The unpromising claypit in 1998
Mr Rhymes and Ms Blawat, cousins residing in our American colonies, have both asked me for a little more about The Eden Project. Well here goes.
First of all, it's easy to access The Eden Project's website. Just type the name into Google and you'll find it. What I am about to write is off the top of my head with no reference to the guidebook we bought there or the website I've mentioned.
Just outside the town of St Austell in England's remote south west there are china clay deposits which have been mined for at least 150 years. Sometimes the claypits become exhausted and so it was with the pit near the village of St Blazey. In 1998 it was an ugly, barren hole in the ground with no future until it was spotted by a dreamer - former music producer Tim Smit and his growing team of environmental and botanical enthusiasts.
Their dream was to turn the pit into a sort of garden which would remind the world of humanity's relationship with nature, especially the plant world. It was to be a project that would celebrate, educate and inspire, perhaps altering mindsets in the battle to cherish this wonderful yet terribly abused planet.
Smit and his team set up The Eden Project charity and before too long, trucks were bringing load after load of soil, compost and sand to the site. The sides of the quarry were made safe and irrigation plans were put into practice. Two enormous greenhouses or biomes were constructed- the biggest in the world - looking like giant bubble wrap from afar.
Sculpture made from detritus of the modern world
Gardeners were employed - only men and women with genuine passion for the project. Plants were located all over the globe and transported to Cornwall.
The rainforest biome is now well-established with mature tropical trees, shrubs and creepers. There are pineapples growing inside it, bananas, coffee, cocoa, coconuts and beautiful jungle flowers. There's a waterfall and authentic rainforest huts. The humidity was sweltering on the day we visited.
Shirley through a misted lens in the Rainforest Biome
The other biome accommodates "mediterranean" plants. Growth is of course less prolific. There are cacti, vines, sunflowers, olive trees, tobacco plants and several complementary sculptures including a horse made from driftwood.
Outside the biomes, the botany is equally interesting and Shirley and I especially enjoyed the little vegetable garden with its quirky ideas and scarecrows. We were seeing it in early July when everything was fruiting - I guess it would look much less impressive in say November.
In this world it gets easy to yawn, to be cynical and dismissive but I must say that is not the feeling I had about The Eden Project. It was and is quite brilliant. To have had the dream and to have seen it through - Tim Smit and his team have once again proven that human beings are capable of amazing things and this project is certainly not about personal financial gain. Ten years down the line - I was so pleased to have seen the Eden Project at a level of maturity that visitors would not have seen in the first two or three years.
There - I think I have said enough. One last memory I want to share. In "The Core" building on the site there is a 70 tonne block of Cornish granite that has been skilfully carved into the shape of a seed pod. I believe that it is the biggest single block granite sculpture in the world. Perhaps it's saying that from seeds big things can grow. Certainly true of The Eden Project.