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Mary Hackett

Stephen Butler recently retired from his post of head gardener and curator of horticulture at Dublin Zoo. During his 37 years in the Phoenix Park, approaches to animal welfare and husbandry changed and the zoo re-thought how public and animals should view each other. This led to reconsideration of landscaping. The subsequent reimagining of habitat planting and general landscaping at the Zoo is a source of pleasure to many visitors.

For the zoo to function, the comfort of wild animals must be paramount while large numbers of visitors must also be accommodated. The selection and maintenance of planting to achieve both ends were Stephen’s achievement. ‘Gardening for Gorillas’ explains how projects big and small were tackled with international support. His discussion of why plants thrived or failed will be of value to landscaper colleagues.

Stephen’s anecdotes lighten the text and make it an excellent read. Builders, engineers, flamingos, gorillas, the animal teams, and the Zoo’s gardening team all contribute to the story. There is an interesting chapter on soil and the significance of compaction caused by animals of various sizes moving around enclosures. Urban tree soil, a mix of round stones developed by the Dutch, is now widely used in the zoo to keep animal areas in good condition. Weed control, issues with mulch in which zoo bedding is incorporated and the horrors of invasive plants are also considered.

Not every gardener must accommodate tigers, meerkats, and giraffes. This book is an insight into Stephen Butler’s special world.

Royal Horticultural Society of Ireland, The Journal Autumn 2022

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