Virginia Zoo is all about animals — and, increasingly,
all about plants.
are 10 themed gardens that make up the zoo’s 53-acre
experience. There’s the White Garden with its cooling
ambiance of pale flowers. There’s the fiery explosion
of the Tropical Garden with its rain forest-like
foliage. And, there’s the Organic Rose Garden where
oldies and newbies flourish with only natural
Francis, the new curator of horticulture at the
100-year-old zoo in Norfolk, Va., hopes to enhance the
gardens even more. He wants to add denser plantings to
the animal habitats so you feel immersed in the country
or continent; he also plans to create a database of
plants and envisions future plant sales for the public.
really hoping to take it to a fresh and exciting new
level that hasn’t been seen here before," he
zoo currently has many significant plants that are not
common, and I would like to add, introduce and try more,
as well as keep the collections we already have."
comes to the zoo from Riverbanks Zoo & Botanical
Garden in Columbia, S.C., where he spent more than 10
years working on the horticulture staff and lastly as
the horticultural design coordinator.
Riverbanks Zoo & Gardens are separated
geographically, I was able to use my more artistic and
creative side to get the ‘wilder’ look that was
required on the zoo side, but then dress it up to
accommodate the elegant and detail-oriented style of the
botanical gardens," he says.
he worked as a landscape designer for Earth Graphics
where he designed landscapes for residential and
commercial, and was also a manager for an interior
plantscape company where he designed and maintained
interior plantings for commercial accounts.
also an artist, and has been featured in galleries in
Columbia. Originally from Indianapolis, he has a
bachelor’s degree in landscape architecture from
Purdue University, and an associate’s degree in
commercial art and design.
has only been at the zoo since January, but he’s
already found his favorite spot – the Tropical Garden
in front of the Asia exhibit where he likes the big leaf
textures and vivid colors.
proud of the renovated zoo barnyard which recently
reopened with dwarf Nigerian goats. Guests can go in the
animal yard and pet the goals, and explore a vegetable
garden. There’s also a new wellness campus which
includes the zoo’s veterinary hospital and commissary
where nutrition for people and animals will be
horticulture department will have an orchard and several
gardens for growing consumables designed for animals and
humans for educational purposes," he says.
favorite plants include Edgeworthia chrysantha, which
blooms fragrantly in February; Alocasia and Colocasia,
which are commonly known as elephant ears; any of the
ornamental grasses; Osmanthus fragrans, or tea olive,
which is an evergreen shrub great for screening and has
an incredible clean fragrance, and blooms twice a year.
personal gardening style is "free and easy,"
which works well in a zoo setting.
general, most zoos I have been to in recent years have
become more horticulturally significant than ever
before," he says.
great to see more plants in zoos. They provide a
backdrop for the animals, obviously, but it makes the
visitors feel like they're actually in a jungle setting,
or a real desert, or the high cliffs of some Asian
and garden areas add to the entire zoo experience. After
all, if it weren’t for plants, there wouldn’t be any