Posts Tagged ‘gnomes’

Of zoo gardens and zombies: why Brad Pitt will (not) be appearing in our World War Z – oo garden at Newquay Zoo

August 21, 2011

Of zoo gardens and zombies: why Brad Pitt will (gnot) be appearing in our World War Z-oo  garden  at Newquay Zoo (but only as a gnome, gnot as a zombie slayer)

Don’t be confused. World War Zoo has  a big budget rival and star cast who have been filming in Cornwall and elsewhere in the last few weeks.

World War Z is a blockbuster zombie movie  with Brad Pitt set in an apocalypic future.

World War Zoo gardens is a small budget recreation of a typical wartime Dig For Victory zoo keepers allotment set in the 1940s with a well travelled star cast of … gnomes and vegetables.  

You could argue that both look at dealing with the threats of an uncertain future …. and the garden looks at sustainable options such as local food.

You could argue that getting the ‘look’ right is important in period gardens and zombie  movies – right old posters, right old tools etc.

As for zombies … this is probably my fellow keepers and zoo staff who have led very early morning zoo tours at 5 am and 7am for ‘wild breakfasts’ . We feel quite half dead if not undead by the end of the day … great fun but thankfully that was the last one this year. Until we do halloween tours (see our Newquay Zoo events page). But for now – Zzzzzz….

As for catching a glimpse of ‘Brad’ at the zoo, one of our jolly bearded gnomes now has  g-name! You can see Brad’s jolly beard on the BBC Radio Cornwall footage below.

For lots of jolly garden tips, check out the August job lists: and

After writing our wartime zoo gardens book, we could write ‘Zombie Gardening’ … you heard it here first. I can see it now on the bookshelves. it makes creepy scarecrows look almost tame.


Of Gerald Durrell, wartime gnomes and gardens (and air raid shelters) in zoos … Spain and London latest

March 15, 2011

Our 'missing' wartime gnome sends another postcard home ... from the former air raid shelter tunnels at London Zoo.

Taking shelter at London Zoo September 1939, a sandbagged tunnel under the road (Zoo and Animal magazine, November 1939)


Our missing Gnome Guard-ener  from our recreation of a 1940s wartime zoo gardens project sends a message home. ‘Bert’ mysteriously disappeared over a month ago and reappeared first at Paignton Zoo, then has sent another card back from a wartime site at London Zoo:

They used this tunnel as an air raid shelter during World War 2. Unfortunately there wouldn’t have been this bright light then. It would have been cold dark and scary. Just looking at it makes me feel small! Love from your Gnome Guard!”

In our wartime collection of photos, you can see one end of the tunnel sandbagged, a tunnel usually used for moving pedestrians and elephants (which were evacuated to Whipsnade).  In many zoos, empty animal enclosures (London, Bristol, Edinburgh), slit trenches (Whipsnade),  underground aquariums  (Chester) and visiting Birmingham Botanic Gardens last week, underneath their bandstand! Evacuee Peter Pollard was present at Chessington Zoo when the zoo air raid shelters took a direct hit with many casualties – he’s interviewed on BBC Radio Cornwall (see website link on our blog roll).   

In the peace of Newquay Zoo, we’ve been busy fencing and smartening up our wartime garden at Newquay Zoo in advance of an expected to be busier than normal  weekend this weekend, 19 and 20th March 2011, for  our Locals weekend – £2 entry (with proof of Cornish address) – see our website for details.

Hopefully our wartime Gnome Guard-ener will have returned in the next few months for May is proving busy – a talk at Chester Zoo about wartime zoos for members on Saturday 21st May and  a busy May half term week of activities  at Newquay Zoo celebrating both BIAZA’s Love Your Zoo campaign and our Newquay Zoo wartime garden weekend (May 28 – June 5th 2011 


Have gnome, will travel ... Newquay Zoo's missing wartime Gnome Guard-ener makes it out from Cornwall to Devon and London to Spain! Bioparc Valencia,  March 2011

Have gnome, will travel ... Newquay Zoo's missing wartime Gnome Guard-ener makes it out from Cornwall to Devon and London to Spain! Bioparc Valencia, March 2011

Our roaming gnome has sent a postcard back from Spain – Bioparc Valencia hosted the EZE European Zoo Educators meeting recently, with several British zoo education staff attending. This is probably how Bert got there.

Unusual Bristih visitors in Spain are nothing new. Many unusual British volunteers fought against the ‘fascist’ forces in Spain in 1936, including writer Laurie Lee or observed the fighting  like journalist George Orwell.   

The memory of this civil war time and Franco era is still raw in Spain, as described in Giles Tremletts’ excellent book Ghosts of Spain.  We haven’t yet researched what happened to zoos such as Madrid and Barcelona in the Spanish Civil War. The bombing of Guernica (famously pictured by Pablo Picasso)  gave British zoo staff planning for the next war a good idea of what to expect from aerial attack.

Whildst this was going on in late 1930s in Spain, not far away the young Gerald Durrell was exploring the animal rich nooks and crannies of the Mediteranean island of Corfu, famously described in My Family and Other Animals.

They also serve, who only sit and read ... Looking a bit like Gerald Durrell, 'Gerald' our replacement wartime Gnome Guard-ener (until the original one returns from his travels, pictured in The Cornish Guardian miniature copy). World War Zoo gardens project, Newquay Zoo, March 2011

Soon after his return to wartime Britain, Durrell’s time at Whipsnade Zoo in 1945 as a student keeper are described in his other early books. Two mysterious gnomes arrived last week  in our lovely refenced, repaved garden (all work done by zoo builder John Murrell and Mike his garden volunteer). We have a stop-gap Gnome Guard-ener in place until Bert returns, which we have christened “Gerald”.  A slightly more expensive bronze statue of Gerald Durrell can be found at Jersey Zoo.With his cartoonist’s great sense of  humour and his love of travel, we’re sure Gerald would approve of the whole gnome escap-ade, our  wartime garden and its animal enrichment work, not disimilar to the poly tunnel market gardens at Jersey Zoo and now Paignton Zoo.

AWOL Wartime Gnome Guard-ener’s tour of duty makes it from Newquay Zoo to London Zoo’s war memorial … “lest we forget”

March 3, 2011

Our wartime Gnome Guard-ener pays his respects at London Zoo's staff war memorial, March 2011

Our missing gnome from the World War Zoo wartime gardens project at Newquay Zoo has turned up somewhere else  … and sent a postcard home from London Zoo.

A postcard has arrived at Newquay Zoo, picturing our gnome visiting London Zoo with a message from him on his travels. It reads: “It’s really good to see this after hearing so much about the London Zoo staff who died during the war. Lest We Forget …”

We covered some of the poignant stories of ZSL London Zoo staff lost on active service in both world wars in our November and December 201o blog posts. 12 staff were lost in WW1, 5 more in WW2.

We’ve no idea where he will turn up next … but his photo is in the Cornish Guardian this week detailing his last trip, to our collegues at VertiCrop in Paignton Zoo. Meanwhile we are building a new fence around our wartime allotment – supposedly to keep out straying feet and our animals out from nibbling the food before its grown. But it might keep gnomes in place on duty. Maybe he’s avoiding hard Dig for Victory work, as there’s new sandbags to fill.

Let’s hope he’s gn-home by May in time for our BIAZA Love Your Zoo and wartime week in half term and our  trip to Chester Zoo in May 2011 to talk about wartime zoos.

More about the World War Zoo project on news sections.

Bert our Gnome Guard-ener goes AWOL and turns up at Paignton Zoo’s VertiCrop – latest

February 24, 2011

LDV gnome gone AWOL ... Bert our World War Zoo Gnome Guard-ener checks out hi-tech hyrdroponic gardening at VertiCrop, Paignton Zoo. The bearded one on the right is Kevin Frediani, Paignton Zoo's Curator of Plants and Gardens. (Image: Paignton Zoo)

Received from the Press Office,  Paignton Zoo (before the gnome went AWOL):

A garden gnome in military uniform has gone missing from Newquay Zoo in Cornwall.

And now the member of the Gnome Guard has turned up 80 miles away at Paignton Zoo in Devon!

 The gnome went missing from Newquay Zoo’s World War Zoo garden exhibit, which shows the affect of war on zoos, their animals and their staff. He has now been found inspecting Paignton Zoo’s Verticrop Facility in the company of Curator of Plants and Gardens Kevin Frediani.

 Mark Norris, Newquay Zoo Education Manager, who started the World War Zoo project, said: “I think he’s gone to find out about gardening at other zoos. US troops were stationed on land at Paignton Zoo during the war. And it’s appropriate that he stopped off to look at the VertiCrop vertical growing system, as it’s said that the American army pioneered hydroponics to help feed soldiers during the war.”

“We hope he’ll be back in time for Newquay Zoo’s wartime zoo garden week during May half term. He’s also going to Chester Zoo for a conference in May, where the Newquay Zoo education team will be giving talks on zoos and wartime garding during the war.’’

For more information on the World War Zoo garden project, and education at Newquay Zoo, please visit the official website

We look forward to hearing more of Bert’s exploits and to his eventual safe return …

One of our Gnome Guards is missing from Newquay Zoo …

February 21, 2011

Our Gnome Guard has gone missing and off on his travels ... here he is at Paignton Zoo's VertiCrop house , proudly wearing his LDV arm band.

Our Gnome Guard from the World War Zoo gardens project has disappeared from Newquay Zoo last weekend …

and mysteriously appeared at Paignton Zoo ‘s VertiCrop house

from where he sent this postcard! All very mysterious …

One wartime Paignton Zoo site where Newquay Zoo's wartime Gnome Guard may explore - Clennon Gorge quarries, possible site for US troops GI cookhouse / campsite before D-Day June 1944, cleaned up after the war to become a now peaceful nature reserve at Paignton Zoo. (Nov. 2010)

It’s not a bad spot to visit, the 21st century update of our 1940s grow your own ‘dig for victory’ zoo keepers’ allotment producing fresh food for our zoo animals .

I saw VertiCrop in November, when visting looking at Paignton Zoo’s wartime past. Suitably for a wartime re-enactor (gnome), Paignton Zoo was operational during World War Two, and you can read more about its past in our archive of blog posts in 2010.

Undercover allotment of the future ... VertiCrop at Paignton Zoo pictured on our recent BIAZA zoo conference visit, November 2010, whilst looking for hints of the wartime Paignton Zoo


Who knows where he will turn up next?


Who knows when he will return?

(Who ever helped him travel, please return him at some point – there’s digging to be done).

Fresh faced, a white bearded Grandad's Army protects the crops at Newquay Zoo's wartime garden, summer 2010.

Without our gnome gardener / guard-ener’s help, we put our wartime variety of spuds in yesterday (Sharpe’s Express) and some of our saved broad bean seeds from last year’s crop. The rest of the broad beans proved great fresh ‘podding’  enrichment for our critically endangered ‘Yaki’ Sulawesi macaque monkeys last summer. We’ve sown some more broad beans and other things for them this year, a special year for the macaques with the launch of the Selamatkan Yaki campaign (‘save the macaques’ in the local Sulawesi /Bahasan Indonesian language) by Paignton & Newquay Zoo (part of the Whitley Wildlife Conservation Trust) see our website pages.   

LDV Gnome guard in his usual allotment spot in our wartime 'Dig For Victory' garden Summer at Newquay Zoo, 2010

Our Gnome Guard on his planned travels, appearing in our wartime display at Trelawney Garden Centre's wildlife gardening weekend, August 2010

If you look back through our blog posts in summer 2010 you’ll find more about our Gnome Guard, named after the LDV or Home Guard in World War 2. You’ll also find links to Twigs Way the garden writer and her superb little Shire Library series book on Garden Gnomes (There’s a great little Shire book by her on Allotments and a new book on wartime gardening by Twigs Way and Mike Brown (Sabrestorm)

Hopefully our Gnome Guard will be back by the May half term for our wartime displays as prt of our Wartime Zoo gardens week running alongside the BIAZA ‘Love Your Zoo’ campaign ( May 28 to June 5th 2011).

For more information about World War Zoo, visit

Rare 'Yaki' Sulawesi Macaque monkey at Newquay Zoo enjoying fresh broad bean pods, summer 2010. (Picture: Jackie Noble, Newquay Zoo)

Hopefully, our missing Gnome Guard will be back from his travels soon. If he turns up next at our other sister zoo, Living Coasts  I will suspect an ‘inside job’ in his disappearance  …

After all, wherever you wander, there’s g-no place like gnome …

Wartime garden ‘Dig for victory’ in snow and sunshine – pictures from Newquay Zoo

November 28, 2010

Snow on sandbags, spring crops and steel helmets. 'Dig for Victory' in the snow and sunshine, World War Zoo gardens project, Newquay Zoo 28 November 2010

The World War Zoo garden's Gnome Guard on snow clearing duties! Newquay Zoo, November 2012 Ground gnomes or Erdmannchen in German, meerkats in English - call them what you like, The WorldWar Zoo garden's neigbours at Newquay Zoo still have to do sentry duty in snow. Nov 2010

Ground gnomes or Erdmannchen in German, meerkats in English - call them what you like, The WorldWar Zoo garden's neigbours at Newquay Zoo still have to do sentry duty in snow. Nov 2010

Wartime dig for victory garden, poppies, plants and everything under snow in morning sun, Newquay Zoo, Nov. 2010

Gnome guard, Home Guards, meerkats, wartime gardens and the LDV: “Look, Duck and Vanish …” becomes the Home Guard, 23 July 1940

July 20, 2010

Our World War Zoo garden at Newquay Zoo has a new recruit, a “Gnome Guard” complete with his LDV Local Defence Volunteer armband that would be obsolete after the 23rd July 1940 when the “Home Guard” was renamed.  The Dig For Victory campaign of 1940 was also a successful rebranding or renaming, seen in the poster below  from 1941. 

22nd and 23rd July sees the 70th anniversary of the renaming of the LDV 

Our World War Zoo garden has a new "dig for victory" recruit, a patriotic little "Gnome Guard" complete with his LDV Local Defence Volunteer armband that would be obsolete after the 23rd July 1940 when the "Home Guard" was renamed. Dig For Victory poster from 1941.

Local Defence Volunteers, or as Churchill insisted they were now called “The Home Guard“. Against a real threat of German invasion after Dunkirk from Operation Sealion”, the Home Guard freed up many servicemen for essential war duties. 

Despite our Dad’s Army image of them now,  many of the Home Guard were too old for call up but experienced veterans from the First World War.   Zoo keeping was not as far as I know a reserved occupation, so many younger staff were called up. Many of the zoo staff remaining were over call up age of 41 and would have had extra duties of Home Guard, Civil Defence and Fire watch.   

Newquay’s imposing Great Western stone railway viaduct near the Zoo (over the peaceful Trenance Gardens) and coast were watched and guarded by local Home Guards, according  to our local historian and wartime Newquay child Douglas Knight. 

Whipsnade Zoo as a training base was a big enough estate not only to plough up sections to feed the zoo animals but also for the local Home Guard to have their rifle ranges there. 

Our as yet unnamed Gnome Guard from the World War Zoo gardens, Newquay Zoo

The gnome connection is not so strange, its rather similar to the many mascots or cartoon figures used to promote the National Growmore campaign, first name of “Dig For Victory”. Gnomes have an interesting history, and would have been suspect certainly in the First World War as they were mostly made in Germany and so fell out of fashion from the 1920s onwards, recounted in the garden historian Twigs Way’s excellent little Shire book Garden GnomesTwigs Way also wrote the Shire book on Allotments with a good section on Dig For Victory and European allotments, and edited the reprint of the Dig for Victory garden leaflets from 1945 and 

Picture Post, Sep 21, 1940 portrays the Home Guard as youthful, camouflaged and trained by veterans of the Spanish Civil War like Tom Wintringham (ZO71, from our archive: World War Zoo Gardens, Newquay Zoo)

My rusty German reminds me that one  German word for gnome, Erdmannchen also covers that LDV – ‘Look, Duck and Vanish’ – expert. the Meerkat.    My podcast friend at Kernow Pod, Matt Clarke is producing a short podcast on our little Meerkat Royal Observer Corps,  scanning the sky for the “Hun in The Sun” or for us, the “seagull in the dazzle”. Meerkats come naturally equipped with black eye shades to counteract this dazzle, then sound the alarm, especially to protect their young and warn them to run for shelter! You can see them do this at our 12.30 feeding talk each day, whilst 24-30th July is a birds themed event week at Newquay Zoo

To download this MP3 podcast, click on  meerkats.  

There is an excellent short history of the Home Guard on Wikipedia, and BBC werbsite 

Friend or foe? Young meerkats like wartime children have to learn what silhouettes mean safety and which danger. Harmless bird or hawk? (Sweet Caporal cigarette box, Archive item from the World War Zoo gardens wartime collection, Newquay Zoo)

Many Home Guard materials have been republished, now declassified including some of the deadly sabotage tricks of the ‘stay behind, hide  and sabotage’ Auxiliary Units, the equivalent to the French Resistance. 

Some of the Home Guard material we have in the World war Zoo garden archive makes much reference to learning camouflage and concealment from the animal world, ranging from countershading on antelope to cryptic colouration. One of the more unlikely military instructors was Hugh Cott, a university zoologist who wrote Adaptive Coloration in Animals, 1940 – a short biography of Cott and fellow camouflage instructors, surrealist artist Roland Penrose: 

We’re on tour with the wartime garden at Trelawney Garden Centre, Wadebridge  31 July and 1 August 2010 – come and meet us, and our LDV gnome guard! 

Wartime, gardening and outdoor events we’re involved in – we’ve loaned an image and information from our archive of WAAFs in an underground radar station to the Discovering Places Day, Lizard NNR Goonhilly 25th July. Come and meet us as a wartime zoo garden on tour at Trelawney Garden Centre near Wadebridge in Cornwall, along with our minibeasts on 31 July and 1st August 2010.

Meanwhile, enjoy the peace of your garden!

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