I’m Francine Raymond and I’d like to encourage you to spend more time in your garden, relaxing and enjoying the fruits of your labours. Even if you just use your outside space to dry your washing and cook on a barbecue now, let me inspire you to make the most of your garden space, and live a happier, healthier life in the open air.
Ignoring my career’s teacher’s advice to become a bilingual secretary at the Foreign Office, and my mother’s ambitions to send me to Constance Spry flower-arranging classes, I eventually graduated with a degree in Fashion and Textiles. After designing for a couple of boutiques and adapting ideas for the schmutter trade, I set off to Milan to work as a fashion illustrator/stylist for a chain of elegant department stores.
Five years on, back in the UK, my career path rambled on. Children’s book illustration and instruction leaflets saw me through marriage and early child rearing days in London and then to Suffolk, where I worked as a buyer for The Leaping Hare, a country store, café and vineyard owned by the very stylish Carla Carlisle. Five years further on, I started a similar venture on a micro scale, opening my garden to the public, showing off a flock of scruffy chickens, and setting up shop.
Napoleonic in my attempts to design most of the products myself, I published a slim book about keeping hens. Most poultry books presumed a degree in agriculture, acres of land and ambitions to supply eggs to Sainsbury’s, I just wanted to inject a little common sense and style into a hobby dominated by male –held bastions of the show bench. And the Chicken Woman was born.
Thirteen books on, and a minority interest affectionately exploited to the hilt: courses, dvds, painted henhouses, hen parties and ‘turning everyday life into art’ (thank you Raffaella Barker for that accolade), I recently left my life of thirty years and downsized to the seaside at Whitstable. Throughout life’s inconsistencies – empty nests, bereavement and moving – my garden has provided constancy, while its feathered occupants add flashes of colour and provide drama worthy of a soap opera, laying delicious, if sporadic, tinted eggs.
I now write a regular weekly column for the Sunday Telegraph, and occasional pieces for Country Living Magazine, Gardens Illustrated and the poultry press. My flock of Orpington hens and I scratch a living. A dream fulfilled, but one anyone can share. From Marie Antoinette to Barbara Good, under the skin – however well moisturized – lurks a part-time peasant.