I was quite keen on my recent holiday in Cornwall to have a complete break from gardening but the temptation to squeeze in a garden visit was just too hard to resist. The county is rightly famous for its gardens, from the woodland and spring gardens of Caerhays and Glendurgan to those able to grow exotic plants such as Tresco and St. Michael’s Mount. One of my favourite places though is the Eden Project. It’s a place that divides many; I know some who think it is a little too much like a theme park. I love it.
We visited Eden just 2 months after it had opened back in 2001 and it was a truly inspiring sight. The scale of the crater, once a china clay pit and the plant biomes took our breath away. Of course, it was all very new and the landscaping and planting was in its infancy but it was possible to see the genius behind the idea. Now some 11 years later the plants have grown and so too have the ideas and ambitions of the project.
For me the tropical biome is the place I make a beeline for. It really does feel like you’re walking through a rainforest. OK, there are nice paths and no creepy crawlies but for the vast majority of us who will never get the opportunity to visit the real thing this is probably the closest we’ll ever get to the heat, humidity and tropical planting of this important and fascinating habitat.
Unlike a botanic garden, Eden doesn’t give all of the plants labels. Any information boards and labels focus on the key species that they want to point out to visitors, plants that we might already have some relationship with through food and drink and that are vital for creating a sustainable future for the planet. Sometimes it would have been nice to be able to find the name for a plant, like the stunner in the photo above but I think it’s a good decision to not have bits of plastic everywhere which I think would detract from the experience.
Education has always been at the core of the Eden Project. A visit isn’t just about admiring some pretty, exotic plants, it’s the opportunity to see coffee, pepper, rice, cashew nuts, bananas, and so much more, growing here in the UK. Humidity can be over 90% in the rainforest biome and my camera was struggling to cope, steaming up every time I took the lens cap came off. So apologies for some of the photos, well I suppose they convey some of the atmosphere.
A new introduction to the biome is a lookout suspended 50 metres above the ground giving visitors a bird’s eye view of the rainforest. Neither of us are great with heights but I’d already expressed the intention to climb the 80 steps, that reached out over the giant palms, to the platform suspended from the ceiling. It didn’t look THAT high up as we made our way through tropical island, West African and South American vegetation. As the path climbs up the slopes within the biome the heat and humidity builds. I was still fairly confident as I set off towards the lookout. Wellyman had initially decided to stay behind but it wasn’t long before I was clinging onto the handrail as my legs turned to jelly. There was no denying that the view was spectacular but the swaying of the steps was really disconcerting. It didn’t help that some people were just strolling up there as if they were walking to the post box. By this point Wellyman had joined me, determined to at least try to get out to the main platform. We did, eventually, make it and Wellyman even managed to take photos. I, on the other hand, was a little too busy saying ‘oh my God’ over and over again too really appreciate a) the achievement and b) the scene below. I certainly couldn’t work in the canopy bubble, a contraption used in the rainforests by scientists to study the higher levels of the trees. Here at Eden it is used by staff when they need to prune or check for pests and diseases as it can reach the highest parts of the biome.
It doesn’t feel a sterile place, as local bird and insect life have found their way inside. Some blackbirds had discovered the ripe papayas in a tree and had worked out how to get at the juicy, sweet flesh. And, as we were leaving, I spotted this out of the corner of my eye.
Now I’m no expert but I think it might have been a gecko. Not so sure how it has made its way here but it was still a treat to see.
For more information about the incredible Eden Project.