Lots of lovely little eggs from my new girls – three bantam to two standards in recipes – with real deep yellow yolks from eating garden greenery, just right for batches of pancakes. And signs of spring in the February garden with a bunch of flowers and pretty leaves (on the Home page), not just for Valentine’s Day, but because it’s mid-February and there’s hope in the air. But it’s still cold outside with frosty mornings.

Have replanted a couple of beds. After waiting three years as plants just sat there, with their feet in yellow clay, not growing, just sitting, I decided to start again, to dig them up and add a lot of grit, compost, wood chip and manure to mix in the soil. Elsewhere I’ll just add a mulch which I hope will retain winter’s moisture throughout our inevitable summer drought.

I’ve re-cut my mown grass paths, avoiding the bulb shoots pushing through the meadow, including all the wild gladioli that Max and I planted using the augur drill in November. Looking forward with some trepidation to June when we open as a group for the NGS Yellow Book. I hope visitors will understand, this is still a garden in the making. 


Happy New Year to you all!

As the last Christmas leftovers are turned into a soup, and my lovely bunch of red amaryllis slowly fade, I’m sitting by the fire, surrounded by seed catalogues planning for the new year and trying to ignore my computer and work. Writing my blog is always a pleasure, sharing good news and new arrivals, this year with the arrival, at long last, of some hens.

Having dithered and waited, hatched and failed to find Orpington girls, I’ve succumbed to the glories of these little bantams. Gold laced – very exotic, and still Orps, but quarter scale of the standards, though still not tiny. These were bred by Will Dyson at Great Comp Gardens, better known for his salvias, and they are very pretty, busy and friendly. (PS. Will has others for sale.)

It took them a couple of days to find their way in and out of their house, a few more to discover the nest box and lay inside (despite the china egg as encouragement) and now they’ve settled without a gap in their egg production – fab to have homelaid eggs again, with lots left over to give to my grandsons.

I decided to go for bantams because I knew that with local fox problems they’d probably be spending more time in their newly re-enforced run, though, come spring and more gardening activity on my part, I’ll let them out into the garden. Fingers crossed that with new dogs living on either side of me, we’ll be left in peace.

With news of two new books in the pipeline, articles in Gardens Illustrated coming up, (look out for one on the wonderful Charlotte Molesworth in April) and hopefully continuing work for the Telegraph, it looks like a busy year ahead, including a group opening here in Whitstable for the National Gardens Scheme in June.

Keep in touch.

Christmas Shopping Day - Sunday December 6th

Celebrate Christmas at 19 Joy Lane with an eclectic mix of passionate people selling tasty treats, stocking fillers and special presents to suit every pocket.


* Katy Cox's Mighty Fine Things include locally sourced homemade fruit liqueurs, preserves and Christmas goodies. Lots of seasonal tastes and ideal presents.

* Rune, The Norse Baker bakes fabulous Norwegian biscuit and cakes to bring a Scandi twist to your celebrations. Also Stollen from local baker Toby Scwenn. 

* Hiroko Aono-Bilson is a textile artist who designs and makes presents using antique kimono and pretty hand crocheted bags and toys.

* Frances Prescott is a magazine make-up artist, offering advice and highlighting her products. An appointment at her salon will make a much-appreciated present.

* Cranbrook Iron make bespoke ironwork for home and garden, from huge fire bowls to small decorative objects to enhance your home.

* Martin Pamment of Kent Beach Art is a beachcomber who turns flotsam and jetsam into decorative artworks. Also Jane's beautiful painted pebbles.

* Kate Makes Chocolate and Kate's Bees of Kent will be selling delicious homemade chocolates and the produce from her beehives.

* The usual odds and ends from The Kitchen Garden: and eclectic mix of vintage, garden and hen keeping stuff.

Plus greatly reduced new gardening books I've reviewed sold to raise funds for Shernaz Dinsdale's Maiti Nepal Fund, also proceeds from mulled wine and nibbles. 

Need to know more? Email me at

Pascale Mazelaygue will be opening her house with friends at No 48 Joy Lane on the same day - Pay her a visit as well.


Summer’s over. We had our last evening drink looking at the sunset down at the beach hut yesterday evening. Sure, there’ll be others, but we’ll be so wrapped up you won’t recognize us! Could this be the time to finish the painting and decorating, when it’s too cold to lounge around? Son Max back from his six-month stint in US with his wife Helen (they got married in Vegas), back and looking for work. Must look out all those jobs I need doing before winter sets in.

Lots of apples wish there was a communal juicer somewhere I could take them. Seems such a waste, especially with no ducks or hens to gobble them up. My most successful crop was Katy, cordoned against the fence, bright red and v. tasty. My two pears have a good burden, but not yet quite ripe. Love pears, so looking forward to them.

Have bought a new Hotbin that will hopefully produce lots of lovely compost to lighten this heavy clay soil. Will also compost Jacques’ family’s food waste – I don’t have much to throw away, but children seem to produce a bit, but this bin will break it all down within 6 weeks.

Lovely weekend out and about, starting with Dixter’s Plant Fair where I bought this bunch of flowers from James Horner (see Sunday Telegraph article). Beautiful, then off to the Walled Nursery in Hawkhurst for wallflowers and The Artichoke Gallery in Ticehurst for their Modern Rustic exhibition. Home to plant the named coloured wallflowers halfway up their stems, at Emma’s suggestion. This is the way to get really good stocky plants apparently. Love the smell of wallflowers, and the dark reds, pale yellows and burnt orange tones.

On Sunday I went to the car boot and Faversham Antique Market, (the first Sunday of the month) where I’ve been buying goodies for our Christmas Shopping day here on December 6th – will give more info nearer the time.


I love walking past front gardens to see what’s growing. Even householders who don’t purport to be gardeners can play host to all sorts of exciting self-seeders, if they’re not too tidy. In mine, ox-eye and perennial daisies have created a fringe along the back and front of my privet hedge, and occasionally a purple daisy – common salsify, appropriately called the Oyster Plant pop up as well, though the verbena bonariensis is fast creating a thicket.

Bright magenta species gladiolus communis appear between crazy paving slabs along most plots in my road, and I’ve begged a few corms to plant in my orchard. I was happy to see that Tom Coward, gardener at the fabulous Gravetye Manor Hotel (one of my favourite gardens – pay a visit and indulge in their afternoon tea) has also dotted them in his meadow planting.

The Whitstable lily is a species iris orientalis, and vigorously sprouts in many gardens here. Again, I spotted a neighbour weeding it out and asked for a bagfull of corms. Like many opportunists, it can get overwhelming in the comfort of a flowerbed, and needs management, like the pretty creeping toadflax that will smother and cover any surface.

The RHS is campaigning for people to not cover their front gardens with hermetically sealed paving, bad for wildlife, water dispersion and ugly. I inherited a gravel garden, and most things grow happily, provided I don’t run them over when I park.

Don’t forget Great Comp’s Hens & Gardens Event on Sunday 21st June.


Still no hens! My broody and eggs are coming from a local school, and apparently there’s been some rather over-enthusiastic egg collecting, so they’ll have to start from scratch. Well, I suppose it’ll give my plants time to get established before the arrival of beaks and claws.

It has been very dry here, but at last with a bit of rain, plants are beginning to grow, and grow. One gets lulled into a false sense of security and misses pests (that cardoon is annually turned skeletal by slugs), weeds can take over – especially from my compost mulch which starts to germinate, and plants will flop unless staked. I try and spend late afternoons in the garden.

A busy month outside the garden gate: with Chelsea, a friend’s wedding, lots of garden visits, and a new book to start. (Have joined forces with photographer Bill Mason to work for a publisher – the rest is a secret, but you’ll be the first to know). In the meantime, have had jolly days out at Etchingham Station, the Walled Nursery at Hawkhurst, Borough Market in Bankside, and the private gardens in Canterbury Cathedral Close – all with fascinating garden stories – some of which can be read in the articles’ section.

There’s nothing better than a day out visiting a garden:  a lot to learn and marvel at, a little light shopping perhaps, and maybe lunch or at least a piece of cake. Sometimes you can also donate to a worthy cause as well. Why not a trip to Benenden in Kent to our Kent Hen Party to see and buy hens, hatching eggs and plants?


The joys of gardening a clay soil, and I really shouldn’t be even standing on it, so have been wobbling on planks and duckboards as I tidy, plant and try and improve the soil. Have added Gro-char Soil Improver, grit and horse manure. There’s a school of thought that chunky manure is the answer, and of course I garden in raised beds where I can, but trees and shrubs need to go into the soil.

Have ordered 100 plugs of Yellow Rattle (from to reduce the grass in the meadow and leave more space for wildflowers, and planted some white wild strawberries to confuse the squirrel who ate my entire crop last year. It’s all about problem solving.

The old swing seat is getting a coat of paint and I promise I’ll re-cover the cushions, the existing ones have nearly rotted away anyway. Bulbs are appearing, slightly later than usual, and it’s a relief to welcome favourites back. I sometimes get dark days when all I can see are the plants that haven’t re-appeared. Oh me of little faith.

I’ll be talking to the Friends of Canterbury Cathedral on March 11th about gardening, hens and downsizing, and at the Country Living Spring Fair on Saturday March 21st about keeping hens. It would be great to see some familiar faces.




Spending my afternoons puddling about in thick clay as I try to turn the area around my metal swing seat into a scented garden. Hacking out old hedging shrubs that have been banked up with the excavations for a greenhouse that has long since disappeared: bricks, flints and bits of rusted ironmongery, all clagged together with lumps of yellow subsoil.

It’s a strangely relaxing – and exhausting procedure for just a few hours every afternoon, as I dream of what I’ll plant (akebia, eleagnus angustifolia, sweet peas, and magenta-coloured shrub roses), and imagine myself sitting in the sun. The image is completed with an imagined flock of Orpingtons. Every time I garden, I miss sharing the excitement of the turned spade, though the job is easier without darting beaks.

I’m hoping that Kent College will lend me a broody and some of their hatching eggs. Their provenance (mums and dad seen above, and borrowed for the day) can be seen in an article I’ve written for this month’s Gardens Illustrated, in some gorgeous pics by Andrew Mongomery: Henkeeping for Serious Gardeners. Can’t wait!

Winter Gardening


A couple of days spent out in the garden and life makes sense again. Leaf mould and compost sorted and mixed, and spread on the beds. I won’t clear them until late Feb, but the spring bed behind the veg garden needs tidying so that early treasures can actually be seen. Hellebores are opening, arums unfurling their spears, a few snowdrops and various bulbs beginning to bud. A sort among the pots at the back of the house produces a few to bring to the front door, including winter honeysuckle, wintersweet and a pot of cheerfulness.

On the terrace table, I have a pot of tender hellebores under a galvanised cloche – like a tiny greenhouse, various pots of herbs for easy access from the kitchen, myrtle, winter savory and hyssop, apart from the usual suspects. Time to take down the Christmas decorations and replace my driftwood tree with a pot of cymbidium orchids again.

Writing about gardening clothes for the Telegraph and I realize just how important it is to be wearing clothes that are comfortable, easy to move in and that keep you warm. I favour a pair of Max’s old Carhart baggy jeans (I wear woolly tights underneath), a strange hoodie over a red cashmere jumper and a ski vest. I always wear gloves – Showa, and my ancient Dubarrys keep my feet warm and dry. Not fashion plate perfect, but workmanlike.

PS If you miss an article, just type in Francine Raymond at the Sunday Telegraph, and it should be there.


Thank you all who came to see us at our Christmas Shopping Day. It was like a lovely day-long party with long-lost friends! We raised £200 for Unicef and I did my Christmas Shopping. The house looked very bare after everyone had gone. Since then we’ve done a couple of shoots for my column in the Telegraph and so various decoration projects have appeared and the house looks quite festive again.

Using succulents, herbs and various other plants, wreaths have appeared on doors, candle rings on tables, small trees on windowsills and little landscapes in terrariums. Some will stay and others will go out into the garden where they’ll be much happier.

My poor spruce will be spared disinterment and instead, disregarding cries of ‘Call that a Christmas tree’ from my sons, I’ve bought a driftwood tree from Martin Pammant (, hung with sea-washed glass and pebbles. Since we intend to eat part of our lunch in the beach hut – depending on the weather, this will be a seaside themed Christmas.

Enjoy yours too!

Tying up loose ends for our Christmas Shopping on Sunday December 7th (10 till 5)

Start celebrating Christmas here with an eclectic mix of passionate people selling tasty treats, stocking fillers, decorations and special presents to suit every pocket.

*Katy Cox’s Mighty Fine Things include locally sourced homemade fruit liqueurs, preserves and Christmas goodies. Lots of seasonal tastes and ideal presents.

*Rune, The Norse Baker bakes fabulous Norwegian biscuits and cakes to bring a Scandi twist to your celebrations. Also Stollen from local baker Toby Schwenn.

*Hiroko Aono-Bilson, textile artist and writer is just back from a visit to Japan with some beautiful kimonos. Special presents for special friends or treat yourselves.

*Rob Wheeler, a Suffolk potter who has supplied The Kitchen Garden since we started. Lovely raku and sponge-wear pots, and his famous bantam eggcups.

*Frances Prescott is a magazine make-up artist, offering advice and highlighting her products. An appointment with her would make a much-appreciated present.

*Cranbrook Iron make bespoke ironwork for home and garden. I’ve just bought a beautiful rusty curled fern that’s on my kitchen table.

*Martin Pamment from Kent Beach Art is a beachcomber who turns flotsam and jetsam into decorative house and garden artworks. Also painted pebbles from Jane.

*Odds and ends I think you’ll like from The Kitchen Garden. The usual eclectic mix: vintage, garden and henkeeping stuff and my new book – Flying the Coop.

I’ll also be selling hardly used gardening books I’ve reviewed, at hugely reduced prices. Funds will go to help the Ebola Crisis, as will the proceeds from refreshments: glasses of mulled wine and spiced biscuits.

Email me at if you need to know more.


Last few joys of the season. A spectacular day out at Great Dixter at their Autumn Fair buying a last few gems for the garden, a visit to Charlotte Molesworth’s exhibition, packed with paintings, metal sculptures and pots, and a huge bunch of garden flowers. Wonderful how the Michaelmas daisies all carry on despite the weather.

Now I need to stack my wood store with logs, bed the garden down with a snug layer of compost, batten the hatches at the beach hut and dig out some warmer clothes. Buying, preparing and eating food suddenly seems to take up a major part of my time, and it’s not entirely due to a week’s visit from Max, down to finally get his beach buggy on the road (strange timing – but at least it will be ready to go next year). The change of season heralds an increase in appetite, and waistline. I crave rich autumnal tastes.

Am also starting to source goodies for my Open House at Christmas (this year on Sunday December 7th) and have joined forces with a great band of local makers. I shall be taking books to a Christmas Craft Fair Bethersden for the Friends of Canterbury Cathedral on October 16th (email me if you’d like more details), and joining the judges for this year’s batch of entries for Gardening Against the Odds.

Twitter lessons may result in a bit more activity on that front, so do follow me @FrancineHens if you have time.

Late summer colour

A rush to get my garden tidy for a shoot by Kristin Perers who was lovely and reassuring. We did the kitchen, garden and some recipes for Sainbury’s Magazine that’ll come out next year, and the results were fabulous. They even got make-up and hair for me – so I looked fairly fab as well (almost unrecognizable in fact). Have a look at Kristin’s inspiring website, and particularly her section: This is 50. Very encouraging.

Trying to extend the season in the garden – that looks as though it’s October already, and my table still looks exotic with Will Dyson’s salvias, some succulents and a strange purple plant called …oh dear I’ve lost its name. The purple is picked up in the distance by stalwart verbena bonariensis, that’s been flowering away (and self-seeding) since May.

I find, if the table that can be seen from the kitchen, is looking good, the rest of the garden is forgiven, and that’s not just because I’m short-sighted. I have a similar ruse round the front door: lots of interesting plants to welcome visitors. On the subject of visitors, I’ve had a few. Living by the seaside during a good summer brings the whole family flocking. And by next year we’ll have a beach hut, so bring on the hoards.

Enjoy these last few days of summer. 



We had a lovely day, and thank you all for braving the Oyster Festival traffic and wandering down the quieter end of town. We ate all the puddings, drank all the tea and sat around chatting in the garden in just the right weather, not too hot, and no rain. Entrance money went to The Conservation Foundation, David Bellamy’s charity that sponsors Gardening Against the Odds, who I’ve just interviewed for the Telegraph. Friend Nicola Smith brought along two of her blue egg-laying Broughton Blues who had fine time in the garden.

I’ve had Solomon – type decisions to make in the hen department. Clio’s dear little bantam hatched out just the one chick. Not her fault, the other eggs weren’t fertile. So, if it’s a hen she’ll stay with mum and if it’s a cockerel – he’ll probably go for the pot, (fingers crossed not) but either way, I still don’t have any occupants for the henhouse.

I could have hatched out more eggs – though Orpington eggs are like hens’ teeth in this part of the world, and if you have any next spring, I’d love to hear from you – but it’s getting late in the season, so have decided to wait. Hopefully, by then, the fox – who hasn’t been seen since, may have died, and maybe his successor won’t be so bold.

It was fun to see hens in the garden again, but I think I’m wiser to wait. In the meantime, Ludo and I have been harvesting apples and damsons (poaching and freezing for autumn tarts and sauces), and watching the butterflies on the wildflowers. 


We’re having an Open Garden Day here on Sunday 27th July to celebrate the publication of Flying the Coop. Am nervous about showing my still very rudimentary plot to visitors, but hope everyone will understand:  this is a work in progress. To distract from the garden’s shortcomings, the legendary Peggy of Peggy’s Puddings will be providing lovely sweet things to eat; Katy Cox of Mighty Fine Things will be selling Bellinis (both alcoholic and non) and I’m hoping we’ll have locally grown flowers for sale. And books, of course.

We’ll be open from 10 till 4 or 5, depending on the weather and how exhausted we are. Please park carefully on Joy Lane, avoiding neighbours’ drives, and bear in mind, this is the beginning of the Oyster Festival in town. Looking forward to seeing you.

Am writing a piece on Bantams in this weekend’s Telegraph. Feel a great debt to a particular bantam – Clio’s silkie/pekin cross, sitting for me, as we speak. My eggs are due to hatch this weekend, so we may have some chicks to see, fingers crossed. Will keep you posted.

Open gardens, Oyster Festival, hatching chicks, bantams.


Sitting Pretty

Here she is, still sitting pretty ten days in, and the same still to go.  She’s covering the eggs well, but her chicks will probably outgrow her rather quickly and she’ll have trouble keeping them all under her wing.

Broodies need to be dusted for mites and lice – her owners have used DE (diatomaceous earth) read all about it in the news section of If they don’t leave the nest every other day to eat, drink and dustbathe, encourage them to do so during the hottest part of the day.

Will keep you posted…….

Fingers Crossed

With heart in mouth, have taken six Orpington hatching eggs to a friend’s broody to sit on. The dear little Silkie cross settled on six eggs easily, pleased to be given the task that all Silkies love best.  I will be posting pics of her soon, and also tweeting with luck. And sending progress reports via Clio who is in charge. I’m hoping for just two hens, and Clio and her family will keep any extras.

In many ways, I feel irresponsible providing another meal for the fox, but we’ll improve our defences, beefing up my perimeter fences; I’ll keep a closer eye on my birds; indulge in all the advice I’ve been given: radios on, male urine, visits by friend’s dogs; and sadly probably allow my birds less freedom in the garden. The fox who killed my hens was in a bad way, injured with mange, and has probably not survived (95% of urban foxes don’t live longer than 3 years), though if so, he will have been replaced. So like many henkeepers, I shall have to constantly be on the alert.

Bought my hatching eggs at The Hen Party, which was fun, and also the eggs in the photo – outstanding Copper Maran eggs, and pale blue ones from my friend Nicola. Am at the Open Garden Fair at Faversham on Sunday 29th – hope to see you there.