Leaves
Leaves

Giving someone flowers is a gesture like no other. But Giles Palmer has a better idea – he wants to take you on a romantic walk around Paignton Zoo.

Giles: “Don’t buy a bunch of flowers that will only last a week and end up in the compost. Think about the sustainability, the air miles and energy consumption from refrigeration and storage. Bring your loved one to Paignton Zoo instead!”

He has to declare a bit of an interest here – Giles is the Curator of Plants and Gardens at Paignton Zoo Environmental Park. But he’s devised a March walk around the Zoo for true romantics – and it’s all about the flowers not the animals.

“Start in the car park – you should be able to spot some native primroses growing on the banks. We’re doing a lot of work to encourage native species – our car parks are turning into nature reserves!

“At the bottom of the zig-zag path from the car park, Acacia boormanii is in full bloom and looking spectacular, doing its best impression of a yellow cloud. It arches out over the path, so this is great opportunity for a nice romantic photo! Acacia pravissima and Acacia filicifolia are also in full swing. They are native to Australia, so you could take this opportunity to promise a once-in-a-life-time holiday to Oz…!”

Giles heads a team of ten gardeners looking after 80 acres of gardens at Paignton Zoo enjoyed by around 475,000 visitors annually, as well as the grounds of smaller sister zoo Living Coasts. Inside the Zoo, bulbs are doing their thing. Humble snowdrops abound the edges of the lawns. “Keep an eye out for the snowdrops near Crocodile Swamp. These are Galanthus elwesii, native to the Caucasus. They prove that you don’t have to be tall to be lovely!”

Nearby are large swathes of Galanthus nivalis f. pleniflorus ‘Flore Pleno’. This is the most common of the double flowered snowdrops. “You have to view the flower from beneath to truly appreciate it,” says Giles mischievously. “So here’s a chance for someone to get down on one knee!”

Amongst the snowdrops you’ll also find cyclamen, crocus and anemone. “Paignton Zoo has many different species and cultivars of these bulbs, so there should be some on show for the next few weeks, including Anemone flaccida, though thinking about it, guys might not want to mention that one…”

Elsewhere, the flowers of Brunnera ‘Jack Frost’ are open. These are a wonderful, beautiful royal blue, so if you are gazing into eyes of a similar colour, maybe here’s a good moment to say something.

Paignton Zoo is home to over 8,000 plants from 3,400 different Taxa, including trees, shrubs, tropical plants, herbaceous and bulbs. “There are more than 20 different magnolias in the Zoo - it’s impossible to say exactly when each one will be looking its best, as this varies from year to year - but March is marvellous for magnolias!”

The daffodils are also blooming, and with over 20 different species and cultivars there should be something that catches the eye – and the nose. Giles says: “The scent of Narcissus jonquilla is particularly fine - and perhaps if your loved one is Cornish, they’ll appreciate Narcissus ‘Cornish Chuckles’.

“Walk down past Baboon Rock and past our Mahonia japonica. The scent from these is amazing and so powerful that you can’t fail to notice it. Daphne is also radiating a delicious scent – both ‘Jacqueline Postil’ and ‘Aureomarginata’. Scent is one of my favourite things about plants, it just seems so unreal - no matter how much money people spend on perfume, you’ll never find any that can top nature’s best efforts.

“There’s also the more delicate fragrance from the beautifully-angelic flowers of our native blackthorn. You need to try a bit harder to get this scent, but in many ways that makes it even more alluring.”

Over near the tigers, Giles recommends whispering some sweet nothings into an ear – if this induces a blush, you can compare those rosy cheeks to the petals of the nearby purple hellebores.

“We often leave old seed heads on our herbaceous plants during the winter months - it adds architectural interest and benefits the native birds. There are still some honesty seed heads around. If you find one on the floor and hold it up to a bright sky you can marvel at its translucency.

“Heading to the restaurant, you pass the mass of pink flowers on the ‘Okame’ cherry trees – they are spectacular from a distance and worth a more detailed study. The single flowers are very popular with bees and that’s one of the reasons why I always prefer single flowered cherry trees - the double flowers strike me as a bit messy.

“Finish your romantic flower walk around Paignton Zoo by popping into the restaurant for a hot chocolate. Perfect!” And he didn’t mention an animal even once…

Quotes An awesome experience. The amount of free space given to the animals was very impressive Quotes Review