21 November 2016
The chickens of Allt-y-bela
Allt-y-Bela is a wonderful place to visit. The position of the
garden tucked up in the base of a narrow valley, the fairytale-like
quality of the building and the dreamy garden with its towering
topiary and lush planting plus its very human scale all add up to
make it very special. The real genius of Allt-y-bela lies in the
little details which often surprise and delight visitors. A greater
part of these details however are often not fully appreciated after
just one visit, but that's not only ok, I think it's preferable. A
good garden, like a good book, can take multiple visits with each
one revealing new details lost in the original search for the
At Allt-y-bela it seems as if the animals have been specially chosen to add to the sense of place, from Hudson the Bengal cat who shines gold in the sun and slinks about in the trees, to Thistle the wirehaired pointer who looks like a medieval hunting dog; the animals add another layer to Allt-y-bela.
We've recently aquired a new little flock of chickens in the garden. It's hard to describe exactly what a little group of chickens bring to a garden if you've never stopped and watched them for a little while. I could watch them all day I think. We have six little bantam hens and a young cockerel who is very much still finding his feet, the hens ganged up on him at first and gave him a properly hard time. He's found his strut now though and is mostly quite dignified. He's been chasing off the rogue pheasants which have been wandering down into the garden in ever greater numbers of late. Amongst his little hareem of hens are a couple of slightly dippy birds who are forever getting separated from the group, it's great to watch the cockerel (who I've tentatively named Huw, pending managerial approval.) chasing backwards and forwards across the common as he desperately tries to keep the group together.
Hens are not always a gardener's best friend but these particular ones seem to be fairly good company. They follow me through the beds picking at the bugs I've disturbed but generally, for the moment at least, are content not to dig the beds up. At least one of them has developed a taste for violas which is a little irritating and during our recent crocus planting I discovered to my horror that they will knick off with any unattended bulbs!
It seems strange to me just what a difference these birds have made to the garden; I guess it's just another detail, another layer to the garden, which adds up to the much greater whole.
Words: Steve Lannin, Head Gardener at Allt-y-bela
Photographs: Britt Willoughby Dyer