We’ve been meaning to visit the Eden Project ever since they opened it in 2001. Of course, we knew people who had been there before us, and their descriptions varied from ‘Well, it’s a lot of plants…’ to a lot of high-flown, incomprehensible environmental buzzwords.
But, it’s hard to say what the Project is about in simple English; it’s best to make a visit, and try to work it out for yourself.
The Project started in 1998, as a worked-out, 60-metre-deep china clay pit; probably the most sterile man-made landscape that could be produced. It revolves around three ‘Biomes’. The sides and floor of the former quarry are one of them, the ‘Outdoor Biome’, where plants are grown that can tolerate the Cornish climate.
The enclosed biomes, within which the climate is controlled, are huge, bubble-shaped structures made of gigantic hexagonal pieces of transparent plastic, in the same way as an insect’s eye, or a honeycomb.
It might be thought that the Eden Project experience could be the same as visiting the tropical house at the zoo, or a hothouse at the Botanical Gardens. It’s true to a certain extent … but the enclosed biomes have been accurately described as the biggest greenhouses in the world!
Although few of the plants shown are really rare, the displays show them off in as nearly a natural surrounding as possible, and explain what they’re used for, and their place in the scheme of things.
There are two enclosed biomes, the Humid Tropics biome and the Warm Temperate biome. And, an important building is the Education Centre, for a large part of the Projects work is teaching about the products that come from plants and, even more importantly, how to preserve them as a sustainable resource for future generations.
Since sustainability is one of the Project’s watchwords, they have, naturally, to ‘practice what they preach’, and make as little impact as possible on the local environment. They try to employ people from nearby, and use material from local sources where practicable. And, they try to recycle as much of their rubbish as they can.
High up on the rim stands the reception area where you buy your entrance ticket. Some people think the price is a little excessive, but some of what you pay goes towards the Eden Project’s conservation programmes worldwide.
And, if you’re a UK taxpayer, you can give even more without it costing you anything, because, by some system, our Wicked Tax Baron will refund the taxes they have to pay on your ticket.
You get down to the floor of the pit in one of two ways. You can walk down the zigzag path, through the gardens of the Outdoor Biome. Or, you can ride the Land Train, which will take a dedicated track through the same gardens.
You’ll find representatives of any plants the mild Cornish climate will support. Tea bushes, hemp trees and the ingredients of beer are shown here … and, if you thought that a certain product ‘doesn’t grow on trees’…. you’re probably wrong!
Maybe you’ll have something to eat or drink in the restaurant between the enclosed biomes. If you leave anything, the chances are high that it’ll be recycled. There are no fewer than five bins into which waste can be sorted.
If you visit again, you’ll probably find the Eden Project completely different, especially the outdoor biome, for the displays change with the seasons. If you’re intending a further visit within twelve months, you might consider paying a little extra above your original ticket price for a ‘Passport’, which entitles you to unlimited free entry for a year.
Or, to receive a quarterly magazine, invitations to talks and workshops, and special entry deals at other gardens and museums, you could become a ‘Friend’.
When it’s time to leave, the way out, as at most attractions, leads through the souvenir shop. While many attractive items are on sale, maybe you won’t need a souvenir. You’ll never forget the Eden Project … and you’ll probably want to return at another time of the year.