Chicken coops are upscale nests at Greenwich residences
Sometimes a garden tour surprises us. We expect to see picture-postcard-pretty perennial borders, landscapes studded with sculptures, raised beds flush with vegetables.
But the recent tour sponsored by the Greenwich Botanical Center had something unusual to show the tour-trippers: a chicken coop off the grid of a manicured lawn.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture says there is a national phenomenon afoot: the numbers of backyard poultry keepers is rising in suburbia where well-educated, dedicated owners are in pursuit of organic food that’s good for you. That’s where chickens come in.
Rearing chickens is no seat-of-the-pants endeavor. Long gone are the days of Grandma’s raucous hens and notorious noisemaker roosters roaming helter-skelter out in the countryside.
Chickens are such funny creatures. They want to be pets. They like to be cuddled like a kitten in your arms. They love to explore a meadow like a happy puppy. They sing when laying an egg and cackle as loud as geese, and they can screech as loudly as a toddler demanding attention, as “Doris” did one morning.
Doris is one of the Buff Orphingtons in Lin Lavery’s brood of six hens. (I couldn’t tell one chicken from another. They were all “Doris” to me.) Allowed to roam, Doris was outside the kitchen’s screened door early one morning carrying on as if a coyote had appeared on the ridge.
“She was screaming at me, making this horrible noise,” recalls Lavery. “So I said, ‘Honey, I don’t know what your problem is, but you’re going back to bed.’”
Lavery grabbed a mug of coffee and headed down the hill to the chicken coop, which was nestled up against a screened-in vegetable and cutting garden. Doris followed, screaming all the way. She was ushered into the henhouse and told to calm down. Lavery then went into the garden to pick some kale for dinner and when she came out, Doris had laid her first egg. A smart little bird, Doris knew that the open lawn was not the place to be in this crucial moment in her life. She needed to be in the nesting box.
A former selectman and now real estate agent with Coldwell Banker in Greenwich, Lavery is an ardent organic gardener (she loves to show off her twin compost bins conveniently close to coop and vegetable patch). A teacher early in her career, she takes the time to explain things, sometimes with a good chuckle. How come no rooster? I asked.
“Okay,” she replied, “science 101. No rooster, no chicks. I want eggs.” Of course, dumb me.
Her chicken pen is a simple treated-wood structure with a flat-roof two-“room” run and a slanted roof over the nesting and roosting spaces. One of the myriad models sold by wayfair.com, it’s been gussied up by Lavery. The slanted roof, for example, is a living garden of succulents that she transplanted from a part of her grounds. It gives the coop a Cotswold-like cottage-aura further enhanced by a moss topiary of a chicken sitting like a proud weathervane on the roof’s peak. Beneath it is a wee flower box dressed with summer blooms. Inside this fairy-tale hen house, Lavery constructed a swing near other roosting poles for the happy-go-lucky birds among the flock.
Lavery opened the lid to the nesting box and picked up two buffed copper-colored eggs, brought them inside and slid them into a plastic blue egg carton in a drawer under a kitchen counter. No need to refrigerate because they are so fresh and would be used for breakfast the next day.
Besides providing food and generally having a sweet disposition, chickens are great for bug and pest control for yards. They eat grubs, mosquitoes or worms — Lavery fed them worms from her compost as we chatted — and best of all, they seem to enjoy ticks for dinner.
Four miles north of the Lavery homestead is another suburban chicken coop. It proudly struts a grandeur seldom seen in the realm of poultry pens for it sits in the highly stylized kingdom of Sleepy Cat Farm. So much has been written about the geometric parterre garden on this estate that descriptions tend to be repetitive, but not so the octagonal-shaped rotunda for chickens. No ordinary henhouse, it’s a McMansion for 12 to 15 chickens designed by Charles Hilton, the architect of many structures on this estate, home of the Fred Landman, who is a Jeffersonian gentleman farmer.
For the data-driven out there, the chicken run has a bluestone base, gravel-and-dirt floor, oak frame, lead coated copper roof and copper weathervane. The enclosed nesting portion has a concrete floor and is constructed of wood framing and Connecticut field stone and has a slate roof. While these chickens are rarely permitted to roam the grounds, their screened hiatus offers enough amusement to observe the outside world and room to enjoy life.
The chickens are cared for by a staff of garden workers, horticulture whiz Alan Gorkin among them. He says he likes “the Buff Orphingtons for their disposition, Rhode Island Reds for their hardiness, Copper Marans for their chocolate-colored eggs.”
There are also dark brown, light brown, white, olive green, blue green and speckled eggs, an Easter basket panorama. Each chicken lays an egg about every other day, so there’s plenty for poaching to top a beautiful farro-arugula salad.
Rosemarie T. Anner is a frequent contributor to Sunday Arts & Style.