Thursday, 17 November 2016

Ode to a Little White Hen

Our Light Sussex bantams are the prettiest birds imaginable; John's choice, if memory serves; they are flashy, bright white and banded black, firm of beak and fast of wing.
My choice, I think, were the softly coloured wyandottes, feathered with darker lines; with names like Toffee and Treacle, you can imagine the colouring.
Five years ago we started off with 2 of the Light Sussex bantams and I called them my Blondies, so (of course) they were called Debbie and Harry. (I love punk music, and pop music of the late `70's.) (Later joined by blond-tressed Gerri (Hall. Remember the `Let's Stick Together' video? Coolest model ever.)

All my girls have been raised from day-old chicks which makes them darn special. We've seen them learn to roost, learn to find the very best nest box, learn that I'm the Food Lady. Even learn my cough from the bedroom - which brings on a `we want pizza' sort of call. They've decided that Warrigal greens is their favourite of the greens. We've cracked it when they get clucky.
When the favourite (mercury-coloured Freddie, friendliest Freddie) got sick, we crossed that threshold, and took her to a vet. A few days of a chatty chook in a box in the house - boy, did I enjoy that, oh yes - a daily pill popped into the struggling beak and voilà, we have a happy layer again. Money well spent thank you.
So today was a bit different. Debbie had been a little off colour; then she couldn't get up to the roost at night (but that day was a public holiday);  today she was having trouble walking. Off to the wonderful bird vet. Is it infectious? (Hopefully not.)  Is it easily fixed? (Sadly, no.) Is she suffering? (Well, maybe, and not for any time longer.) Euthanasia please.
The wonderful vet goes to organise her things and this gives me time to stroke Debbie's white rump and those fabulous black feathers at her ruff.  It's a quiet chance to say good bye, it's peaceful, sweet, even.
Do we want to bring her home? Yes. She gets a pet's burial, of course, under a special shrub that will never be disturbed. And I have a white David Austin rose in a pot, bought when on a nursery visit with my sisters, that needs planting. (Rosa `Windermere', a creamy rose with `a strong fragrance with a hint of citrus', that reaches 1.2m and flowers forever.). Perfect.
I dig out some belladonna lilies and `plant' them both (pet then shrub) at the back of a border where there's lots of grey leaves (large-leaf Lamb's Ears; an unusual Ballota) and white, pink and purple flowers.
I have some black mondo grass in pots, too (from Mum's garden). They'd remind me of Debbie's beautiful ruff but...would they look nice or...I suspect, awful, under the rose. Packets of `black' and white tulips can look great, but it's a powerful combination which should be used with care, maybe amongst lots of green, and not permanently, like I'm proposing. Hmmm. I think Geranium phaeum instead, or Mourning Widow as it's known, with its little dark flowers over pretty, rounded clumps of greenery would look much better. And if the colours are only meaningful to me? No matter.

Jill Weatherhead is horticulturist, writer, garden designer and principal at Jill Weatherhead Garden Design who lives in the Dandenong Ranges east of Melbourne, and works throughout Victoria (

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