Chickens are in today. Scarcely a week goes by without a magazine or newspaper—even the Wall Street Journal!—exploring America’s growing fascination with chickens. Websites are devoted to the subject, and designers of all sorts are finding opportunities to create stylish and whimsical—yet functional—chicken coops. Garden shows throughout the West have featured chickens in numerous installations in recent years—always to the delight of visitors, young or old; one such received the Pacific Horticulture award at this year’s Northwest Flower & Garden Show.
My professor of architectural history once mocked the utter uselessness of swans in the landscape, despite their grace and beauty. Chickens will never suffer that affront. Even two or three chickens will provide enough healthy eggs for a family of two. Their manure and bedding material, collected and composted, provide all the fertilizer the average green gardener needs for a small garden.
A friend in Cape Town, South Africa gave her small flock of bantam hens free run of her garden, giving her sheep dogs something to herd, but, more importantly, providing a sensible means of keeping the insect pests under control.
Chickens are beautiful, with their varied and colorful plumage, and their constant motion adds kinetic energy to the garden. Even as sculptural elements, they bring a smile to the face of visitors. Such was the case at the Korpinen Erickson garden, a highlight of the 2009 Gardening Under Mediterranean Skies symposium and featured in designer Puck Erickson’s article in this issue.
Chickens also make good company. There is something soothing about the gentle clucking of a group of hens, as Val Easton has noted in her article about Jennifer Carlson’s garden in Seattle. Jennifer even used her newly hatched chicks to instill a sense of responsibility in her son and his pre-teen chums.
So, with Style and Whimsy in the Sustainable Garden as the theme of 2010′s three-day-plus Gardening Under Mediterranean Skies symposium, will there be chickens in any of the gardens?