Poul­try Peo­ple

Pa­tri­cia Elk­ing­ton is a keen gar­dener, char­ity fundraiser and avid ban­tam-keeper. Jeremy Hobson vis­its her at home in the pic­turesque vil­lage of Craw­ley, Hamp­shire

Your Chickens - - Contents - Pa­tri­cia Elk­ing­ton

What ini­tially sparked your in­ter­est in bantams? At first my hus­band and I thought that they would make nice pets and they would be fun to have, so we bought some as presents for our son, Ni­cholas, when he was seven years old. He was born in 1967, so it must have been 1974 when we first started keep­ing bantams. Be­cause it was a sur­prise present, the chicken house — a flat-pack type thing — was built at a neigh­bour’s prop­erty. Then, when it came to car­ry­ing it across and into our gar­den, we found that we couldn’t get it through the gate and, with great dif­fi­culty, we had to lift it high to get it over.

Have you al­ways kept bantams? Yes I’ve al­ways had bantams of all mix­tures. They have re­ally lovely colours and seem to live for ages.

I can see your cock­erel has a bit of Friz­zle in him; there is one bird that looks al­most pure In­dian/ Ju­bilee game and there are some with ob­vi­ous Barbu d’Uc­cle blood. It is an in­ter­est­ing mix. How many do you have at one time? Al­ways un­der 10 and usu­ally about six. Some of the ones I have now come from Jim Butt, who is based at the edge of the New For­est. They are pretty and I don’t know whether or not it’s be­cause they have feath­ered feet (which I don’t re­ally like as they get very dirty), but they don’t do too much dam­age to the gar­den.

I was go­ing to ask you about that — be­ing a very keen gar­dener and in­volved with the Na­tional Gar­den Scheme (NGS), how do you pre­vent dam­age to your gar­den? If you are grow­ing peren­ni­als there’s no prob­lem, but if I have del­i­cate seedlings to pro­tect I ei­ther keep the bantams in their run for a while or put a lit­tle wire net­ting fence around the plants un­til they are big enough not to be dam­aged.

What is re­quired to be able to open a gar­den un­der the NGS? It has to have at least ‘45 min­utes of in­ter­est’ to the av­er­age vis­i­tor and, as well as be­ing in­ter­est­ing, it ob­vi­ously has to be rea­son­ably well main­tained. There is a county team which in­spects the gar­dens of peo­ple who ap­ply to open theirs to the pub­lic. Hamp­shire is a big county and there is a team or­gan­iser, plus nine oth­ers who go out and in­spect. You can’t be mod­er­ate when ap­ply­ing to join the scheme and it’s not just the visual in­ter­est peo­ple are look­ing for; there is also the safety as­pect — un­even paving stones and steps, for ex­am­ple — to be con­sid­ered.

With such strin­gent re­quire­ments, why do you do it? It makes so much money for char­ity. Ev­ery vis­i­tor makes an es­sen­tial con­tri­bu­tion to some­one’s life, es­pe­cially those who need care or sup­port through chronic or lifethreat­en­ing ill­nesses. Na­tion­ally the scheme gen­er­ates £3m a year. When it first started it was in­tended to ben­e­fit re­tired district nurses. In the first year, 600 peo­ple opened their gar­dens and vis­i­tors were charged a shilling [5p] — and £8,000 was raised. Nowa­days it helps many worth­while char­i­ties.

You are also in­volved with The Chil­dren’s So­ci­ety col­lect­ing box scheme. Tell us about that I ac­cost ev­ery­one in the vil­lage and ask them to put their small change into a col­lect­ing box, which we count and bank ev­ery Au­gust. Craw­ley is a very small place, but I have around 90 boxes out there and we gen­er­ally raise about £1,200 an­nu­ally. In Au­gust we ask ev­ery­one to bring their boxes to my house and I give them tea and cakes. Those who want to can then look around the gar­den and say hello to the bantams.

Pa­tri­cia Elk­ing­ton (right) keeps be­tween six and nine bantams at any one time

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