Having been involved in the Woburn Forest project since the summer of 2012, I have had the pleasure of learning a great deal about what goes into creating a Center Parcs Village. Yes, there are bricks and mortar, windows and doors and yes, there is a team of 1,500 people. But as well as that, there are teams of people researching, planning, designing and implementing into every aspect of the Village. One of the most amazing stories is the journey Jean Henkens – the Botanist and Landscape Architect – undertakes to collect the tropical plants for the Subtropical Swimming Paradise.
Adventurer in the jungle
My first Center Parcs break was at Sherwood Forest when I was 4 years old and I still remember the feeling of the brick path against the wheels of the bike I rode to our lodge. I remember the fascination I felt seeing the ducks visiting to our patio door and all the activities I had to fit in. Having spent (a lot) of time in the Subtropical Swimming Paradise while on short breaks with my family, I had enjoyed the lushness of the pool area and how it made me feel like an adventurer in the jungle. I’d never really put much thought into where these plants may have come from at the time as I was too enchanted by the choice of fun pools and slides.
“My first Center Parcs break was at Sherwood Forest when I was 4 years old and I still remember the feeling of the brick path against the wheels of the bike I rode to our lodge”
One day in Rotterdam
Jean Henkens is part of the fabric of Center Parcs: he lives and breathes it. For more than 40 years, he has been making it his mission to rescue tropical plants from areas threatened with deforestation then rehome them at Center Parcs Villages. I learnt that the plants are saved, dug out by hand with the help of villagers in local nurseries and cared for in the Rotterdam greenhouses before being delivered. I have had the good fortune of actually being given the chance to travel out to Rotterdam a couple of weeks ago and see the plants for myself.
Martin [Dalby, Center Parcs chief executive], Don [Camilleri, Woburn Construction Director], Richard [Watson, Landscape Asset Manager] and I had arrived at the airport and travelled by taxi to Honselersdijk, which looked very much like the ‘greenhouse district’. We pulled up to the entrance and the greenhouses weren’t even visible. But as we walked through reception and through another glass door, we entered an enormous tropical wonderland; giant trees with their outstretched feathery branches towered above us. The smell was very familiar – I recognised it immediately. It was the warm, lush scent from the Subtropical Swimming Paradise at Center Parcs.
Plants of every shape and size
We couldn’t contain our excitement at seeing the plants and, at one point, Martin actually leapt up on to one of the large flower pots to compare its height with his own. There were many times while in the greenhouses that I had to practically sweep branches from my route, in a bid to keep up with the group. My childhood vision from Sherwood Forest of being a jungle explorer was finally ringing true!
We saw plants of every size and shape, before finishing our tour by visiting the bamboo. You would be mistaken in thinking bamboo are a few sticks in a plant pot but the tall, lush trees were 12 metres tall. I had never seen anything like it!
I took more than 200 photos during the day; you can see some of these on our Discover Woburn Forest webpage along with some facts about the tropical plants story.
While we have to wait until March for the tropical plants to be delivered, The Pancake House and Huck’s American Bar and Grill is due to be handed over next month, so I’m certain there’ll be lots to share in February!
Catch up soon,