Me & My Job - Giles Palmer, plants & gardens curator, Paignton Zoo

How did you get started in the industry? From the age of 14 I was working weekends and summer holidays at a local market garden, but it began in earnest when I was accepted onto the National Trust's three-year careership scheme at Antony House.

Giles Palmer, plants & gardens curator, Paignton Zoo
Giles Palmer, plants & gardens curator, Paignton Zoo

What advice would you give to others starting out? Choose a training programme that allows you to explore the industry’s diversity. It’s unlikely you’ll know exactly what avenue you want to go down straight away, so keep your options open.

What does your typical day involve? I start at about 7.20am to get a few emails answered before my head gardener arrives and we chat about the day’s priorities. The day will always bring something unexpected. If the reptile keepers have moved a crocodile it allows us access to the plantings in the exhibit so it’s all hands on deck. If I’m lucky I’ll get a couple of hours outside before I’m back in the office.

What is the best aspect of your job? There is so much scope here that really if I don’t achieve what I want to I’ll only have myself to blame. There is massive satisfaction when you hear visitors complimenting the planting.

And the worst? On a busy day we get more than 4,500 visitors. That’s great but inevitably there will be some damage and clean-up works.

What is it like to garden in a zoo? Exciting, but there is a healthy mix of frustration, confusion and fear.

What is your biggest achievement at work? At the age of 27 I was quite young to take on the role of head gardener at Chartwell.

What does the future hold? The necessity for sustainability will lead to a rise in the recognition of horticulture. Qualified gardeners will get unprecedented kudos.

How do you unwind after a hard day at work? The key is to ensure that work never feels hard at all. I’ll let you know when I’ve mastered that.


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