The Eden Project: Not just a Garden

During our UK roadtrip we were able to make a stop at the Eden Project, somewhere I’ve wanted to visit for a long time. As well as being a very large set of greenhouses, the Eden Project offers social and environmental benefits, opportunities for outreach and a platform for science. While we’re all in lockdown, I’ll take you on a trip through the Eden Project.

With an increase in buildings, decrease in gardens and reduction in biodiversity across the Globe, it is important to conserve what we have. The Eden Project provides a home to more than 1,000 plant species in both its Rainforest and Mediterranean biomes, over 2 million plants in total, and houses various birds, lizards and insects, all of which create mini ecosystems.

In 1995, Sir Tim Smit had completed his project to restore the “Lost Gardens of Heligan”, and was looking for somewhere that could showcase the world’s most important plants. A large clay pit, which was coming to the end of its economic life, was chosen as the best site. Initial designs led to the creation of the large biome-bubbles which Eden is known for today, as they were stable on any surface, including the irregular clay pits. The “big build” began in 2000 as one of the UK’s Landmark Millennium Projects. Alongside work with the University of Reading, the Project made 83,000 tonnes of their own soil, taking minerals from local mine waste, bark and domestic green waste, demonstrating that environmental regeneration was possible. The first plants arrived in September of 2000. Many of the plants there today are either grown from seeds at the Eden Project’s nursery, or are from research centres, botanic gardens or supporters of the project. The project opened its doors in March 2001, with the Times hailing it “the eighth wonder of the world”.

Not just a garden – As well as being a site of beauty, and place of tranquillity (in between the noise of school trips…) amongst amazing species, the Eden Project is not just a garden but a site of conservation. Amongst the thousands of plant species, in 2015 the Eden Project became the site of Europe’s only redwood forest. 100 trees are to be cultivated as descendants of 4,000 year old redwoods from the west coast of the USA. As well as conserving species, the Eden Project works to highlight ways in which we can better protect our environment, reduce plastic pollution, and generally look after our world a bit better.

In 2006, the Eden Project opened its sustainable education centre, The Core (which is where we started our Eden Project visit). The Queen opened the centre saying: “I am confident that the Eden Project will continue to encourage a better understanding of our planet…“. Within the Core is a permanent exhibition called Invisible Worlds, which reveals “a world beyond our senses”. In the centre of the Core is a huge, blue monument (pictured below) representing cyanobacteria – microscopic bacteria which harness sunlight to split water, absorb CO2 and then release oxygen (photosynthesis). Two billion years ago, cyanobacteria were eventually engulfed by chloroplasts, leading to the plants we have today. Another room talked us through the digestive system and the trillions of microbes in our body (a topic I hope to cover soon), and future medical strategies for protecting our microbiome (e.g. probiotics, bacteriophages etc.). You can learn more about this exhibition with this free online course. As well as the exhibition, the Eden Project also has planning permission to build the UK’s first geothermal energy plant, generating both heat and electricity. The heat generated will be used to keep the biomes warm for the plants, but the electricity will be fed to the National Grid for use across the country.

The Eden Project also aims to bring communities closer together through numerous initiatives. Some examples include the creation of a garden for the Chelsea Flower Show in 2009 which was made by hundreds of homeless people and prison inmates, hoping to boost the confidence of socially excluded people (it won silver). Another example is the Big Lunch project, which started in 2009, aiming to strengthen communities by encouraging us to engage with our neighbours over a meal. Our last example is Community Camp where 50 community champions have a residential stay at the Eden Project and discuss practical ideas to engage people in their areas.

The Eden Project is based down in Cornwall, and we were lucky that it coincided with our roadtrip, but it is pretty far away for most people for just a day trip. There are facilities to stay at the project, with permission for a new hotel on site too. However, more exiting is the commission of a related project based in the North of England at Morecambe Bay: Eden Project North whose motto will be “Beauty Surrounds, Health Abounds and Nature Astounds“. Beyond the UK, an international effort was launched in 2017 by the Eden Project in collaboration with like-minded organisations across the globe including numerous projects in China, Australia and New Zealand. All of these will better inform the public of the importance of conservation and protecting our planet.

Fun Fact: the Eden Project has the world’s biggest, and smelliest flower (i.e. the “corpse flower“) which you can see bloom here: https://youtu.be/5Jg-GlCXpEI

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