps, Welsummers, White Leghorns and Buff Cochins. Most of her chickens have the run of the park and are a curiosity for tourists. Talk about free range--we should be so lucky as to wander the gardens of Chatsworth without paying an entrance fee.
The Poultry Club of Great Britain praised the Dowager Duchess as "an excellent example of everything which is good about the Poultry Club." I'm not sure what that means, but it has a nice Edwardian ring to it. A true poultry fancier indoors as well as out, Her Grace is a collector of paintings and china depicting chickens. You think that puts her at the top of the pecking order of Chicken Ladies? There's more.
Gifted with business sense, and the Mitford literary skill, the Dowager Duchess wrote several books about life at Chatsworth, including a memoir, Counting My Chickens... The cover illustration of the first edition is a photo of Her Grace holding one of her chickens.
A prize to my first reader who correctly identifies the breed of chicken on the book cover. The winner will receive a prominent mention in my next Chicken Lady post--I would have awarded a live chick, but they're all sold out.