On a recent trip to England, I had the chance to spend a day at The Eden Project. If you haven’t yet been there, I highly recommend it!
The Eden Project is the brainchild of Tim Smit, co-founder of the Lost Gardens of Heligan. After getting Heligan up and running, Smit was looking for a new way to demonstrate how plants affect life in all parts of the world. His vision was to build huge greenhouses that would be more than just an arboretum or a conservatory. They would demonstrate how plants from all over the world give us food, fuel, and medicines, as well as help us create other materials. He got funding from the Landmark Millennium Project, among others, and The Eden Project opened as an educational charity in 2000. It’s been growing in popularity ever since.
The Project was built in an abandoned china clay pit – basically a huge hole in the ground – near St. Austell in Cornwall. The china clay pit had been mined for 160 years, and then closed. So not only does the Eden Project educate the public on the benefits of plants, but it also shows how a blight on the landscape can be turned into an asset to the community.
There are 2 major biomes (greenhouses that look like they’re made from bubble wrap). The rainforest biome is the largest indoor rainforest in the world, and the Mediterranean biome features over 1,000 different plants and a hot, dry climate. I recommend doing the rainforest biome first, as it gets pretty hot, humid, and crowded in there.
Outside the biomes are gardens that inspire with their creativity, educate with their displays, and awe with their beauty. The outside gardens are also dotted with incredible sculptures such as the gigantic bee in the pollinating exhibit.
The displays are incredibly creative – the display on hemp, for example, uses hemp as rope to use as a handrail. The display on rubber trees uses old tires to act as a border for the garden, and a tire ‘seat’ that kids love to sit on. The signs that explain what you’re seeing in each section frequently use materials made from the plants you’re seeing in that area.
During bad weather, you can head inside to The Core – aka the education center. Most exhibits are aimed towards children; adults can rest and watch the “Making of Eden” film which shows how the project came about.
In addition to numerous classes on site, the Eden Project also sponsors community gardens and horticulture projects through prisons and homeless organizations. They also teach businesses and homeowners how to reduce their carbon footprint.
The Eden Project takes conservation to a whole new level. They don’t just recycle food and drink containers, they also recycle plant materials (as compost) and water. If fact, almost half the water used at Eden comes from water harvested from the site. For example, rain water that runs off the biomes is re-routed to provide humidity for the rainforest biome. All the toilets are flushed with recycled rainwater and have won several ‘loo of the year’ awards!
The restaurants use local, seasonal, organic and fair-traded products whenever possible.
Buy Tim Smit's book on the project at Amazon: