“Beauty is not an extra. It’s an affirmation that there’s more to life than existence and consumption and utility.”
– Tim Smit – Co-founder of the Eden Project
Sometimes you visit a place so special, so utterly ambitious, that you wonder how it ever came to fruition in the first place. An aspiring idea is, although honourable, relatively simple in its conception. However, to propel a well-intentioned proposal from a seed of thought into a blossoming reality is another matter entirely. And this is where the real work begins.
“It was ridiculous to imagine it was possible and that hundreds of people trained to say no could be persuaded to say yes.”
– Tim Smit
It is near impossible to plan a holiday in Cornwall, that rugged sea-flanked county on England’s southwestern tip, dubbed the Cornish Riviera for its picturesque turquoise harbours and pretty seaside villages, without thoughts of visiting the Eden Project. In the late 1990’s co-founder Tim Smit, the Cornish businessman who also helped transform the Lost Gardens of Heligan from a forgotten and impenetrable thicket into one of the most highly regarded and visited gardens in the UK, purchased an exhausted steep-sided 60-metre-deep clay pit with the hope of breathing new life into the discarded space.
“In the beginning the idea was very simple – let’s take a place of utter dereliction and create life in it”
– Tim Smit
The expanse was set to become a symbol of regeneration, reviving a sterile clay pit into an educational charity and social enterprise. The Eden Project’s collective global mission is “to create a movement that builds relationships between people and the natural world to demonstrate the power of working together for the benefit of all living things”. Today the site is a living, thriving theatre of plants and people. “This visitor destination, cultural venue and global garden showcases our dependence on plants and demonstrates technological ingenuity and the regeneration of landscapes and livelihoods”.
“People know that things are wrong, but they don’t know what they can do to change it… Eden needs to be a shop window of hope.”
– Tim Smit
On a perfect sunny spring morning in May, while enjoying a weeklong holiday in Cornwall with my mum and my husband, we ventured forth in our little hire car for the 40-minute drive northeast from our base in the town of Truro. The incredible hexagonal cells that make up the monumental bio-domes are a spectacular site when you first step out onto the upper terraces of the site’s entry. For a moment it is easy to forget that you are standing inside what was once a barren wasteland. It feels as though I have been transported through space and time; the terrain stretched out before me seems almost alien as the reflective curved surface of the domes mirror the sun’s rays giving the bulbous structures a glowing luminescence, like giant soap bubbles that have come to gently rest upon the earth. As I stand there, momentarily frozen by the magnitude of the scene, I spot a solitary Kestrel gliding silently overhead and wonder what it must be like to see this otherworldly landscape from up high.
Snaking our way downwards along the ribboning pathway we pass great architectural spires of purple lupine, their nectar-rich tubular flowers an attractive prospect for a flourish of fat fuzzy bumblebees. The beautiful outside garden is a testament to what is possible when the emphasis is shifted from not only the attractiveness of a green space but also to the importance of a bee friendly environment by creating a pollen-rich haven filled with flowers that bloom in procession throughout the year. With the perfection of the day enticing us to linger outside we wander aimlessly between the dappled shade of a row of pear trees, whose well trained branches provide a welcome canopy over our heads and their interlacing leaves allow framed glimpses of the landscape beyond.
However, the presence of the looming domes eventually lures us inside. For the first time in almost two years, I am reminded of the sticky climate of tropical Australia, and we begin to peel off our jackets in desperation as the humidity removes all traces of the temperate landscape we left outside. We have entered the Tropical Rainforest, the first of the two major bio-domes. Great towering palm trees loom over us and create the framework for the world’s largest indoor rainforest complete with moss covered trickling streams and an ecosystem of lush tropical plants hailing from Australia, West Africa, and the depths of the South American jungles. We feel a world away from the rugged, salt sprayed Cornish Coast.
The Rainforest Dome has grown exponentially since its inception more than twenty years ago. The man-made landscape, made fertile with 83,000 tonnes of soil, enriched with mineral waste from local mines, as well as organic bark matter, is now home to more than 1,000 different rainforest plant species grown from seed in the onsite nurseries, or collected from botanic gardens, research stations, and Eden Project supporters. We ascend upward along the Rainforest Canopy Walkway which offers breathtaking views across the Biome, allowing us that longed-for bird’s-eye view and the chance to see the rainforest from above.
Leaving the humidity behind we march on our stomachs towards the welcome reprieve of the Mediterranean Dome with the promise of an Italian lunch and a cool glass of crisp white wine. The Eden Project has created a Mediterranean style restaurant within their dome, where diners can enjoy a delicious meal amongst the gnarled old olive trees and the heady perfume of French lavender. Amongst the array of native Mediterranean flowers and plants, many which are totally novel to us, we stumble upon a cluster of wildflowers endemic to Western Australia, the state in which I was born. Vibrant scarlet red and yellow Kangaroo Paws create a dramatic display amongst the Silver Princess Eucalypt, with its graceful, weeping branches of powdery blue-green foliage, and shocking pink bell-shaped flowers. It is a beautiful sight that brings back a wave of nostalgia, and as I watch a group of schoolgirls gather around the unfamiliar flowers with faces full of wonder, I am reminded of my childhood spent playing amongst a landscape not altogether different from the one I see today.
I hope you enjoyed visiting the Eden Project with The Sunday Londoner. Please do leave a comment below, I’d love to hear from you! Have you ever visited this life-affirming place, dubbed by some as “The Eighth Wonder of the World”?
To read more about the Eden Project’s mission, or for information about visiting this incredible place, click the link below to visit their website.