10th April 2014

Here’s wishing you a sunny Easter, full of blossom and bulbs, chocolate, marzipan and family fun. To celebrate the arrival of my new book Flying the Coop, we are re-vamping the website, starting to tweet again – I never quite got the point the first time round, going on Facebook and visiting various venues, like The Leaping Hare in Suffolk, The Hen Party at Benenden and others to be announced. 

All rather daunting. I much prefer to have open house here in Whitstable, so in tandem with an article about the new house in the July Issue of Country Living Magazine, we’ll be welcoming visitors here on Sunday July 27th. Further information here nearer the time. Hope to see you here. 

In the meantime, the book should be available here after Easter, I’m off to the Gardening Against the Odds awards at Syon Park, a lovely event that celebrates those who manage despite their problems. This year’s winner is a garden centre in Cheltenham who has turned their greenhouses into workshops for disabled gardeners. All 57 are arriving by coach. Last year, it snowed – here’s hoping for a more clement day. 

Please bear with us if there are any problems during the re-vamp of the website. I’m always available: francine@kitchen-garden-hens.co.uk, and it’s nice to hear from you. 

19th March 2014

Much better news!

This is my grandson Etienne.

Here with proud dad and slightly perplexed brother.

How lovely to have a new baby in the family during this spring weather. New life all around. The garden is blooming and sprouting, and it’s a pleasure to be outside. My Narcissus ‘Thalia’ – pale cream and delicate are up, as our lots of daffs, blue anemonies, celendines and primroses. Spent yesterday at Great Comp gardens near Sevenoaks  and gloried in their spring garden, packed with flowering shrubs underplanted with hellebores, pulmonaria, ferns and almost a hundred magnolias – the subject of my next article in the Telegraph.

Thank you all for your kind letters responding to the sad demise of the hens, I was deeply touched to hear from so many readers, many had experienced the same awful loss. I will probably try again, but not just yet. New book just gone to press. Fingers crossed.

10th February 2014

Can hardly bring myself to tell you the news. Such sad news – the fox got my lovely hens. 

I suppose I knew it would happen in the end, but you and they live in hope. And to console myself, they lived the life of Riley for two and a half years. That doesn’t really diminish the guilt I fell at not having been able to protect them, or undermine the true horror that all poultry lovers feel in this position. 

It happened in daylight, the first fox I’d seen apart from dusk and dawn, at 2 in the afternoon, the hens were pottering near the house. I was in the kitchen, thinking of dodging the showers and doing a little gardening. I suddenly felt uncomfortable and went outside, found a few feathers – strange, wrong time of the year for feathers, and then saw something in the corner of my eye. Both were already dead. Not a squawk! Where were the usual alarm calls that accompanied any other arrival in the garden of miscellaneous cats, seagulls and magpies? I can only assume they were so shocked – and it’s an oft told tale – that it happens without a sound. 

I picked up their remains and put them in their house, to gain a little breathing space and stop the fox from finishing his meal. Decided eventually to take the corpses to the vet to be incinerated. Would have preferred to bury them in the garden, but they’d have only been dug up again. And the carcasses were too big for our tiny little food bins. Not a fitting end either. Amazed at their weight, about 10 lbs each – no wonder they had to be eaten in situ, I delivered them to the surgery and was charged £19. 

My garden seems a dead space. I don’t wonder out there five or six times a day. Just look rather morosely out of the window. Have seen the fox several times since – he has a very damaged back leg and tail – too damaged to catch the rabbits on Prospect Hill, I suppose. That’s his and my excuse. 

Will I start again? Too early to say. I miss my hens terribly, and can only now imagine life without them. Will need to review my poultry-keeping practise, though, and look into some kind of daytime protection or be prepared to offer them a life within their run. 
 

13th January 2014

Happy New Year! 

Now all the decorations have been put away, it’s cheering to have a few indoor plants to light up our lives. I’ve planted pots of narcissus ‘Cheerfulness’ that are sitting outside my front door, ready to come inside if the winds get up again; my amaryllis ‘Green Goddess’ have re-appeared; and the cymbidium orchids are flowering their socks off. All these wonders flower year after year, despite my treatment of them. They all spend the summer outside, get fed sporadically with a seaweed drench and come in before the frosts. Well worth the trouble for the uplifting pleasure these plants give.

Hope everyone’s garden has survived the wind and rain. Mine is always boggy at this time of the year, so have put metal net panels on the route to the henhouse to save the path. Have run a length of carpet underlay across the decking to survive the route into the garden, and the hens peer out from under the henhouse during the rainstorms. The back section of the run is sheltered, but it’s still a miserable existence for them, so they come out and hang around the back door, making the decking even more perilous.

Have noticed the blackbird singing at dawn. Hope its not thinking of nesting just yet. But spring will come – could be anytime sooner or later.

11th December 2013

Busy, busy, busy. Courses at Sissinghurst making this lovely wreath under the tutelage of eco-florists Blooming Green, and to Leith's in Hammersmith to learn how to photograph food with master William Reavell - have a look at his website - you'll recognize his work. Often send in pics of my dishes to the Telegraph, and some are used, but would really like to know what I'm doing. So it's a new camera, close-up lens and hopefully better results. 

The pop-up shop went really well. Thank you to those who made long journeys just to visit. Glad to hear many had an enjoyable weekend in Whitstable, which must have made it all a bit more worthwhile. All cleared away and now hosting book club party this weekend and enjoying Ludo's pre-Christmas excitement. We walk the High Street examining every tree and each shop's decorations in detail. I am a source of disappointment: as "Big tree Granny's house?" has still not been realized, and I don't think my artistic rendition with twigs of burdock and teasels will cut the mustard. 

Hope you all have a good Christmas and to see many of you in the coming year.
 

8th October 2013

These last few days of glorious weather, before they threaten winter, with a bumper crop of fruit, seeds and nuts, has got me weeding the area round my new fruit trees. I’m buying some new mulch mats to keep the grass from their roots – lots of fruit, but very tiny. And planting meadow bulbs, camassia, alliums, fritillaries and narcissus ‘Actea’ – an early ‘Pheasant’s Eye’ look alike. Am also planning a new woodland garden in the old bramble patch and have been popping in English bluebells, scilla, cyclamen, aconites and snowdrops, that’ll be happy under the oak tree. The ‘meadow’ has been cut and the hens have enjoyed foraging the newly mown grass. A lovely memory that will have to last me through winter. 

A visit to Great Dixter Plant Fair last weekend, (put it in your diary for next year), well worth a trip, plus several visitors from Suffolk, down to the seaside before season’s end, have kept me from writing my book – though it’s coming along, and I’m enjoying looking back over the last three years. 

Planning another, bigger pop-up shop for December 1st with friends, extending to another house up Joy Lane. More details to come.

2nd September 2013

I love September. The slightly fresher weather, the low light that brightens colours and the harvest of fruits and berries that liven up the garden and hedgerows. I’ve been eating my damsons – and so have the hens, as they sit waiting under the trees – cheering themselves as they moult all their feathers. The apples and pears are still to come, with blackberries, quinces and medlars yet to ripen.

Country Living have been photographing the house and garden, so I suppose the house at least could be called complete. Still the odd thing to finish, a few cushions to make and still the bathroom doors to put on –  too late for this summer’s batch of visitors’ modesty, I’m afraid. I have lots of writing to get on with, no more procrastinating, no more excuses.

A recent visit to Alnwick in Northumberland has broadened my horizons a little, so I have no excuses not to travel a bit. Except for poor Lulu who has been diagnosed with hyperthyroidism and needs a pill everyday. Any advice on how to give a lovely old cat a pill every day?

30th July 2013

During this really hot weather, it has been really wonderful to be beside the seaside. And of course, I’m not alone in my delight – Whitstable town centre heaves in summer, but the worst bits are easy enough to avoid. Just a short walk further along the prom and you come to the nearly deserted West Beach. It’s here we rent a beach hut occasionally, and I wander past them on my morning circuit to stop myself seizing up during a day at the computer. I nearly bought a hut when I first came here, flush with cash. Two years later and they are out of my price range.

Often though, when it is really hot, it’s just as good to sit in the cool shade of the garden, and I rig up a tent effect with a counterpane and the old swinging seat that has made it’s way here from Suffolk. Ludo and I spend many hours inside this shady den, pretending it’s a bus, train or plane, or alternatively in the cool garage driving in Max’s nearly completed bright blue beach buggy. Now in its third incarnation, some will remember it as the groom’s transport to Jacques wedding, Max’s love affair with this vehicle hasn’t dimmed, and has certainly been passed on in spades to his nephew. 

Still, there are worse ways of spending a baking hot afternoon……. 

17th June 2013

Where is the summer? I sometimes work at my desk with a hot water bottle on my lap – in June! Better to wrap up and work outside. The front of the house is painted and planted, and the back is tidied up. The decking responded well to a pressure wash, and briefly all is neat – though at this time of the year, it doesn’t take much to get out of hand in the garden and overwhelm us all. Am looking forward to a bit of disorder, as it all looks a little neat and suburban.

The hens have come out of broody purdah – I didn’t set any eggs, the thought of a flock of youngsters digging up my newly-planted borders, put me off. Am turning into a poultry whimp – and after a few days of seeming not to recognize the garden, are back on form. Come to think of it, the garden probably has changed over the past few weeks.

Chelsea was a bit of a disappointment. It would be interesting to see how the designers would fare, if, like all of us, there was a strict budget. Also, with disease restrictions, I feel all plants should be UK grown. There were a few designers responding to real life, but mostly it was pie in the sky. Come on RHS! (Wrote a couple of pieces for the Telegraph, see Articles). 

3rd May 2013

April has just slipped by in a miasma of paint – everything is covered in sticky coats and nothing is in its proper place. Have just started a final push with son Max, and life is settling back in a more settled, if different, colour-scape.

Planting is underway in the garden with the arrival of some spring-like weather. The bulbs have come and gone, and even those tulips I found in crates in the shed, just a month ago, are beginning to flower. Can’t believe that it’s Ludo’s second birthday soon – he seems to have been part of our lives forever.

Work for the Telegraph carries on with a visit to Kensington Roof Gardens (have a look under the Articles page on this website); I’ve just completed a piece for Gardens Illustrated – coming out next month, and have written a couple for Country Living on friends’ houses. My new book is slowly taking place with a last photo session with Vic Spoff in July. Despite being a quarter as busy as I was in Troston, there is still not enough time, perhaps that’s the human condition.

20th March 2013

Feeling a lot better – thank you for your kind emails. And the builders have gone, revealing in their wake a wonderful new dormer window with good views and lots of extra light and space inside. Slowly getting back to normal, decorating and planting the garden. Still another million loads of compost to barrow, but it’s brilliant stuff, and the plants should thrive.

Skip-free, am thinking about my front garden. Waves of verbena bonariensis, iris sibirica fronted by hummocks of lavender in gravel, I think. But first, I must get rid of the weeds and couch. Have lots of builders plastic leftover,
will use it as a mulch for a while. Have rescued the few bluebells, iris and hellebore foetida, and will move the vivid technicoloured roses, much loved by the previous owner. They’ll have to take their chances in the hedge.

Hens on top form, laying well and enjoying the activity in the garden. Am hoping to hatch a couple of pullets when they go broody. Will get some eggs from breeder, Patricia Middleton, who will be joining me at the Kentish version of the Hen Party, run by Sheila Hume in her garden in Benenden on May 18th – for details emailcharles.hume@btinternet.com. Come along – it would be lovely to see you.

18th February 2013

Afraid the hole in the roof, builders’ dust and lots of cuddles with grandson Ludo (toddlers get so many viruses) have finally got the better of me, resulting in a chest and a throat infection, so have been laid very low. But at last, with a little sun, departure of source of dust, lots of freshly laid eggs and slow return to normal life, things are looking up and I’m not coughing all the time.

In an effort to escape the chaos and cacophony of the wind in the scaffolding poles, I moved downstairs into the sitting room, so it has been a bedsit life since mid November – a limiting existence – so am looking forward to moving back upstairs to three bedrooms and two bathrooms, which has been the point of the exercise. Hope to be persuaded that it has all been worthwhile.

Am working slowly in the garden, moving a lorry load of compost – deposited four years ago – all round the garden. It was a surprise to find this cache of wonderful soil behind the bramble heap, but more so to find that a fox had made the same discovery and constructed a des res with several bedrooms and a couple of metres of corridor. Luckily no-one was in residence, but all the more reason to dissemble this pile and distribute it speedily around the garden to improve the rock hard clay, but also to gradually get my stamina back.

So it’s out in the garden in the sunshine, with the girls, cat, Ludo and his tractor on Wednesdays and hopefully back to normal.

7th January 2013

I’ve wished my hens a Happy New Year with a good clean up in their run. All this rain has resulted in a quagmire, so have been pondering the best carpet. Dried leaves are good, but can be slippery, gravel is rather expensive, straw is messy, so have bought 5 bags of chipped bark and laid it good and thick. I’m assured it is just bark, with no additives. It has a slightly antiseptic smell, but that’s just the pine resin.

The hens quite like it and have been scratching around. Hopefully it will rot down over the summer and will either improve the drainage in the run or I can rake it out, and with the additional droppings, it will make a good mulch on to my flowerbeds. I’ve popped down a few strategically paving slabs to make my journey to the feed bins a little less perilous.

I’ve hoovered the house, removing the spiderwebs in the roof, dusted with anti-mite and laid a good thick wodge of broadsheet – the Sunday Telegraph is best. The nest boxes are lined with dried moss in the hope of eggs in the near future – Valentines Day is not that far away. So with drinkers and feed bins scoured, the dustbath topped up with wood ash, and everything neat and tidy, let’s hope we have a productive 2013.

All this activity in the run and garden is just to escape the chaos in the house, with a hole in the roof, and a thick layer of dust – I could be better off in with the hens. Here’s to better times ahead.

17th December 2012

Well, here I am, covered in dust again. With breath-taking timing, James my builder finally arrived just before our pop-up shop opened. Hopefully, customers didn’t notice the fine veneer of dust over everything, and we had a wonderful day with lots of customers, enjoying a festive atmosphere. Thank you, everyone who made the effort to come, and relieved me of my stock.

Work is going apace, if the banging upstairs is anything to go by, and we’ll end up with an extra bedroom and bathroom, plus a beautiful dormer on the side of the roof. I’m sleeping in the sitting room, and the cat is very put out. This may be a camping Christmas, but I’m still looking forward to it all. Am collecting my goose and some salt marsh lamb from a local farm at Monkshill that supplies the best restaurant round here – the Sportsman at Seasalter, visiting Macknades for fruit, veg and cheese and maybe some Chapel Down Sparkling to wash it all down.

Thank you all for persevering with me over the last year. Next year will bring a new book. May I wish you a Happy Christmas and a good time over the holiday.

27th November 2012

Somewhere between the continuing (non) arrival of the builders and work in general, we are hosting our Pop-up Shop. I couldn’t let Christmas pass without a little foray into retail therapy. This year, more friends are joining Pascale and her wooden decorations, Sue and her pots and Martin Pammant and his driftwood furniture for our sale here on December 9th.

Marilyn Phipps from the Battery makes amazing embroidered and beaded jewellery and this is a rare chance to buy. Marilyn’s sense of style and colour sense are legendary. Embroiderer Hiroko Aono-Billson will be selling a wide range of embroidered toys, bags and showing antique Japanese fabrics. Some of you will have seen the gorgeous yellow bag that I commissioned last summer.

I’ve been out scouring the bootsales for vintage bits and bobs, and have some leather French posties’ bags - great for blokes who carry laptops, embroidered curtains, vintage glass and kitchenware, plus the usual Christmas decorations, plus garden and henkeeping paraphernalia.

Quite a few friends from Suffolk are making the trip down to Whitstable. There are lots of great places to eat (if you book early) and the chance of a bracing walk along the beach. Do please get in touch if you’d like more information on 01227 264 707.

28th October 2012

Still no builder, so have been excavating the bramble plot at the bottom of the garden. Have uncovered several etiolated evergreen shrubs, now cut back, a massive climbing rose with stems 6 inches thick, another 10 foot of garden, and there in the middle of it all – a fox den! Now obviously derelict, I suppose it dates from a few years back when this garden was an extra 200 foot long, and probably mostly left wild.  Let’s hope no previous inhabitants come back looking for somewhere to live.

The hens are jollier, now that they have a few more feathers, and enjoying the excavation and land clearing work. Cutting back brambles plays havoc with your hands, and I’m covered with scratches, but it’s good to spend a few hours each day working outside. Ludo comes out with me on Wednesdays and we have borrowed Harry-next-doors toy tractor and trailer, so there is much laborious earth moving, apple transporting and pebble collecting.

Made a delicious poached plum pudding topped with sliced brioche drizzled with local roast cobnut oil, dusted with sugar then grilled. Seem to have been cooking a lot, with visitors, Max here still working on the third incarnation of his beach buggy, and an increasing social life, with lots of local produce to be trying out.

Still collecting goodies for our Pop-up Christmas Shop on Sunday December 9th at local carboots and antique fairs, so hope to have the usual eclectic mix, with several creative chums joining in. Please email me on francine@kitchen-garden-hens.co.uk if you’d like details and fancy a brisk winter’s day by the seaside.

30th September 2012

How the weather has changed! And my poor girls are out with barely a feather between them. Topping up their breakfast with a sprinkling of Poultry Spice to speed their return to snug feathery finery, and offering protein-rich snacks of old cheese, nuts and sunflower seeds. Much needed rain in bucketfulls complete the change to autumnal chill, with the odd gorgeous day in between.

I’m still expecting the return of my builder – or what my friends call my imaginary builder to complete work to the upstairs of this house. Have lived too long in a half world of someone else’s taste, though admittedly mostly in the dark, asleep. Am waiting for the work to be finished before completing the front garden and cheering up my rather dreary frontage.

Have started buying bits and bobs for our Christmas Pop-up Shop, penciled in for December 9th. Had forgotten how much I enjoy shopkeeping!

29th August 2012

After a couple of weeks of computer hell, am now sitting in front of a toweringly menacing iMac. I’m sure, like most owners, I will get to love it, but at the moment, the changeover from ancient PC is fraught. In the hiatus between the two, I lost all my history and addresses, so please contact me onfrancine@kitchen-garden-hens.co.uk if are wondering what has happened to anything.

The hens are sitting out another spate of broodiness, which bodes well for future hatchings, but is a bore from the present non egg-laying situation. Because they both copy each other in everything, it makes it harder to break the habit, and there’s no ‘flock’ to get back to.

Meanwhile, lots of sitting in beach huts and on the beach. It has been a lovely summer and my grandson Ludo loves playing house by the sea, though at times we have been more like the characters inside a Swiss weather house, as we pop in and out to escape the showers.