Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Chelsea: How Henrietta the chicken met Her Majesty the Queen

Ten, 15 years ago, you hardly saw a vegetable at Chelsea. Today, there are usually at least two show gardens devoted to vegetables and displays in the Great Pavilion as well. Even better, there is a conscious effort to get children involved not just in gardening but in growing their own, as the Dorset Cereals 'Edible Garden' (right) demonstrates. It's designed for a primary school, complete with watering rota scribbled on a blackboard.
Notcutts Nurseries have designed their stand in the pavilion as a family garden, complete with vegetable plot with raised beds so that both young and old can get involved. Notcutts also decided they would like some chickens on their stand, to reflect the growing interest in smallholding and sustainable living. (Apparently they even sell chickens in some of their garden centres, such as Oxford and St Albans.)
There was just one problem. Chickens, indeed animals of any kind, are Not Allowed at Chelsea. Sir Terence Conran wanted to have chickens on his Dig For Victory VE day anniversary garden a few years ago and the request was firmly denied. (There was enough fuss over the ladies' bloomers that he wanted to have hanging on the washing line.)
But Notcutts persevered with their chicken idea. They had to plough through about half a ton of paperwork involving risk assessments and health and safety checks. Would the chickens have avian flu? Would they give it to Alan Titchmarsh, or, even worse, Her Majesty? In the end, the Royal Horticultural Society agreed, on the strict understanding that the chickens could be there for press day only, and had to be out before Her Maj came round on her Monday afternoon Royal tour.
Then came a message from the Palace. A Royal equerry let it be known that the Queen would rather like to see the chickens on the Notcutts stand. Arrangements to remove the offending poultry were quickly altered so they would be present for the Royal scrutiny.
Here's a picture of them below. The cockerel is called Ernie (the stand is sponsored by NS&I, so they named him after the Premium Bonds computer). I was allowed to choose the name for his partner, who is Henrietta. Hen for short.