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Bristol Zoological Garden


The zoological gardens were opened in 1836, and remain well-maintained. Features include a long terrace planted with specimen trees and display beds. There is also a rock garden, herbaceous border and an ornamental lake.

Public access to the zoological gardens is normally from the Clifton Down entrance where there are two small entrance lodges. Once inside, a long terrace runs south-west to north-east along the top of the enclosed space. This terrace is planted with specimen trees and display beds and overlooks two lawns.

At the north-east end of the terrace a path leads around a small rock garden. From here, the path leads on around the perimeter of the garden, past many animal enclosures, branching at several points. An ornamental lake in the centre of the gardens is surrounded by specimen trees and shrubs. On the south side of the lake there is a large herbaceous border.

The zoological gardens are extremely well-maintained by a staff of 28 workers. The various display beds are all stocked from the Zoo's own nursery in College Road, or from its nursery on the Hollywood Tower Estate. Throughout the garden individual trees and plants are clearly labelled and identified.

Visitor Access, Directions & Contacts

Access contact details

The gardens are open daily from 9 until 5.30, with the exception of Christmas Day.


The Bristol, Clifton and West of England Zoological Society Ltd,

Bristol Zoo Gardens, Clifton, Bristol, BS8 3HA

The present site of the zoological gardens was purchased in 1834. The site cost approximately £3,000, the money being raised by a group of some 200 shareholders which included membesrs of the Wills and Fry family and Isambard Kingdom Brunel. An alternative site in Arno's Vale (now a cemetery) had previously been considered. From the first, the site was dedicated to the keeping and exhibiting of plants and animals and it still carries out this function today.

The grounds were landscaped in 1835 by Richard Forrest, then operating from Millers nursery in Whiteladies Road, Bristol. The gardens were officially opened in 1836 and the basic layout of the site has not altered substantially since then. Many of the specimen trees in the garden were planted in the 1830s, the cedars from seeds planted in 1830. Originally, the garden was maintained by Millers, later by Garaways, who operated from the same site in Whiteladies Road.

In the second half of the 19th century the planting of the zoological gardens very much reflected current tastes and styles. Display bedding became a prominent feature of the gardens and a huge collection of ferns was built up by Colonel Jones and Dr. Fox. For some time this was considered to be the finest collection of hardy ferns in the British Isles, and attracted much attention.

A visit by the Editor of the 'British Fern Gazette' in 1910 gives us an interesting description of the planting of that period:

"The gardens contain, amongst many other interesting subjects, a fine collection of hollies and many specimens of trained trees and shrubs, interspersed with fine clumps of rhododendrons, whilst the terrace walk fronting the New Lion House was gaily decked with beds of Begonias in full splendour skirted by specimen palms, pictures of health, grown in large tubs."

The rock garden was originally laid out in 1896, but was re-landscaped in 1926. Other changes have come with the passage of time. A fine herbaceous border was laid out in a crescent shape in 1936 and is still flourishing.

The present nursery in College Road was purchased in 1964. In 1966 the estate at Hollywood Tower was also bought to help provision the animals at the zoo and to provide the many plants needed to maintain the high standard of display bedding in the gardens. Some 100,000 plants are currently grown each year to satisfy the requirement.


Victorian (1837-1901)

Features & Designations


  • Conservation Area

  • Reference: Clifton
  • The National Heritage List for England: Listed Building

  • Reference: Pair of Lodges


  • Lake
  • Description: The lake is part of Richard Forrest's original landscaping.
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  • Terrace
  • Description: This feature was part of the original garden design. It is still the site of large display beds and several fine specimen trees and shrubs.
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  • Herbaceous Border
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  • Planting
  • Description: The zoological gardens are stocked with a great variety of tropical and temperate plants, mostly grown in groups. They are all well-labelled and identified. They include begonias, herbs, dahlias, cacti and succulents, water plants and many others. There is an indoor display of orchids and tropical plants.
  • Gate Lodge
  • Description: There are two paired Greek revival lodges with gates between, dated to around 1840. They are cruciform, rendered and grouved with plain quoin pilasters.
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  • Trees
  • Rock garden
Key Information





Principal Building



Victorian (1837-1901)





Open to the public





  • Toby Thacker

  • Avon Gardens Trust