The Cotswold Wildlife Park – A Celebration of the Gardens

BOOK REVIEW

By Harriet Rycroft and Tim Miles

Produced by Reef Publishing for Cotswold Wildlife Park

£18 inc p&p.

Looking through the mansion window, I see a pretty stone terrace, balustrading covered in rambling roses, mighty English oak trees in the distance. And a rhinoceros. Or two. I’m at the Cotswold Wildlife Park and it’s not your traditional garden view!

I can hear blackbirds, robins -and yes, there’s a lion’s roar, and black siamang gibbons “whooping.” I’m having a special behind the scenes tour with head gardener Tim Miles and gardener and writer Harriet Rycroft.

Tim and Harriet have spent the past 18 months working on a new book The Cotswold Wildlife Park- A Celebration of the Gardens. And there’s plenty to celebrate. The gardens are a paradise of exotic plants, special trees and shrubs, and wild flowers.

Photo: Front cover.

There are more than 250 species of animals and birds living at the wildlife park where important conservation and breeding work is being undertaken. The star attraction is undoubtably the white rhinos – saved from poachers in Africa, and now producing offspring.

Photo: my i-phone pic of page 60 in the book. Original photo credit: Harriet Rycroft.

Rhinos appear to have free rein in the parkland setting, but in fact, their paddock is ringed by a ha ha. It means there are no fences. They can clearly be seen from all surrounding paths. When I say “clearly seen,” I might add that the paths meander around flower beds containing thousands of ornamental onions, Allium hollandicum Purple Sensation, and grasses such as Stipa gigantea (giant oat grass) and cultivars of Miscanthus and Cortaderia (pampas grass). It’s rather a wonderful combination. Rhinos and alliums. You’ll not see that anywhere else in the world.

Planting provides browse material for many species, but also, importantly, shelter for the animals. This might be shade from summer sunshine, or protection from wind and rain. Planting must, of course, let visitors see into enclosures, but it is so exhuberant that the the lines are blurred between visitors, animals and the wider landscape.

I did manage to get a good look at African Spoonbills and Madagascan Teal. But if they wanted to hide from me, they could.

It is interesting to see trained fruit trees along the walled garden enclosures. There’s a perfectly-pruned fig, and around the corner there are espalier cherry and pear trees, fruiting kiwi and grape vines. Bamboo, a favourite fodder for many animals, grows inside and outside of the enclosures, again blurring the boundaries between them.

In the Tropical House I spy a Linne’s Two-towed Sloth. It’s the first time I’ve seen one. He’s nestled in amongst the foliage, rubber plants (Ficus elastica) cheese plants (Monstera deliciosa) and bromeliads and orchids. Branches of oak provide “perches” and there’s an illusion that house plants have “escaped” to take root in this mini-jungle. In a fascinating insight into the relationship between keepers and gardeners Tim explains that any plant plagued with pests such as greenfly, is given to the keepers to be placed in the Tropical House. Exotic birds clean up the plants by eating the pests. A win-win situation all round. Natural pest control at its best.

Continuing the tropical theme, in the protection of the Walled Garden, there’s palm trees, bananas and cannas interplanted with dahlias, Begonia luxurians and Begonia fuchsioides. Plants overspill onto the paving so you don’t notice the concrete kerbs. Creeping plants such as Tradescantia, Plectranthus and Verbena cascade and intermingle.

Phormiums, banana plants and bedding such as geraniums and coleus (solenostenum) provide a contrast in form, colour and texture.

Container planting features fuchsias, begonias, scented pelargoniums, trailing Scaevola Sapphire, twining Thunbergia African Sunset, nemesia- and even a Protea cynaroides (king protea). It’s rightly described as a “theatre with plants.”

There’s a conservatory- leading to the Bat House and Reptile House- where I spotted a pretty pink Cantua buxifolia.

Some sort of pink grevillea also thrives in the protection of the glass.

I’m still searching for the name of this pretty blue flowering plant. Let me know if you have a name for it. It’s rather lovely to visit a garden and find something you haven’t seen before.

No surface seems to be left without cover. This is the end wall of the rhino house, smothered in golden-flowering Fremontodendron California Glory.

We just throw our weeds in a compost bin, but certain weeds growing at the park provide food for the animals. Giant tortoises love stinging nettles, and goose grass or cleavers are relished by some of the herbivorous reptiles. Banana leaves are popular with stick insects and locusts, but are also given to squirrel monkeys. Honey treats are stuck to the leaves. The monkeys have fun picking off the treats, and then spend time cleaning themselves of the delicious sticky honey.

Gardeners don’t just get requests for plant material for food and nesting; prunings such as lavender and rosemary provide useful enrichment / active entertainment for the lions. Keepers fill bags with the clippings to make giant catnip toys.

With so many rare and glorious plants, the gardens at Cotswold Wildlife Park are a delight to visit all year round. Visiting transports you to another world. A world that’s been created with imagination and passion. There’s nowhere else quite like it.

All pics, apart from the front cover and the baby rhino, are i-phone photos from my head gardener tour.

Links:

Harriet and Tim’s book is available from Cotswold Wildlife Park https://shop.myonlinebooking.co.uk/cotswoldwildlifepark/shop/product-list.aspx?catid=8

18 thoughts on “The Cotswold Wildlife Park – A Celebration of the Gardens

  1. Hi Karen, thank you for your kind words – I’m so glad you enjoyed your visit! The blue-flowered plant is Iochroma australe, also known as Acnistus australis or even miniature angel’s trumpets. It is easy to grow from seed and not-quite-hardy so needs some protection over winter in most parts of the UK.

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  2. I really enjoyed reading about your visit to Cotswold Wildlife Park. I realised whilst reading that it’s been 45 years since I took my young son there. I think it must be time for a return visit with the grandchildren.

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    • Thank you Kathy. Your grandchildren will love the park. And you’ll love the planting and container displays. Everything is first class. Let me know what you think when you have visited. Thanks for reading.

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    • Thank you Paula. That’s very kind of you to reply. And thank you for your kind words about my blog. I met the former head gardener of Parham at Chelsea and wished him well in his new job at West Dean. Tom will be much missed at Parham. I’m now looking for seeds for the iochroma. Do have a go at the prize draw for the garden chair. Not many people have commented, so you are in with a good chance. Karen

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  3. Pingback: In a Vase on Monday – 10th June 2019 | Bramble Garden

  4. Karen thank you very much for taking me on a walk to a unique and fabulous place like Cotswold Wildlife Park. Sometimes I have run out of words to comment on your magnificent and unforgettable blog that I love. 250 species of animals: it’s great! White rhinoceroses safe and sound in semi-freedom and with offspring! Wild flowers, flowers planted in gardens, fruit trees of many species: everything for animals, I love it, it’s spectacular. I love the birds in their pond. Monkeys, Lions, Birds, Bats … the list is endless, like the habitats you have created for them. They must be very happy living there. I can not express so much admiration for the beauty of the plants in the photos, just to say thank you very much Karen for having made those magnificent photos that I love: my most sincere congratulations. Thank you very much for making me feel so happy with your photos and your magnificent explanations. Karen thank you very much for taking you to your side for a walk in a unique and fantastic place like Cotswold Wildlife Park. Karen love, health, strength and happiness for your whole family and for you. Take care and rest. Very loving greetings from Margarita.

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      • It also seems odd that it would be so happy in that climate.
        Are you aware that they have a rather limited life span? They can supposedly live more than twenty five years, but I have never known one to do that in an irrigated landscape situation. Some barely last ten years. Although they are worth growing, you should be aware of the short lifespan so that you know it was nothing you did wrong if it dies suddenly.

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      • Hi Tony, at the Park we are very careful to match our plant selections to the growing conditions. We make full use of the various microclimates and so the Fremontodendron is happily growing against a warm wall in relatively poor, dry soil and is not irrigated. There is a persimmon growing against the same wall which fruits regularly. We like to push the boundaries of what is normally considered hardy in this country!

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