Sur­prises at the Cotswold Wildlife Park

The ex­otic at Cotswold Wildlife Park goes far be­yond mere an­i­mals. Words and pic­tures by Mandy Brad­shaw

Cotswold Life - - CONTENTS - Twit­ter: @Chat­ty­gar­dener Face­book: The Chatty Gar­dener

It’s when we start dis­cussing the eat­ing habits of lemurs that I re­alise just how dif­fer­ent Tim Miles’ job is. True, con­ver­sa­tions with gar­den­ers about how to stop plants be­ing eaten are rou­tine but the pests are usu­ally slugs and snails, or pos­si­bly rab­bits and deer. Yet this head gar­dener faces far more un­usual chal­lenges.

It’s not the only thing about Cotswold Wildlife Park that is dis­tinc­tive. While it has a range of plant­ing found widely in the re­gion – mixed peren­ni­als in soft colours, a fine col­lec­tion of trees and shrubs – borders filled with flam­boy­ant ex­otics make it as much an at­trac­tion for gar­den­ers as it is for wildlife lovers.

It was not al­ways so. When Tim joined the park near Bur­ford 19 years ago, the gar­dens though neat and tidy were not sig­nif­i­cant. His ar­rival co­in­cided with a change in em­pha­sis and a move to give the gar­dens more im­por­tance.

He started small: new bed­ding, a few ba­nanas and can­nas for quick im­pact.

“I had to get the con­fi­dence of the own­ers so cre­ated one small area at first.”

To­day, the seven-strong gar­den­ing team works across the park on plant­ing that in­cludes prairie-style grass borders, mixed herba­ceous around the old house, hang­ing bas­kets jammed with sea­sonal colour, shrub­beries, a wild flower meadow and a new col­lec­tion of mag­no­lias.

It’s the Walled Gar­den that I re­mem­bered from pre­vi­ous vis­its and its im­pact has not di­min­ished. Scar­let, or­ange and yel­low are set against deep bronze fo­liage, huge ba­nana leaves are back­lit by the soft Septem­ber sun and flow­ers so vi­brant they look ar­ti­fi­cial are clus­tered in cor­ners.

The ‘hot bed’ is one of the orig­i­nals, steeply banked and with grad­u­ated plant­ing so that what lies be­hind is hid­den.

There’s yel­low from can­nas, senna and dahlias – in­clud­ing ‘David Howard’ and ‘Moon­fire’ – set against the or­ange Mex­i­can sun­flower Titho­nia ro­tun­di­flora, huge trum­pet-like flow­ers of brug­man­sia and del­i­cately veined leaves of var­ie­gated

Abu­tilon pic­tum ‘Thom­sonii’. “It’s one of the few in­stances where virus is de­sir­able,” com­ments Tim.

Threaded through these fiery colours is the deep blue of Salvia ‘Mys­tic Spires Blue’, while red-leaved beet­root ‘Bulls Blood’ and scented-leaved Pe­largo­nium ‘Char­ity’ are in­cluded for their fo­liage.

On the flip side of the bor­der, plants more com­monly seen in­doors – spi­der plants, as­para­gus fern, trades­cantia and the polka dot plant, Hy­poestes phyl­lostachya – are used to light up the shaded side.

“House­plants do en­joy be­ing out­side in the sum­mer, if you’re sym­pa­thetic and put them in a shady spot.”

The ‘horse­shoe bed’ – all the borders are named to make it eas­ier for the team – is a bold mix of red and pink. Busy Lizzies dom­i­nate and are teamed with can­nas, be­go­nias, coleus and the canna-like Hedy­chium greenii, or red gin­ger, all set off by flashes of white.

“We plant drifts of things, usu­ally dif­fer­ent com­bi­na­tions rather than one thing and the plant­ing changes as you walk around.”

At the heart of the horse­shoe, an is­land bed is given a jungly feel with ba­nanas planted en masse.

“On a good day, the ibis give ex­tra colour,” Tim says with a smile.

Around the Trop­i­cal House, lip­stick pink bromeli­ads hang from branches and add an even more ex­otic feel to borders.

Else­where, dark brown mil­let, bam­boo, cas­tor oil plants and pur­ple sugar cane give the nec­es­sary coun­ter­point to make the more flam­boy­ant per­form­ers sing out.

Sur­pris­ingly, none of it is planned on pa­per. In­stead years of ex­pe­ri­ence en­able

‘The an­i­mals are some­times a re­ally good ex­cuse for cer­tain plant­ing schemes’

the team to put to­gether com­bi­na­tions that work, mix­ing leaf size and shape as well as colour. Us­ing bold colours is says Tim, more risky but es­sen­tial.

It’s a method of plant­ing that he dis­cussed of­ten with the late Christo­pher Lloyd, who was well known for his bold schemes at Great Dix­ter.

“I was for­tu­nate to get to know Christo­pher Lloyd quite well and he said us­ing pas­tel colours was the soft op­tion as you couldn’t re­ally go that far wrong.

“You don’t get that sense of ex­otic with pale colours. Flam­boy­ant colours are just made for it.”

It’s a les­son that is con­tin­ued with the many con­tain­ers and hang­ing bas­kets that are found through­out the park. Beds of Rud­beckia hirta ‘Au­tumn Shades’ front the café, a walk­way be­tween two an­i­mal houses has huge hang­ing bas­kets un­der the glass awning and even the toi­let block is masked by con­tain­ers of ex­otics.

If the main beds in the Walled Gar­den are all about colour, the arid beds rely on shape. Strong ver­ti­cals from cacti are set against the fleshy fo­liage of Euphor­bia

myrsinites, ar­chi­tec­tural aeo­ni­ums and domes of os­teosper­mum. There are agaves, aloes and yucca with wispy

Ver­bena bonar­ien­sis wo­ven through. Un­usual plants in­clude the this­tle-like

Berkheya pur­purea and Acan­thus sen­nii,a rare red flow­ered plant from Ethiopia.

Much of the dis­play is lifted at the end of the au­tumn, with laven­der and un­usual conifers giv­ing some­thing to look at over win­ter.

“I’m not sure how many cacti we’re re­spon­si­ble for killing af­ter peo­ple come here, see them out­doors and think they are out all year round,” says Tim wryly.

Plant­ing in this style was some­thing Tim had in mind long be­fore he ar­rived at the park but space op­po­site the meerkats gave him the per­fect op­por­tu­nity to put it into prac­tice.

“The an­i­mals are some­times a re­ally good ex­cuse for cer­tain plant­ing schemes.”

That’s not to say that merely repli­cat­ing their nat­u­ral land­scape al­ways works, which brings us onto the lemurs.

Mada­gas­car, a new el­e­ment since my last visit to the park, al­lows vis­i­tors to walk through the lemur en­clo­sure where some of the an­i­mals are in pens

with oth­ers al­lowed to roam.

Plant­ing this area has been tricky with a del­i­cate bal­ance be­tween giv­ing it the right feel and not merely pro­vid­ing food for the lemurs.

Bam­boo is a favourite ed­i­ble and some orig­i­nal cherry trees, which were ig­nored to be­gin with, have now had their leaves pulled off and are dy­ing. Some things re­main un­touched: a large tetra­panax, tra­chy­car­pus, which has just its flow­ers re­moved, and Leyces­te­ria For­mosa, which is tram­pled but oth­er­wise left alone.

“They eat the flow­ers and the ber­ries so get a dou­ble use out of it. It’s al­most as if they know that and don’t give it too much of a bash­ing.”

A re­cent ex­per­i­ment has seen eu­ca­lyp­tus in­tro­duced – it’s thought the lemurs won’t like the oil in its leaves – and mon­key puz­zles, gre­vil­lea and phoenix palms give the nec­es­sary ex­otic touch.

This jug­gling an­i­mals and plants is all part of Tim’s role and some­thing he also en­coun­tered when he worked at Lon­don Zoo. Many of the en­clo­sures have some plant­ing and nearly all are sur­rounded by borders.

In one aviary, an over­grown box bush has been ‘cloud pruned’ to give the birds more space while re­tain­ing some green­ery. Some is al­lowed to grow through the wire, avoid­ing what Tim de­scribes as the ‘plant in cap­tiv­ity’ look.

“Blur­ring the lines is the big thing,” he ex­plains. “We don’t want an ob­vi­ous in­side and out­side and try to get the whole thing to blend to­gether.”

He’s also con­scious of the wider land­scape and out­side the Walled Gar­den plant­ing schemes are de­signed to fit their lo­ca­tion.

Around the house, there’s for­mal­ity and tra­di­tion with deep pur­ple Salvia ‘Amis­tad’ teamed with white mar­guerites in box-edged beds, while lilies, phlox and laven­der are just some of the com­po­nents of long mixed borders.

Move fur­ther out and the mood is more re­laxed with white rhi­nos glimpsed through plumes of Stipa

gi­gan­tea, punc­tu­ated with colour from kniphofia, cro­cos­mia and he­le­nium.

In the dis­tance, there is open Cotswold coun­try­side, a view the team works hard to pre­serve.

“We have a bor­rowed land­scape of the trees be­yond and we have to keep that open­ness,” ex­plains Tim.

“The­atre with plants is what we do.”

Nat­u­ral Born Floor­ing is an es­tab­lished fam­ily run floor­ing spe­cial­ist now in its fifth year in the fa­mous Glouces­ter Road, Bris­tol.

Its mod­ern show­rooms fea­ture all the ma­jor brands you would ex­pect to find from a high-end floor­ing re­tailer.

The shop is split into three easy-to-nav­i­gate ar­eas.

As you en­ter the store you will be greeted by car­pets rugs and run­ners, both of nat­u­ral and man-made fi­bres. The rear show­room is ded­i­cated to lux­ury vinyl tiles, per­fect for all ar­eas of the house and, with Amtico, Karn­dean, Dis­tinc­tive, Polyflor and Har­vey Maria, there is plenty of choice for the de­sign-con­scious.

Down­stairs is all about real wood, par­quet and en­gi­neered oak floor­ing and has the South West’s only Bole­floor dis­play floor, so you can see the live-edge tech­nol­ogy in the flesh.

Be­spoke fin­ishes are avail­able on our solid block her­ring­bone and wood plank oaks so you can re­ally have a one-of-a-kind floor.

With best sell­ing ranges from Ted Todd, V4, Wood­pecker, Love Floors and more, there is some­thing to suit all tastes and bud­gets.

Nat­u­ral Born Floor­ing’s team has an en­vi­able rep­u­ta­tion for their knowl­edge in nat­u­ral floor­ing - hence the name - and works all over the UK with ma­jor brands, de­sign­ers and nat­u­ral floor­ing man­u­fac­tures, in­stalling these tough ma­te­ri­als to the high­est pos­si­ble stan­dards.

The com­pany’s tal­ented team have a com­bined ex­pe­ri­ence of more than 50 years, with old meth­ods be­ing en­hanced by the most up-to-date in­stal­la­tion cour­ses to cre­ate be­spoke floors, which other com­pa­nies sim­ply can­not match.

Nat­u­ral Born Floor­ing covers the whole of the UK and of­fers a gim­mick free ser­vice, fo­cus­ing on ex­cep­tional qual­ity in­stal­la­tions, us­ing only the high­est stan­dard of prod­ucts at com­pet­i­tive prices all year round.

Call us to­day for a free con­sul­ta­tion.

Years of ex­pe­ri­ence mean the team can plant with­out plan­ning first

Near the old house the plant­ing is more for­mal

Cal­ceo­laria x banksii is one of the un­usual things in the Walled Gar­den

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