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.
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.
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.
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.
I must admit that it was the outdoor space, or specifically the fruit and veg area, which I was most fascinated with when I visited Eden. It was around the time that I got my allotment so all things fruit and veg were most interesting. I haven’t read Tim Smit’s book, I shall have to look out for it.
Jo, I loved the ideas on the veg area. I’m thinking of using a few on the plot next year.
Roy and Tanya said:
I agree with your comments on the vision that Tim Smit must have had – to have been inspired to create the Eden Project; of course it was a vast engineering feat, to have put this together in one of the most inhospitable landscapes in England, a disused China Clay pit! I recall seeing local news at the time, the mud and clay slurry was such a problem during construction.
Is there still a sense of its surroundings or has Eden melted into and merged with the countryside now? I imagine that the answer is a very confident yes.
It is blending in more but at the same time you still get the feeling of the ‘crater’ and the vastness of the site which is great. To have persevered through all the construction and funding problems they had was impressive enough.
Diana of Elephant's Eye said:
my mother grew up in Cornwall, so between showers we ducked out to ramble along the bit with Cornish wild flowers.
Cornish wildflowers are beautiful. They do look at their best in spring and early summer.
Tim Smit to me is a visionary. It is heartening to see Victorian estates and old walled gardens and kitchen gardens having the life breathed back into them, with Heligan being one of the highest profile. Heligan is also on my wish list to visit.
I like the lavender balls and bank of vegetables. I put lavender balls into my own garden early this year and over the next few months I should hopefully see them flower at last.
Thank you for the posts on the Eden Project – beautifully written and described and great photographs to accompany the text. Many thanks
Thanks Danielle, You should definitely start your own blog. I’m fascinated to see your garden, it sounds gorgeous. I’m glad you’ve liked hearing about Eden. Heligan is amazing too. I know we’re so lucky to have so many great gardens in the UK. We lived abroad for a while and the lack of gardens to visit was really frustrating.
WW – I have seriously considered starting my own garden blog but I am actually an extremely private person when it comes to personal information and photos and I dislike social media (I do NOT have Facebook). I’m also a bit of a luddite and do not own an iphone (or similar).
I admire people who have blogs who use the blog as a personal diary and divulge all matter of personal information, household goings on, family photos, etc but I just couldn’t do it!
However it would be nice having a garden blog so long as I could stay anonymous.. Have you had any problems with your blog such as privacy breaches, trolls, hackers etc? Feel free to email me if easier to respond.
I’m pretty private too, hence my pseudonym. Although as time has passed certain people have discovered the real me but that has been down to my choice. It is possible to stay incognito if you choose to. Using wordpress I find their spam filter is great and I haven’t had any other problems. I do think a good password helps. I’m not on facebook either as I don’t like the whole divulging my entire life thing either. The great thing about blogs is they can be as much as you want it to be. I always try to keep my posts about garden related stuff, straying into food or the countryside occasionally. I do understand you wanting to keep stuff private though. Hope that helps but if you have any other questions just let me know.
A most enjoyable, and informative, post. I think that I’d probably find this the most interesting part to look round.
I once had the pleasure of chatting with Tim Smit at Heligan and agree with all you say about him, and his book. xx
Wow I’d love the chance to meet Tim Smit. Although to be honest I tend to forget what to ask people I’ve always wanted to meet when I’m finally stood in front of them. 😉
David Marsden said:
I did think, WW that I had ‘done’ Eden but you have made me realise that it is constantly evolving and growing and, indeed, still getting established. I love the idea that they have to fence off the hemp – just in case! D
I wasn’t sure about the having the hemp fenced off as you could access it on the other side. Not sure how secure that was. Not quite sure what people would do with it either. The idea of people sneakily cutting it down and walking out with it is quite funny. We weren’t going to go back either having been in 2009 but they realise that to keep people coming back they have to do new things. They are currently planning a rainforest canopy walk but would be amazing.
Your Eden posts have made me itch to return to Eden WW. I think that we visited pre allotment days so the fruit and veg area would of course be of even greater interest now. I was bewitched by Heligan too.
Anna, both are great. I do like how Eden is evolving so much with so many new things to see. They are planning a rainforest canopy walkway next.
We’ve not managed to make the trek yet, so thank you for writing this! Tim Smit’s book is possibly one of the best things I’ve ever read.
The books are amazing. I loved the one about Heligan too.
Brilliant post. When I visited Eden just after it was opened I loved the outside planting already, even though at that stage it was all tiny plants but you could see it was going to be wonderful. The area around Viterbo, where I live, was famous for growing hemp in the past. I so agree about Tim Smit; he has such a positive attitude and manages to get things done even when all those around him are saying it’s not possible! I hope I can visit Eden again! Christina