Spring is a great time of year to visit Paignton Zoo – but not because of the animals.
Curator of Plants and Gardens Alex Brotherton and Head Gardener Catherine Mortimer might be a little biased, but they happen to think the charity zoo is all about the flora.
Catherine is keen for guests to take a tour of what’s out now – and it starts before you even get into the grounds: “As you come from the car park down the zigzag path you’re greeted by Magnolia stellata, the star magnolia, with its feathery white flowers. The paths are edged with lesser celandine, dog violets and snakes head fritillaries.
“In this area is a wonderful and quite unusual tree Acacia pravissima (Oven’s wattle) that is covered with pale yellow foamy flowers at the moment. It also has quite curious geometric looking foliage and is worth taking the time to have a look at.”
There’s much more of horticultural note as soon as you are through the entrance hall. “As you come into the main area of the Zoo, the last of the magnolias are putting on their display, including Magnolia Kobus and Magnolia × soulangeana in the area close to the restaurant and the Desert House.
“Head past the lake and up the Back Drive towards Crocodile Swamp – there’s a lovely display of Anemone blanda ‘Blue Mist’ which has stunning blue daisy-like flowers carpeting the ground. This is mixed with our native daffodil Narcissus pseudonarcissus and an array of other daffodil cultivars.”
Catherine then directs us to Crocodile Swamp: “The raised walkway takes you in past a wonderful display of Clematis armandii that is completely covered with hundreds of white flowers that shine in the sunlight. This is an unusual clematis because it has evergreen foliage. For us, this is really useful, because it’s covering some functional services that guests don’t need to see!”
After Crocodile Swamp, walk down the hill towards Baboon Rock. “You’ll see underneath our wonderful Japanese maple some lovely ground-cover plants omphalodes cappadocica ‘Cherry Ingram’, or navelwort as it is more commonly known. It has wonderful royal blue flowers at this time of year.”
Also worth looking out for, in the long herbaceous border that runs below the Vet Centre, is a wonderful display of an Anemone coronaria ‘Mr Fokker’ which has wonderful purple-y blue flowers and has been putting on a display for nearly a month now.
What, then, is about to come out around the Zoo? “Camassia leichtlinii ‘Caerulea’ – tall bluebell-like flowers under the oak tree on the main picnic lawn. Take the time to enjoy the new foliage on the trees around site, particularly willows and all the acers. Then there’s Malus floribunda – crabapple – and the cherry tree near the zebras. Just around the corner are the handkerchief trees Davidia involucrata.”
What’s her favourite plant in the Zoo right now? “It has to be the Clematis armandii next to Crocodile Swamp – it looks and smells amazing!” Catherine is looking forward to some hard work paying off in the weeks and months to come. “Some of the new areas that we have planted in the last couple of years are maturing and developing and the wildflower areas that we will be sowing very shortly will look good through the summer!
“The giant water lily Victoria cruziana is being planted in Crocodile Swamp soon – luckily for me, there aren’t any crocodiles in the pool when we do it! We’re also creating a big new border at the bottom of the Back Drive behind the restaurant which hopefully will be looking fabulous later in the year.”
The entire Gardens team is busy getting the place ready for the Easter holidays. It’s just what people are doing in their gardens at home – but on a bigger scale, and they do it all while being watched by tigers… “We’re weeding and tidying everywhere, sweeping and cutting edges to sharpen up the whole look of the place.”
The Spring colour doesn’t stop with the gardening team. Reserves Warden Dave Ellacott looks after the charity’s wild places, including Primley Park, a public open space across the road from Paignton Zoo: “The trees are bursting into bud and flower,” says Dave. “The blackthorn and cherry are the most obvious and the young orchard trees will be in flower soon, too. Larch are often overlooked with their bright red flowers and the large candelabras of the horse chestnuts will appear soon. Swathes of pungently aromatic wild garlic are in flower on the woodland floor, grabbing the light before the canopy shades over with emerging leaves.”
Inside the Zoo, Dave looks after the Nature Trail: “There’s primrose, bluebells, violets and celandine in flower or just about to be. Hazel coppice has catkins on it. It’s a very vibrant season here.” Paignton Zoo is a registered charity. For more information go to www.paigntonzoo.org.uk or ring 01803 697500.
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