Today’s Garden of Eden resides in Cornwall…
Unlike the original, today’s Eden Project attracts millions of human visitors (every 3-4 years), and at its heart is telling the story of plants, yes, plants, to millions of people who are yet to appreciate the influence of botany on the history of mankind.
Once a derelict and boggy clay quarry, now the luxuriant inverted outdoor room is lush with nature, and the bio-domes tweak that nature to accommodate plants from afar, the Americas, Australia, Asia…
Ten years ago visitors to the quarry traversed a barren and constructed landscape, with clay-brown angular and unfriendly faces. Today visitors are swoon in, on a corridor of beautiful plant-scapes (did I even see a stoat scurrying across a verge on one entrance I made?) and manicured interpretation signage that shares the journey of the quarry development, puts some shizamm in your bloodstream, and anticipates the interpretive journey each visitor is about to explore.
The layout of the experience is famous for the great ‘reveal’ – not the modern interpretation of a household reality show makeover, rather the original. Although your ‘user-journey’ has already shown you the famous domes online, you haven’t really experienced them until you are through the formal entrance and they are revealed to you as the first part of the on-site journey.
From there the theatre unfolds, on different stages. There is the outdoor biome (foreground), the tropical biome (stage right) and the mediterranean biome (stage left), each a separate Act in the play. Each Act has a unique set of characters, the outdoor biome has its Gigantor Bumblebee and Cousin of Milk Maid and the tropical biome has the weather gods and a humble jungle family. Leaving the mediterranean biome as the most dramatic, corresponding with the colour and diversity of the flora, with Dionysus (god of the grape harvest), storytelling dragons and a couple of humble sheep that the kids found most entertaining.
The audience’s dwell-time is enhanced by live story telling, tea-tasting, the Mediterranean cafe, and a more museum-like space called ‘the core’ which sits on the edge of the biome stages.
Of course the Playwright behind the drama is Sir Tim Smit, also author of the nearby Lost Gardens of Heligan [experience forthcoming]. Ably supported by hundreds of production staff that deliver the masterpiece each day.
“We set out to build a place unlike any other, one that would capture the imagination of all that came upon it…something that could provide everyone with as little or as much information and stimulation as they felt ready for… there would be something for everyone” (pg 255 eden by Tim Smit 2016).
Tim’s vision and drive delivered the project with the support of a hundred million quid (or thereabouts) from three sources – government agencies in the UK and [the rest of] Europe, and borrowed finance from a bank (as outlined in his book – which to great relief I had half-read when I bumped into him at the Lost Gardens of Heligan).
As a nature lover, restorer, and rewilder, I was struck with the scales of the Eden Project, it is a massive experience in a tiny area. You can wander through the encased and open biomes without challenging the lungs, but the small physical distance belies the geographical breadth of the stories presented and senses that are engaged to challenge the mind. The recurrent whirring of the Zip line in the sky – delivering amazing landscape experiences for visitors – is an ever-present reminder that we need to use all the tricks in the play-book to capture hearts and inspire people to care-again about their natural environment (I am already a convert but it was still reinvigorating!) :>
The melding of artwork, science, interpretation and communication sets a high standard for which we can all aspire.
The fundamental premise of making-good an industrial site, rejuvenating the local economy, and doing it well, gives us all hope that there will be uses for all the big holes in the ground in Australia.
Add the Eden Project to your #bucketlist, and ahead of visiting, to whet your appetite on the influence of botany on the history of mankind, check-out the text by Richard Mabey in his Cabaret of Plants – which of course you can also find in the Eden Project’s bookshop once you get there.