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Eden Project

Liquidambars at Eden

So I thought I’d finish my series of posts about my visit to the Eden Project with one about the outdoor space. The biomes are such spectacular creations that they do get most of the attention. The indoor space they provide is essential for any visitor attraction that needs to ride out the vagaries of the British weather but it is rather a shame to see Eden as only a wet weather destination, by-passing the planting outside as you make a bee-line indoors. When we first visited in 2001, only 2 months after the opening of the site, the external landscaping had only just been planted and, admittedly no one had come to see some trees and bushes, it was the rainforest and the world’s biggest conservatories that were the attraction. Over ten years later the outdoor biome as it’s known is coming into its own.

Eden Project

Lavendar balls

The team at Eden have really worked hard with the planting to create something that is beautiful, that inspires and which educates and tells a story along the way. I imagine the scale of planting and landscaping at Eden has brought its own unique problems and challenges. The nature of the bowl within which Eden sits and the sheer size of the site have required bold planting schemes. Thinking in threes, fives and sevens would never have worked here. Long lines of Liquidambars, some of the first trees to be turning at the start of autumn, looked like flames lining the paths. Vast plantings of Cotinus were likewise turning colour. Alongside one path was a large bank of Cornus, still in leaf on our visit, but you could imagine how dramatic the red, yellow and orange stems will look in winter. One slope was a mass of lavender. For our visit at the start of October they had been neatly trimmed into tidy balls which created an arresting sight but the thought of seeing and smelling it in full flower is already making me look at my diary to see if we can visit next summer.

For anyone who grows their own the area devoted to fruit and veg is a delight. I particularly liked the ideas for using height to grow more crops in a small space. There were hops and barley growing to illustrate the brewing industry. I’ve never seen hops grown, as they would be commercially; it’s incredible how tall they get. Although there was a ‘dwarf’ variety, which must have been 6ft-8ft tall which I quite like the idea of trying to grow. Not because I plan to make beer but because I love hops when they’re dried. You can apparently make sachets from the dried hops which you can then put under your pillow to induce restful sleep. Growing hops at the allotment would certainly be something a bit different. They are trialling varieties at Eden to see if there are any that can cope with the damp conditions prevalent in the Cornish climate.

Eden Project

Hemp fence enclosing hemp field

Hemp is an amazing crop and has yet to be fully exploited. It has numerous uses from clothing to the car industry, needs much less chemical input to grow it and it grows well in the UK. Hempcrete which is a mixture of hemp and lime is a more environmentally friendly option to concrete. Hemp is, of course, a variety of Cannabis.  The varieties grown industrially tend to be very fibrous and have low levels of the chemical compounds used for drugs but growing hemp as an agricultural crop requires a licence from the government and infrastructure in place to protect the crop. At Eden, because they are required to have a fence around the crop, they commissioned what I thought was a very stylish barrier using hemp ropes.

One of the areas I loved the most though was the recreation of an American prairie. Although it was fading into autumn the colours of the asters and rudbeckias against the blue sky and the gleaming biome were beautiful. Another reason to visit in summer. The sight of it in full flower must be spectacular. The team at Eden manage it by burning every spring, just as the Americans did when they created the first prairies to attract animals to the plains and make travelling across the vast areas of vegetation easier.

Eden Project

A bank of vegetables next to the cafe

For me, the genius of Eden is that it inspires. It takes difficult subjects such as climate change, peak oil, habitat loss, sustainability and feeding a growing planet and engages and educates. Bring these subjects up at a dinner party and you see eyes glazing over and yawns being stifled. But because at Eden they are practising what they preach you feel more receptive to the ideas. This is not some rich, jet-setting, 5 homes in different countries, pop star telling you to look after the planet. One of the main problems for governments across the world is popping the bubble of apathy that thinking about the environment seems to create. It’s all too easy to feel overwhelmed by the issues we face with regards to the future of the planet and what sort of quality of life future generations will have. It’s easy to think that recycling or giving up a car or growing your own aren’t worth it, can these little changes make any real difference? I think what Eden proves is yes they are worth it and that the snow ball effect of one change and then another combine. Supporting local businesses, becoming waste neutral, supporting prisoners and ex-offenders to learn horticultural skills and with plans to install their own geo-thermal energy plant Eden shows what is possible if we just change the way we think about how we do things.

For me, Tim Smit, the man who rediscovered the Lost Gardens of Heligan and breathed new life into them and who then had the vision to create Eden, is someone who doesn’t get enough credit for his achievements. I certainly wish those in power would pay more attention to the ideas and practices at Eden rather than being driven by the same old ideas to deal with problems. But before this turns into a political rant, and no one wants that on a Friday afternoon, I just want to say if you haven’t been to Eden, go, it’s amazing and if you already have, then go again as it never fails to excite and inspire.

For more information about Eden visit their excellent website. They now run a wide variety of horticulture courses ranging from hour long demonstrations to half and full day sessions. Perfect for combining with a visit if you’re in the area. I can also highly recommend the book Eden by Tim Smit, about the ideas and construction of the project.

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