Spaceships, unicorns, fire engines and superheroes are just some of the things that small children are often fond of, but for Arthur Parkinson, it was chickens. “As a little boy, my mum and I used to walk through local allotments and we’d see them all pecking about,” he recalls. “In the summer holidays we’d go to Derbyshire, to Chatsworth House and visit the farmyard that Deborah Cavendish, the Duchess of Devonshire set up. She was a big poultry enthusiast and had a beautiful collection of fancy breeds, so literally from three years old, I knew I loved chickens.”

It's an unusual obsession but one that has never waned for the gardener, writer, artist, animal welfare campaigner and protégé of renowned garden expert Sarah Raven. This passion for poultry sees him maintain two flocks, one of tea pot-like bantams, which roam his grandmother Min’s former garden at his hometown in Nottinghamshire and another of crested Cream Legbars and Buff Cochins that reside on land near the Cotswold cottage he shares with his partner, the interior designer James Mackie. The plumptious creatures are also the subject of his fourth book, Chicken Boy, part memoir, part how to guide to chicken keeping, which was published this spring.

This follows The Pottery Gardener, The Flower Yard and Planting a Paradise, three best-selling titles in which he also extols the virtues of hens as well as his personal specialism, gardening in pots. “Pots have great potential to encourage wildlife and to grow food, as well as from a visual perspective,” he enthuses. “A balcony, a fire escape or even window boxes mean you can have flowers, herbs or vegetables. Home-grown, fresh produce just gives you so much zest for life. And for a generation whose lifestyle isn't as cemented as it traditionally would have been, pots are infinitely accessible.”

Despite his success, which has been augmented by his hugely popular Instagram account, Arthur takes care to cultivate a quiet life. “I’m so grateful for Instagram. People are kind and engaged and it allows me to share things I’m concerned about in an unscripted way,” he says. “Ideally I’d love to keep chickens and have a walled garden with a little shop that would open just occasionally for seasonal events. That would keep me busy.”

Bearing in mind Arthur’s passion for flowers, it comes as no surprise that some of his favourite objects are those in which his blooms can be displayed. These include a clutch of vintage bud vases with heavy bases and slender stems that he keeps in a wool-lined hamper. “I'm always looking in charity shops and on eBay as well,” he explains. “I don't fiddle around when I'm arranging flowers; I like to do it quickly, usually as single stems, but en masse. The vases come in all different colours but I’m drawn to the warm orange glass, so whenever I see one, I buy it.” Cleaning the narrow vessels can be tricky, but he has a clever solution. “They’re quite finicky, but warm water with a denture tablet dissolved in it brings them up really well when left overnight,” he says. Alongside the vases, he also uses Tate & Lyle’s golden syrup tins to hold small posies. “People go mad for them on Instagram. I think it’s because they’re so nostalgic. Definitely for me, they're like a childhood memory because my brother Lyndon and I would make a right mess with porridge and that syrup.”

Nostalgia is something that permeates a collection of Early Learning Centre figurines – including chickens of course - that Arthur also holds dear. “Whenever my mum went to town, she’d bring them back as a present, one at a time,” he says. “You end up with a little micro-farm that looks so realistic. My brother and I kept them on in a big box, but then he got into dinosaurs and it all went a bit wrong.” He also gives the miniature creatures as gifts. “My friend, the writer Juliet Nicolson has a whole shelf dedicated to them; farm animals and zoo animals, all on display. They look so lovely, like they could come to life at any moment. So I send them to her whenever it's present time. It's amazing the rare animals they make now, even creatures like pangolins.”

Back to Chatsworth and the bountiful gift shop, where Arthur first spotted his much-loved mugs. “Deborah Cavendish was the buyer, so many items in the shop related to her love of the countryside and chickens were a big thing,” he remembers. “I saved up pocket money to buy a mug; the Eden Pottery one has a light Sussex hen on some eggs, which are a good traditional breed, and the other is by Catriona Hall, a Derbyshire based artist who is famous for drawing rare breeds, which are always lovely and fat.”

Another feathered friend counts among Arthur’s most treasured possessions, this time in the form of a vintage taxidermy parakeet. “That was a present from my friend Jeorg with a J, who owns an antique shop called Brownrigg in Tetbury,” he says. “My grandma Sheila's brother, great uncle Mick had pair of Australian Rosella parakeets in this lovely hexagonal-shaped aviary along with his budgies, so I’m very fond of them. I grew up near Wollaton Hall in Nottingham, which is full of taxidermy so I’m quite appreciative of good examples and this Rosella is very beautifully done. I don’t like mounted heads or anything like that, but to recapture a creature’s beauty and movement is a real art.”

Finally, a set of terracotta bowls from TOAST are a boon when it comes to collecting and storing eggs. “When they’re being laid every day, you do end up having to put them in separate bowls with little dates scribbled on them,” he explains. “I like the fact that this set is terracotta and that the shapes nest into each other. The big one fits perfectly into the bottom of the galvanised bucket that I collect the eggs in. They’re really homely and so I loved them instantly.”

Arthur wears the TOAST High V-Neck Cardigan. Also featured are the Willow Pottery Nesting Bowls.

Words by Claudia Baillie.

Photography by Ashley Bourne.

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1 comment

I can’t grow anything, so I collect fake flowers and such niceties. Good that you can grow and vintage taxidermy and the likes. Kudos to your achievements!

Ainee 8 days ago