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
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