Buried in a steep-sided clay crater, deep within the southwest corner of England you will find The Eden Project; a global garden, home to more than 1 million plants from 5000 different species and housing the worlds largest rainforest in captivity. The site was formally opened on 17th March 2001 after a successful bid to the Millennium commission secured a £37.5 million investment, helping transform the 35 acre site into nothing anyone had seen before. A small group of people who wanted to make a difference, some brilliant entrepreneurial minds, 7 years and 83,000 tonnes of soil later, the Eden Project you see today was constructed. Displaying over 20 exhibits, weaving human stories and tales of historic adventure around the plants to engage visitors and encourage them to think about our relationship with the natural world you can visit this wonderful place all year round in Cornwall, England.
Guests of the project are taken on a journey in which they see how plants have changed the world and the ways in which they may continue to do so. Eden itself is a wonderful example of how an old mining site can be reclaimed into a celebration of nature where gardeners can experiment with new varieties of plants capable of thriving in future climates.
Hemp also known as Cannabis Sativa is a leafy green bush pollinated by wind known popularly as marijuana, or weed. It is adaptable to various conditions and therefore easy to grow however it is controversial due to the production of THC, a psychoactive substance. Industrial hemp can be used for clothing, six times stronger than conventional material, protein, rope and building materials, it also has medicinal attributes and its illegal status is being reconsidered by many governments.
Sunflowers can be used in plastic manufacturing, sugar beet for making bioethanol, in turn utilised for everyday compostable goods. Thinking about our impact on the environment allows us to explore new ideas to adapt to environmental challenges. Factories are now able to convert waste products into fuel for aircrafts and the emphasis on educational projects is increasing globally. Perhaps the next generation of conservationists will find even more remarkable ways to meet our energy demands.
You’ll find ample places to sit and relax amongst the brightly coloured horticultural displays, by the Japanese garden or in the garden of senses. Here you will find varieties of herbs you can grow easily on your windowsill. They don’t take much water in order to grow so even the most forgetful of people could see them thrive.
Lavender displays will appeal to your senses, found alongside sage, basil and rosemary, all plants from the same family are used in aromatherapy due to their present perfumes.
Pukka tea will educate you on responsible wild harvesting and they often have free tea tastings. Delicious varieties such as star anise, matcha and triple cinnamon will transform you deep into the hills of the Yen Bai province of Vietnam where Pukka harvest tea from huge wild trees in the forest.
The Eden Project places a huge emphasis on sustainable living and nothing displays this more greatly than the crops that feed the world exhibit. Here visitors are educated on overconsumption and population growth. It is estimated there will be over 7 billion people inhabiting earth by 2050 and that’s a whole lot of mouths to feed and a lot less land to use in order to do so. There are many developing countries who face huge challenges such as climate change, land grabs, conflicts and are struggling to produce enough food for the population. In contrast, developed countries have vast supplies of cheap food which is consequently wasted.
It is important to become conscientious with food choices, thinking about where it comes from, not just how it is grown but how it is traded, the disease and pest control used to increase yields and subsequent problem of antibiotic resistance in humans and the reduction in biodiversity due to deforestation are just a few factors mentioned at the exhibits.
Over 90% of the worlds soybean and 63% of maize production feeds livestock which is a huge area of landmass; by only a small reduction in our meat consumption we can make a huge difference to land availability.
After 15 years of intensive love and affection, Eden has recreated the natural conditions of the tropics so perfectly that it is now home to a thriving rainforest exhibiting some of the worlds most vital crops and plants. Averaging between 20-30 degrees celsius and 90% humidity you’ll certainly feel you have been transported to the middle of the Congo Basin upon entering the curved space frame. Over half of the world’s terrestrial animals and plants have made their home in the rainforest and this incredible diversity makes it such a magical place. There are still endless creatures, plants and medicines waiting to be discovered.
Roaming the biome you will find familiar crops in all corners as well as lesser known plants like Thaumatococcus daniellii from wild Ghanaian rainforest, the only natural sweetener approved for use in the EU. In West African rainforests alone there are over 3000 species of fruit tree and you will see only a small proportion of them here; pineapples, found spurting from the ground, are crucial to the local economy supplying food, medicine, candles and cloth from the leaf fibres.
You’ll also find nutmeg, thought to cure the bubonic plaque, cashew trees whose shell liquor is highly corrosive used to treat ringworm and warts, mangoes, papaya, coffee and a large variety of tropical fruits such as Rambutan, soursop, baobab and the eccentric jaboticaba tree.
You can also find the largest flower on earth, Titan Arun, originating in Sumatra Indonesia, budding once every 9 years it can grow 3m in circumference. You’ll be extremely lucky, to see the flower open, occurring for only 48 hours at a time, or unlucky if the catch a whiff or the nasty rotting flesh stench.
Rivalling at up to 6m tall, torch ginger is a beautiful pink flower found in Malaysia, Indonesia and Australia.
Bamboo, found in most tropical regions around the world for the past 200 million years is a favourite in the western world for constructing designer furniture as well as musical instruments and other utensils and is vital in the construction of houses and major infrastructure on tropical islands such as Bali and Hawaii.
Each region of rainforest supports the local indigenous people with different produce:
In Asia, rice paddies are crucial to survival, South America is famous for its cacao and as the demand for natural rubber has grown exponentially alongside the car industry so too has the Asian rubber plantation industry. Rubber tapping requires highly skilled workers in order to preserve the trees. The 40m trees can be tapped for 20 years producing a milky latex for the production of waterproof clothing, rubber gloves, tyres & medical supplies. Sky have partnered with WWF to protect the Brazilian rainforest and provide a livelihood to the indigenous people.
How rubber tapping works:
- Diagonal cuts are made in the tree bark
- Bowls/ coconuts are tied to the tree
- The latex flows freely from the cuts and collects in the bowel.
- Locals then pour the latex onto a flat tray which is then pressed and hung up to dry.
Despite increasing need for land there are many ways in which a balance can be found between harvesting crops and conserving the wild. Alley-cropping allows plants to be grown between rows of trees providing essential nitrogen to the soil.
Palms provide locals of the tropics with food, tools and medicine and it is often found in a lot of our supermarket products such as hair conditioner, ice cream, cleaning detergents and cosmetics; 62 million tonnes was consumed worldwide in 2015. Palm oil cultivation is often the subject of great debate due to being responsible for a large proportion of annual deforestation. There are ways to make sustainable palm oil by using degraded land and without burning of the forest, keeping it small scale with local people profiting from small scale production rather than large companies.
The Malaysian home garden displays exactly how a local supplies their family with food all year round. You’ll find pak choi and star fruit, native to Indonesia and South East Asia. The yellow fruit grows all year round beginning as a purple flower, blooming into an ellipsoid. Not only is it a delicious food source, the juice can be used as a stain remover. The miracle tree provides edible food from the leaves and beans and the seeds can be used in a makeshift water filter. You’ll also see a small rice paddy here.
Don’t leave the biome without checking out the large waterfall, El Anatsui’s totems and the Peruvian shamanic art display.
These wonderful creations not only demonstrate the relationship we as a species have with plants but also how we can create such beauty from what may be perceived as waste. Peruvian artists Montes Suna and Panduro Baneo were brought over to paint the back wall of the rainforest biome. They portray a story of ancient elders discovery of medicinal plants such as Brunfelsia Grandiflora used to treat rheumatism and the Sapohaiasca vine which heals fractured bones.
The totems were made from charred timber, originally sourced from West Africa, destroyed by a Falmouth dock fire.
FOOD AND DRINK
Having worked up an appetite walking through the jungle, head to one of the many delicious restaurants within the biomes or link. All the food served here is responsibly sources, organic and seasonal and caters for most dietary requirements.
In the rainforest biome you can find the Baobab Bar who work together with PhytoTrade Africa to make delicious baobab rum cocktails an fruit smoothies. The proceeds help pay for family healthcare and children’s education & give the locals who harvest the baobab an incentive to protect the trees which support their livelihood.
Baobab grows in tropical Africa and can live for 3000 years. The fruit is a great source of vitamins with many health benefits.
The link has the Eden Kitchen where you will find middle-Eastern favourites such as sumac chicken, aubergine, pea and lentil curries and tahini hummus and flatbread.
The Burrito Bar serves four tasty 12” tortillas with mint and lime cabbage salad, salsa, rocket and wholegrain rice.
In school summer holidays you’ll find the Eden Bar and Grill serving burgers from the local butcher, perfect with the kids!
Mediterranean biome has the Eden Med Terrace restaurant, open daily and into the evenings. Stop by for a light snack of antipasti or reserve a table to enjoy a taste sensation of burrito tortellini or authentic Spanish paella.
Continue your journey through the mediterranean biome where you’ll find landscapes from South Africa, California and Europe. These regions are all warm and dry, often enduring long periods of drought. Many plants have evolved specialised adaptations such as waxy coatings, hairy leaves or protective oils in order to preserve the little water they receive and to protect them from predators.
Over 750 million tonnes of olive trees are grown worldwide, the majority of which are located in Spain, Italy and Greece. Spain itself is responsible for 1,000,000 tonnes of olive oil production each year and 80% of that is sold within Spain. In Andalusia you can find 10 different varieties with lighter varieties being produced in Catalonia. Black olive oil is best sourced in Greece who export roughly half of the 350,000 tonnes produced annually. More recently Australia has expanded its industry, creating high quality olives from the rich organic soils. Olive trees can grow up to 7m tall producing fragrant cream flowers ripening into red from the green fruit buds. Some trees found in the mediterranean are almost 2000 years old and have long been a symbol of peace and wisdom, it is also believed to lower cholesterol and prevent heart disease.
Christopher Columbus discovered chilli peppers on his expedition to the Caribbean. Spice is measured in Scoville units which indicates the amount of capsaicin present in the pepper. At Eden you can find the dorset Naga, measuring an impressive 1.6 million scoville, good luck to those who dare.
Habanero chillies have a fruity aroma and are great for adding flavour to Mexican style dishes.
The cape floral kingdom was listed as a UNESCO world heritage site in 2004. It is home to over 1000 endangered plant species and is deemed as one of the greatest areas for biodiversity in the world. The species are adapted to frequent fires, poor soils and harsh conditions. The plains have little wind and wild seeds are spread by insects. Over 7000 species of Fynbos, Afrikaans for fine bush, are found here most of which are unique to the cape. Some of these prehistoric looking species require fire exposure in order to germinate. July and August bring flower blooms transforming the red desert into a glorious psychedelic plain of geraniums, daisies, pelargoniums and ericas.
Be sure to checkout the Hottentot sugarbush as you pass through the Western Cape display.
The landscapes of California range from 7.7 million acres of desert growing leathery chaparral, used to make cowboy ‘chaps’; oak forests, the result of years of controlled burning and fields of purple and white leaved wildflowers and sages. The native indigenous people of California once had a rich harvest with bountiful water. It is now so valuable that it is often the subject of court orders with droughts lasting years at a time. The population today is extremely environmentally conscious, leading the world in new sustainable innovative technologies. With such high demand for water and such a low supply companies are exploring ways in which to make fresh water from sea water and have produced aquifers capable of producing more water from them than is input.
California and Florida are the biggest commercial growers of citrus fruits, California alone has over 250,000 acres of citrus orchards producing 300-400 boxes of fruit per acre.
In the Western Australia Garden you will find some spectacular, flamboyant species such as the Eucalyptus Macrocarpa, Furry kangaroo paws, coojong, one-sided bottlebrush and the elegant rice flower.
A nature lovers nirvana, Western Australia is home to white sandy beaches, red rock formations and lush greenery has thriving wildlife and vast landscapes home to thousands of flora and fauna.
You will not be short of things to do at this wonderful display of our natural world. We encourage anyone to stop by and enjoy their day at Eden.
They also have an array of events throughout the Summer including music concerts including Bastille, The Foals and Bryan Adams, story telling, adventure activities, including ziplining & the giant swing or to take part in a botanical illustration course you are sure to find something to suit your interests.
Education events run all year demonstrating the art of the possible when determined people set their mind to caring for our environment and the plants which are our life blood. It is a fantastic place to bring the children and introduce them to sustainable ideas early, in order to create a future generation who are sure to take pride in and nourish our planet.
Photos credited with The Eden Project can be found on their website,
All others are my own.