In 1897 a Manchester Surgeon, Dr Walter Whitehead, purchased some 37 acres of woodland above the new and expanding resort town of Colwyn Bay with the intention of retiring there.
The layout of the new estate was contracted to Thomas Mawson, the eminent Victorian landscape architect.
Mawsons book ‘The Art and Craft of Garden Making’ gives us some idea of the plans he and his partner Dan Gibson had for their new project.
Woodland walks, herbaceous borders, formal rose gardens as well as staff housing, were designed and built.
After Dr Whitehead’s death in 1913 the estate changed hands on numerous occasions, each new owner making their own mark on the estate, none more than the Zoological Society of Wales.
With its ever expanding collections of both hardy and tropical plants, some of which are rare and endangered, the zoo sees itself as a conservation centre for flora as well as fauna. It recognises that the gardens are part of the zoo’s overall educational resource.
The zoo subscribes to botanical expeditions, enabling us to introduce new and unusual plants to the gardens. Seed has arrived from Chile, Central and far Eastern Russia and the Himalayas, and has been planted in appropriate sites within the gardens.
Close co-operation with major botanical institutions ensures the correct identification and labelling of the plants. Small collections of different genera are grown. Hardy geraniums, aquilegia and various forms of Welsh poppy (mecanopsis cambrica) all grow well on this hillside site.
Ferns, bromeliads and a host of other unusual tropical plants can be found in the Reptile and Alligator Houses.
The diversity of the botanical collections ensures something of interest for gardeners, botanists and anyone interested in plant life.