Animal Kingdom

by Margaret Powling-

We enjoyed a quiet, relaxing Easter weekend, and yesterday we all (i.e. husband and myself, our elder son, his wife and our little grandson) were invited to our younger son’s home for lunch where younger son and his lovely girlfriend/partner made us all a gorgeous lunch.  How lovely to be with our family, all very relaxing and most enjoyable.

Today, Tuesday, we thought we’d make the most of a lovely spring morning and we drove to our local garden centre, only a couple of miles from our house.  It has the most lovely setting, with open views of Devon’s lush countryside. 

Husband was on the hunt for some grass seed to cover bare patches in various parts of our garden (mainly the grassy banks at the front of the house) and I was on the lookout for my favourite summer bedding plants – pink and white cosmos and pink and white antirrhinums.  

Then we saw a lovely shrub, Exochorda, The Bride, with beautiful white blossom.  Its blossom is almost over, but it’s best to buy plants when they are flowering – then you know what to expect the following year! 

Otter Nurseries has it’s main garden centre close to Ottery St Mary in East Devon, but we are fortunate that in recent years Otter Nurseries bought out a local garden centre, and so we have a branch (pardon the pun) of the lovely Otter Nurseries on our doorstep.  It is not ‘just’ a garden centre, but in their nurseries they raise many of the plants they sell.  There is also a very nice café, with both indoor and outdoor eating spaces, and yes, we did stop for coffee and scones. 

No doubt we will be visiting this garden centre again before long and so I will resist the urge to show more plant photos today.   These three photos were taken this morning, a typical Devon April morning, with hazy sunshine.

We then returned home, unloaded the car with the plants, plus compost, fertilizer, and the lovely shrub, and then decided – as it was such a lovely day – we would go to the Zoo!

The entrance to the Zoo (with grass roof) as seen from inside the Zoo

Yes, we have a Zoo right here in Paignton!  www.paigntonzoo.org.uk   It is only a mile or so from our home and, strange as it may seem, with such a wonderful ‘attraction’ right on our doorstep, we hadn’t been there in over ten years! 

There is quite an expensive entrance fee (well, they have a lot of animals to feed, never mind paying the staff, the vets, gardeners  – for it is a botanical garden as well as a zoo – and so forth) so it is more economical  to purchase a pass for the year and this allows as many visits as we like – we could go every day if we wished – plus entry to Living Coasts in Torquay and Newquay Zoo in Cornwall.  Well, we don’t need a pass to Newquay Zoo as we don’t think we will be visiting there, but Living Coasts will be fun to visit, especially with our little grandson.  There are lots of penguins there! 

Paignton Zoo started life as the private zoo of Herbert Whitley, a shy, eccentric millionaire, and in 1923 it opened to the public.  On show in those days were monkeys, bears, bison, zebra, hyena, baboons and many birds.  Of course, a lot of people don’t agree in principle with zoos; they think it is cruel to keep ‘wild’ animals ‘caged’.  But Paignton Zoo is very much into conservation and is a member of the World Association of Zoos and Aquariums, a global network of zoos working together to support the conservation of species, habitats and ecosystems. 

The Zoo covers roughly 80 acres with some 2,000 animals, but we only visited about 1/3rd of the area today.  There is even a little train which takes visitors around baboon island, but the Zoo was so busy with visitors today we thought we’d leave that little treat for another day. 

We first passed one of the lakes were we saw a Dalmation Pelican fishing, and then saw him (or it? Or her?) scoop up a small fish in its bill and swallow it whole. 

There are baboons on this island; they are difficult to see at first and then you can see them leaping from tree to tree with consummate ease.

This is just a small part of Baboon island 

From Baboon island we walked to the big cat area and saw these …

… just feet away from us, through thick glass (of course!)

Then on to see the Lemurs …

and finally, for today anyway, old Mr Silverback himself …

He was some distance from us, I’ve used the zoom facility on my camera, please don’t think he was as close as this.  But what a magnificent creature he is. 

We have certainly enjoyed our day.  Not only a visit to our local garden centre but also to Paignton Zoo.  Furthermore, we had the good news that our grandson has been accepted for his parents’ school of choice for when he starts school in September.  And, finally, Mrs May, UK Prime Minister, has announced that she will “go to the country”, i.e. that there will be a general election on the 8th June.  What a day it has been!





Margaret Powling


  1. Scarlet

    We planted a ‘ Bride’ at my old house. When we left there on 21st April 2011 it was spectacular. I would love to have one here, but there just isn’t the space.
    Wonderful photos of the animals!

    18 . Apr . 2017
    • Margaret Powling

      What a shame you can’t have one in your garden, Scarlet. Could you not have one on your allotment? I appreciate an allotment is for produce, but it would be good for bees, surely, with all those lovely open flowers?
      We are fortunate to have the Zoo almost within walking distance, but it’s in hilly Devon and so we took the car because it’s uphill all the way home! Too many people there today for our liking, but it was great to see families out enjoying themselves and in somewhere they might not only enjoy themselves, but learn something, too. Also some Zoo keepers were, in various places, giving talks and lots of people were taking an interest. The Zoo today is much more about conservation and education than mere amusement, as I’m sure you’re aware. We had a lovely time and I’m now glad we bit the bullet and shelled out serious money for a year’s membership. I wasn’t able to take many photos of the animals as so many of them were far away, keeping well away from the gawping humans. Perhaps in quieter times I will be able to take more pix. And we’ve loads more areas to see, including the reptiles and the elephants, giraffes and zebras, and many more.

      18 . Apr . 2017
  2. Eloise

    Some people are against zoos but I think that having the opportunity to see animals that wouldn’t otherwise be possible encourages people to think more seriously about conservation. You will have to return, if only to get your money’s worth! Time goes by and suddenly we realise that it is years since we visited something that is on our doorstep. We have Avoncroft museum of buildings a few miles away and it is probably fifteen years since we went there; they are sure to have a lot more of interest there by now.
    My husband has English Heritage membership which has proved excellent value as he regularly goes off on his own with his camera to photograph the grounds or interesting ruins.
    Garden centres, coffee shops and scones are more my kind of thing!
    The nut roast was a success. We ate it hot yesterday (my husband preferred it this way) and then cold today (I liked this better). The recipe will definitely be repeated. Thank you!

    18 . Apr . 2017
    • Margaret Powling

      I have had a soft spot for Paignton Zoo not only because it’s on our doorstep (almost literally!) but because many years ago my late mother helped re-capture one of their missing rare birds! This was when our Close was her property, her house was built on the land on which 20 houses are now built (we owning one of them.) Anyway, one day in her large garden (almost an acre) she saw a bird she’d never seen before, quite a large one. So she phoned the Zoo and asked if they had a bird missing? “Oh, no, they’re all caged, it couldn’t possibly be one of ours!” they said, somewhat disdainfully.
      The next news was that they checked their cages and this special South American bird had gone AWOL. So they sent a Zoo keeper around, and they erected a cage in Mum’s garden, quite a large affair, and covered it with foliage and then for the next week or so Mum had to put eggs and fruit in the cage to entice it in. The keeper would come each day and hide, and then one day when the bird, hungry by now, walked into the cage, he snapped it shut and they had their bird back. Mum was told that it’s mate was pining for it, too! For that she had a free pass to the Zoo (just for one visit, I reckon she spent that in eggs and oranges!) But they had their bird back and thanked my Mum profusely for her help.
      Another time, when my late uncle was alive and in their morning room, he saw a shadow, or what he thought was a shadow, pass the window. He didn’t think much of it until it happened again and he looked up and a huge stag was outside in the garden. Again, he phoned the Zoo … and no, he didn’t go out to offer it a meal, he stayed safely indoors!
      And when Paignton Zoo sold some of their land (for a much-needed injection of cash) to what was then Safeway, so they could build a supermarket next to the Zoo, I went to interview the then Director of the Zoo (this would be about 20 years ago now) and learned all about their conservation work and genome project, so it’s not all just gawping at animals in cages any more, their conservation work is vitally important in conserving the world’s wildlife.
      Sorry this has been a long comment, Eloise!

      19 . Apr . 2017
  3. Jules

    A lovely day out Margaret. We’re hoping for a zoo visit ourselves in the next few weeks (for Lily’s birthday) but can’t decide which one. An annual pass is a great idea given that you are close by. Good news about your grandson’s school. It was the same for us. X

    19 . Apr . 2017
    • Margaret Powling

      That is good news, Jules, that your granddaughter has also been accepted into a school of his parents’ choice. We never expected it to happen, and we are delighted. And a Zoo visit for a child is a lovely adventure for them. For more about Paignton Zoo, please see my reply to Eloise.

      19 . Apr . 2017
  4. Eloise

    Oh Margaret, you shouldn’t apologise for a long post on your own blog! I can see that you have a zoo connection that few could compete with; what a fabulous story. I can quite see why the prospect of coming face to face with a stag might be less appealing than tending an exotic bird! It reminds me of the children’s book ‘Alistair’s elephant’ -a great favourite with my children. Alistair is startled to find that an elephant has followed him home from the zoo. The zoo keeper says that they can’t possibly have lost an elephant (though they have inadvertently mislaid a hippopotamus) so Alistair is forced to care for the elephant for a week until the zookeeper realises he made a mistake and they are missing an elephant after all.
    By the way, glad to hear that your grandson has got his choice of school. I had to go to appeal on primary schooling for my two sons. I won, but it was quite a daunting experience. I have a strong suspicion that my granddaughter will have an issue with her high school choice next year.

    19 . Apr . 2017
    • Margaret Powling

      Well, there is a lot of truth in fiction, isn’t there? And Mum’s experience with the bird is an example. I an remember the cage being set up, it was quite a large one, and they could watch it from their morning room (well, they called it the morning room for want of any other word, but it was on the west rather than the east side of their house, where a morning room would traditionally be, to catch the morning sunlight.) I don’t know that story, but no wonder your children loved it!
      We didn’t have a problem with our children and ‘choice’ of school as in the 1970s they automatically attended the local village school which, thank goodness, was a good one (perhaps not so much on education, as education in the 1970s was going through one of its regular periods of change, the Look and Say method of teaching reading, rather than the more sensible phonics, but a good school in that they had lovely caring staff and it was a happy environment.)
      PS I have just remembered the name of the bird that went AWOL from the Zoo: Oropendola, from S. America.

      19 . Apr . 2017
  5. simpleliving31.blogspot.co.uk

    Hearing about Paignton zoo brings back memories we must have been there four or five times over the years. I didn’t think Newquay zoo was as good.

    19 . Apr . 2017
    • Margaret Powling

      Hi, Marlene … well, the Zoo is much better now than what I remember it being about 20 years ago. We did visit about 10 years ago and it was vastly improved by then, and yesterday, even though it was busy, you could see how it has improved still further. I’m now looking forward to visiting again, perhaps towards the end of the day when most visitors will have left, and we can have the place a bit more to ourselves. How lovely that you know the Zoo and have visited it!

      19 . Apr . 2017
  6. Frances

    Please add me to your blog list

    20 . Apr . 2017
    • Margaret Powling

      Hello, Frances, not sure how I add you to my blog list … I’m a novice at this, I will try and find out.

      20 . Apr . 2017
    • Margaret Powling

      I do that, too, Elaine, especially when I receive my monthly magazines that show bookshelves. On those shelves are my collections of Derek Tangye books, Joanna Trollope novels, Bernard Levin journalism, and the Silent Traveller books by Chiang Yee (and many more books of course.)

      20 . Apr . 2017
  7. Elaine

    That first photograph is quite stunning. I keep going back to enjoy that view. The only problem with having a really good nursery close to hand is that they tempt me, in the same way a good sweetie shop would have done when I was a child! I got tempted by the fruit trees. We now have a mini-orchard…

    20 . Apr . 2017
    • Margaret Powling

      I just wish it had been a clearer day for the photograph, Elaine, it was very slightly hazy. In the far distance you might just, but only just, be able to spot the Beacon Hill TV mast from where we receive our TV signal. The view looks in the direction of Totnes.
      We are fortunate in that we have several garden centres reasonably close to home – Jack’s Patch (which is a Wyevale Garden Centre), Otter Nursery, and Staverton Bridge Nursery, and a little further afield, Avon Mill Garden Centre. How lovely that you have sufficient land for a mini-orchard. Our garden is tiny!

      20 . Apr . 2017
  8. ratnamurti

    I love your descriptions and photography, Margaret. Most interesting and enjoyable & thanks for the hint about substituting canned soup for tomatoes in your nut roast x

    22 . Apr . 2017
    • Margaret Powling

      I’m glad you enjoyed the Zoo visits, Ratnamurti. As for the courgettes in the nut roast, I haven’t tried this, it’s just that courgettes are a very soft and watery vegetable and I thought they might make a good substitute. Eloise also suggested courgettes.

      22 . Apr . 2017

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