Book Review: Free-Range Chicken Gardens

Free-Range Chicken Gardens: How to Create a Beautiful, Chicken-Friendly Yard
by Jessi Bloom

222 pages
Timber Press, 2012
List price: $19.95

Let me preface this review by saying that I have chickens. We got eight layers last May, and I love them, which could not have surprised me more. Jessi loves chickens too, but what we both don’t love is how they can really wreak havoc in the garden. Never fear! As a garden designer with her own landscape design firm, Jessi’s the perfect authoritative voice for how to have both beautiful gardens and chickens.

I’ll admit, knowing just how quickly my chickens can scratch out a small plant from the garden in their unending search for bugs and strip a plant of its foliage, I was skeptical about this book, but at the same time hopeful that it could give me some practical ideas about how to allow my hens more free-range time outside their covered run. And that’s what I like most about it – Jessi keeps it real.

There are practical ideas for garden design, noting plants which chickens like, those they don’t, and which ones are particularly bad for them (although she shares that they usually will leave the toxic ones alone). Sometimes it isn’t an issue of what tastes good to them, but of texture. Also included are ways to construct barriers, both temporary and permanent, to keep chickens out of spaces where you don’t want them.

On the other side of that coin, Jessi suggests that chickens can help you out with garden work! We’ve got several places where we want some grass taken out and I’d dreaded skimming the sod off. That’s hard work; I’ve done it many times. But this spring, I’m going to use temporary fencing to corral the chickens, place it where I want the grass gone, and let the chickens have at it.

Free-Ranging Chicken Gardens is a fun read too, because besides chickens being just plain fun themselves (I’m biased, I know…), we get to peek at some other chicken owners’ gardens, including Jessi’s. I’m convinced if she can maintain such beauty at her place while having a small flock of chickens, then so can we. Make no mistake, there’s some planning and effort involved, but this book helps us do it.

If you’re thinking of getting chickens, but have some concerns about it, I can’t recommend Free-Ranging Chicken Gardens highly enough. Even if you don’t, this is a great basic guide for first-time chicken owners and chicken owner wannabes.

Jessi Bloom is an award-winning landscape designer whose work emphasizes ecological systems, sustainability, and self-sufficiency. She is a certified professional horticulturalist and certified arborist, as well as a long-time chicken owner with a free-ranging flock in her home garden.

Read more garden book reviews.

Read Kylee Baumle’s blog, Our Little Acre.

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