Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Chicken Lady Hall of Fame: The Dowager Duchess of Devonshire


Chatsworth House

Chickens are about to overrun the gardens of America. Did you know that the suppliers of chicks have already sold out of many breeds?

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.

20 comments:

tina said...

What fun! I will try to check it out but I am SO not good with chicken types. Good luck all!

Janet said...

What a riot! Your title drew me in and I am glad I read the story. As for making an ID, I am not a learned person when it comes to breeds of fowl. To me they are all chickens.

Heather said...

Is it a Buff Orphington? It looks very much like five of what I ordered on Friday. Thanks for linking back to me and the history lesson to boot. I must confess that I kept my learning rooted in how to keep them alive and healthy and now I really should go back and learn about the history of chickens and chicken keeping. Thanks so much for the lesson and the link!
Heather

Jenny said...

Well, I don't know the breed of that giant orange fluffy chicken the Duchess is cradling (I had to go to Amazon to look at it)---but I do know that an awful lot of things we'd rather not think about happen in between that clucking bundle of feathers and the little plastic-wrapped package in the supermarket!

Should we really be egging you on in your fascination with chickens...?

Town Mouse said...

With everyone's focus squarely on the chicken, we seem to ignore the Sun Rays of Praise for Daffodil Planter in the top right corner. Of course, I'm not sure I trust someone who has quite as many before and after pictures of a woman who is, like many of us, no longer young (with clickable links to the secret to looking like your granddaughter or something).
I'll take the duchess over that any time, she's done what she wanted and she looks her age. As for the chicken, it looks like the one Amy trained in here famous video on GardenRant http://www.gardenrant.com/my_weblog/2009/01/gardenrant-tv-o.html. Or maybe not. Regardless, more pictures on the woman with wrinkles on that blog. Maybe some egg white would smoothe them out? (Just staying with the theme here...)

Daffodil Planter said...

What a hen party this morning! Fun to be scratching in the dirt with you all.

Tina, Do make a guess, the winner has not yet been announced....

Janet, Glad you had a cackle!

Heather, You're the one who inspired all this, thank you. The judges are still deliberating on a winner....

Jenny, Um, that's why I'm a vegetarian. The Dowager Duchess says she has no trouble eating chicken.

Town Mouse, Thanks noticing the Sun Rays; Moosey herself looks like a sensible gardening lady. Fun link to Amy's chicken training video!

Rob (ourfrenchgarden) said...

Hello Daffodil Planter

This was an interesting post. The chicken, erm that'll be a Buff Cochin then.

Rob

Daffodil Planter said...

Bonjour Rob, A rooster among us at last, and he makes a very interesting guess.

Joyce in SF said...

I'm guessing a buff cochin also. I will admit to downloading a chicken catalog on my iPhone to find a breed!

Daffodil Planter said...

Joyce, Excellent guess! C'mon Apple, that's the kind of iPod phone use that deserves its own TV commercial.

Daffodil Planter said...

I mean iPhone. So much for branding.

Alice Joyce said...

DP, thanks for this. I need you to keep me in touch with the big picture. Sorry, but I know nada re: chickens. Teach me, oh guru of fluffy fowl.

Lee said...

Hmmm? I wonder if this is why I haven't been able to get a duck this spring? Everywhere I call they tell me that they're all sold out. Maybe I'll try later in the year.

Daffodil Planter said...

Alice, I guess you and I are the only gardeners NOT ordering chickens this spring; they certainly are appealing though. More poultry posts coming up.

Lee, I bet you can get a duck pretty easily in a month or two when the ducklings bought as Easter gifts get to be too much "trouble". Petfinder will probably have them listed.

Daffodil Planter said...

WE HAVE A WINNER!

Well, actually we have a tie: Rob and Joyce were correct in playing Name That Chicken--it is indeed a Buff Cochin. Cochiins are large, fluffy chickens and so are the Buff Orpingtons. In the photo the telltale "pantaloon" feathery legs of the Cochin are hidden, making it very tricky.

One prize per continent. Rob had the time zone advantage in Europe, and Joyce was researching away in San Francisco, attempting to comment and Blogger was not letting her in. She emailed me with her guess and alerted me to the problem, which I was able to fix.

Rob is from the blog I hope you all visit, Our French Garden (in my blogroll). Joyce is a Master Gardener in San Francisco who is active in her garden and in restoring her local park. More about them in the next Chicken Lady post.

Thank you all for playing!

APLD California said...

I'm intrigured by the quote "An excellent example of everything that is good about the Poultry club." Setting aside the fact that such a club even exists, I can't help by imagine what a poultry club member would have to do to set a bad example.

Maybe something along the lines of "Time to make dinner and I am just too tired to go to the store. Wait, I have an idea..."

Daffodil Planter said...

Welcome, APLD California! Your voice is strangely familiar. Sort of like someone who writes scary garden fiction and wins contests at Garden Rant? And now we have scary doings among poultry fanciers? I thought you liked chick-ens.

DirtDigger (Tessa) said...

I know nothing about chickens, but I want them- or ducks, which I've read eat slugs continuously! Or is it geese? My dogs would go nuts if I kept them- no I'm afraid until we have a bit of property it's no chickens for us :(

Anonymous said...

Oh Daffy-Dill Planter!
Your are a Blogger Supreme, destined to join the ranks of, say, Cute Overload. Next stop, Oprah? Egg-zactly the kind of boost I would expect from you.

Daffodil Planter said...

DirtDigger, Yes, ducks are great slug eaters. I think geese might be bossing your dogs, not vice versa!

Anon, A compliment like that really makes me fluff my feathers--thank you!