I know, I’m dragging this out, but I can’t miss showing you my pictures of the Eden Project, now can I? I’d heard a lot about the Eden Project and had a feeling that it was somewhere I’d enjoy. So, can I just say, if you’re in the St Austell area and you wonder, ‘Is it going to be worth £20-odd quid to see some plants?’ then the answer is yes. Yes it is. (Although you can get discounts if you book in advance, and we got a 25% off voucher at Heligan). Because this is simultaneously all about plants and about so much more. I had high expectations of Eden, and I was blown away.
The scope of the project is astonishing. The creators wanted to make a site which would showcase the amazing influence of plants on our lives – their very centrality to all life. And that’s what they’ve done. It brings home the importance of conservation, but at no point is it preachy. They also wanted to do it in an environmentally sensitive way, both in terms of the ‘green-ness’ and in terms of respect for the local people and local economy. So they found a disused chalk quarry and made a garden. They didn’t import soil, they made it, from local ingredients. And they carried on from there. You can find out more about it here.
You come through the entrance and step out to the lip of the quarry and you see this:
Well, you see more than that, but my camera couldnn’t do the whole panorama. To get the the bottom, you walk down zig-zaggy paths, past some truly gorgeous planting.
In one of several very imaginative touches, they have little cut-throughs for kids, which are not only fun, but mean they don’t have to walk as far, so less whingeing:
In fact, there are lots of touches that are great for kids. A building where you can enter via a door or a slide. Hidey holes and climbing frames and things that have signs saying ‘Yes, you can play in here’. Lovely.
The outside areas at the bottom of the site are filled with gorgeous planting – herbaceous borders, willow hedges, and when we were there, roses, dahlias, sweet peas – I’d love to see what was planted at other times of the year. I took dozens of pictures, but here’s a taster:
Inspiration for ‘hot’ planting…
… and ‘cool’.
Another apple arch – I love these.
A wall built to encourage insects.
Lovely – I love the willow planters.
Dahlias (I always thought I didn’t like dahlias, but I saw some terrific ones in Cornwall – I think I’m being won over.
Dahlia with bee.
So, into the biomes. The first is the rainforest biome and it gets hot. Wear layers, take water – that’s all I’m sayin’. It’s incredible. Obviously, there are plants, wonderful plants – but also some witty, informative touches, and lots of information about what the plants are and how they’ve impacted on us. Again, lots of pictures, but here’s a small sample to give an idea of the scale:
Obviously, me being me, I took lots of pictures of flowers, too.
See that bottom one? That’s the Madagascan periwinkle. It’s endangered in its natural habitat, but is widely cultivated elsewhere. Why? Because it’s saved thousands of lives as a treatment for childhood leukemia. That little plant right there is the most powerful argument I’ve seen for habitat conservation. It’s not altruism, it’s self-interest.
And of course, we saw rice and tea and coffee and cocoa and rubber and spices and, most exciting for the kids:
This is just a fraction of a sample of what’s there.
So, then, after losing the Little Boy and finding him again, we went to the Mediterranean biome. Lots of more temperate plants, and vines and herbs and tomatoes and olive trees and chilis… (and a wonderful Spanish guitarist, which was a bonus).
There was more outside – plants for brewing, plants for dyeing, plants for … pretty much everything.
I loved this veg bed:
and this giant bee:
We had brought our own lunches, because we weren’t sure what the catering was like, but Mr S&S couldn’t resist one of the Biggest Scones In The World.
So, a tiny taster of the wonders of Eden. But to end, in one of the exhibition spaces, we saw this:
And it’s pretty mindblowing. These are the first architect’s sketch of the big biomes, done on pub napkins. It gave me a bit of a shiver to realise that it was the sheer force of human will that turned a pub-napkin pipe dream into huge, real, growing, flowering reality.