Henny Penny, My First Feathered Love

My love of poultry began in a rather unconventional way. I was a young boy in McMinnville, Tennessee on a trip to town with my grandmother when I spied a brown Leghorn hen running loose on Main Street. On this particular day I was fixated on getting back at my sister for her recent goat acquisition so this chicken seemed like an answered prayer. I asked around about the owner of the bird and was told that she was mine to have if I could catch her. With some fancy foot work and a lot of flying feathers I managed to corral her. Half way home I had named her Henny Penny and forgotten all about my sister’s goat. There would be many feathered friends after Henny, but I credit her with sparking an enthusiasm for poultry that persists today.

My interest has grown to include the preservation of heritage birds, many of which are experiencing alarming declines in breeding flocks throughout the country. Heritage breeds are officially described as original breeds and strains of domestic fowl that were developed and/or recognized in the late 19th or 20th centuries, and they are defined by a specific set of criteria as determined by the American Poultry Association.

1. APA Standard Breed
2. Long Productive Outdoor Life Span
3. Naturally Mating
4. Slow Growth Rate

At the farm we focus on maintaining the genetics of a handful of heritage breeds.

Slate Turkeys as pictured here as well as Black Turkeys

Sebastopol Geese

Buff Orpingtons

Barred Pylmouth Rocks

While you might not have room for a flock of chickens in your backyard there are ways you can help with the preservation of heritage breeds. The first thing I suggest is learning more about the subject. Here are some websites to check out:
Heritage Poultry Conservancy
American Bantam Association
American Livestock Breeds Conservancy
American Poultry Association
International Waterfowl Breeders Association

Fall is the season for poultry and livestock shows. Get your toes wet by visiting a few. They are great places to learn about breeds, buy birds and meet other poultry enthusiasts. Check with your local state fair, I’d be willing to bet they have one going on. This year America’s National Crossroads of America Poultry Club show is October 28th – 30th in Indianapolis.

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From Seed to Flower, Meeting Garden Designer Xa Tollemache

One of the pleasures of living is experiencing those moments when the past connects with the present. It’s like returning to a seed sown and finding a flower. You know, those instances when you say to yourself, “I understand.”

Five or so years ago I discovered garden designer Xa Tollemache while touring Castle Hill in North Devon, England. She designed the Millennium Garden there and I was an immediate fan. I admire her sense of proportion and scale and her ability to create visually compelling patterns with plants that carpet the ground.

Skip forward to spring 2011 and there I am introducing myself to Xa at a fundraiser in New York. After following her work for so many years, the moment was a little bit surreal. I was delighted when she came to Arkansas to speak at the Clinton School of Public Service and tickled pink to host a dinner party for her at the Garden Home Retreat.

It wasn’t until I was back in England visiting her home, Helmingham Hall, that I recognized the flower borne of the seed sown so many years ago. Surrounded by the graceful gardens she designed, I was transported back to the Millennium Garden at Castle Hill. The path from past to present was clear and I said to myself, “I understand.”

Favorite Films for the Coming Long Weekend

We’re coming to the end of the summer blockbuster season and I must confess I’m not sad about it. Of the summer’s releases my favorite was Rango, but the big budget, supersized special effects offerings didn’t do much for me. I’m not a movie snob. I like any genre–comedy, epic, animation, sci-fi and even horror. I’ll watch a movie at the theater, at home or even on a plane. I judge a movie by the writing, storyline and cinematography. I also like it when there is a surprise or two.

This Labor Day weekend I plan to spend some of my time relaxing with a good movie or two or three. How about you? Are movies going to be part of your holiday plans? If so I recommend the following:

Barry Lyndon (1975)
directed by Stanley Kubrick and starring Ryan O’Neal
Set in 18th-century England, it’s a period movie done in Stanley Kubrick’s quirky style.
Trailer: http://www.imdb.com/video/screenplay/vi247005465/
Amélie (2001)
directed by Jean-Paul Jeunet and starring Audrey Tautou
I love the colors and imagery in this movie. It’s a visual treat as well as a touching story. It’s in French with subtitles.
Trailer: http://www.imdb.com/video/screenplay/vi2330460441/
Being There (1979)
directed by Hal Ashby and starring Peter Sellers, Shirley MacLaine, Jack Warden and Melvyn Douglas
This movie’s script is brilliant. It’s a “mistaken for greatness” story with fabulous wit and dry humor.
Trailer: http://www.imdb.com/video/screenplay/vi489947929/
Mrs. Doubtfire (1993)
directed by Chris Columbus and starring Robin Williams, Sally Field and Pierce Brosnan
Who doesn’t love a good tale of cross-dressing? This is one of my favorite Robin Williams comedies with plenty of slapstick and hilarious lines.
Trailer: http://www.imdb.com/video/screenplay/vi2564882713/

So those are a few of my favorites. What do you suggest I add to my movie-watching list?

The Soulfulness of an Old Chair

It’s hard for me to pass by an antique store, junk shop or flea market without at least peering in the window. You just never know what kind of treasure might be found inside.

The hunt for good pieces is certainly part of the lure of antiquing, but I don’t have to own, looking is just as good. The patina of age gives old furniture a soulfulness that I appreciate. I suppose it appeals to the history buff in me.

Aside from the unique aesthetics and beautiful craftsmanship I like to imagine the journey the piece has taken. Who sat in the Windsor chair or slept in the tester bed? How did a corner cabinet make it from France to a small store in Texas? Imagine the stories a 300 year old dining table could tell?

When it comes to using antiques in my home I select a few stand out pieces to combine with contemporary furniture. Sort of like functional art. The juxtaposition of color, texture and form creates a compelling composition.

I also like to bring antique garden ornaments indoors to use as focal points or as an element of surprise. They are often over scaled, which creates drama.

Speaking of dramatic antiques, I recently attended what I’d call the grandest antique show I’ve seen in some time. The Masterpiece London Antique Fair was held on the grounds of the Royal Hospital Chelsea this past June and boy what display. Most of what was offered was English and Continental furniture, art and decorative arts. Not the best place for me to make many purchases because most of what I collect is American, but it was joy to look around!

I was immediately impressed with the tent that housed the event. It was enormous and disguised to match the surrounding buildings. I wish I could do that for some of the events at the farm.

I also enjoyed browsing through book dealers’ booths. The collections of gardening books were amazing.

I was most taken with the edgy floral displays, which were quite the contrast to the traditional piece of furniture and art. It was interesting to see contemporary accenting antique, which is the reverse of what I do in my home.

The is the exterior of the tent disguished as a brick building.

 

Ah, The Good Old Days

Looks like store displays have made the change from vacation fun to back to school. Out with the flip-flops and beach towels and in with the backpacks and spiral notebooks. Yep, there are just a few more weeks for kids to enjoy the freedom of summer and it’s got me to wondering just how their days will be spent. Back in the day you’d have found me hitting the streets with the neighborhood kids looking for something to get into. We were “running wild” as my grandmother used to say.

If I could turn back the birthday clock and be 10 again for a day there are a few childhood joys that I’d find missing here in the 21st century.

  • Roaming freely around the neighborhood without concern. We were out the door in the morning, back for meals and out until bedtime. The words “I’m bored” always got the response, “go outside.”
  • Neighborhood creeks. There was a creek within walking distance of our house. It was a favorite haunt for cooling off and collecting watery things like tadpoles, crawfish and bream.
  • Fireflies. Where did all the fireflies go? Except on a recent trip to New York state I haven’t seen a single one this summer. We used to make lanterns by placing fireflies in Mason jars, which may be why there aren’t any around anymore.
  • Shopping at five and dime variety stores. I used to love to get cleaned up and head downtown with my grandparents to the Ben Franklin or Lay’s. I could spend an eternity browsing through all the treasures and art supplies at these stores.
  • Rear-facing station wagon seats. Claiming shotgun was never an issue when one of these was available. Oh the joy of sitting backwards looking out the big, often open, rear window. It also helped that the back of the station wagon was out of parental reach. Heaven was getting that seat all to yourself on a road trip.

What would you miss from “the good old days” if you were 10 today?