The thing we have to remember about the Eden Project is that it is not just a tourist attraction but a project that will explore the way we do things on this planet. It’s creation is well documented, and well known offering the visitor some idea of what to expect before they arrive.
However you approach the place; whatever you expect to see, and in spite of the pictures you see on the adverts, or the images you may have seen on the goggle-box, the reality is quite different. It tells a story; a story that is familiar yet expresses a unique vision to the reader the way a good novel explores its characters, develops its plot and enhances its narrative with the underlying meanings captured in the whole. It is an enigma. Why? Because it asks questions yet does not supply all the answers.
So, I may have gone potty, but that was how the Eden Project struck me. We travelled in the coach, eager tourists, past the fields of Cornwall and up into the clay quarries where kaolin is dragged out of the soil where, if it was not for the scrubby plants and the bright yellow gorse, you would think this was a lunar landscape. But, excited as we dropped down the slope after passing through the gate, I got ready for my first glimpse of the Biodomes. Er, wow, the tops showing through the trees fresh with spring growth surrounded by gorse bedecked slopes was a marvellous sight.
The amazing thing was that we had arrived, parked, was given a sticker to say we were entitled to wander and even before we reached the Biodomes and the outer Biosphere (The exposed gardens) I was already impressed. The walk down to the shop and reception area was a blaze of heather glowing in the sun. Poetic? Yes, of course.
Like so many thousands of visitors I stood on the viewing platform and waffled appreciatively – I think I said “******* hell! That is ******* beautiful!” After which I elected to walk across the bridge and down behind the Core Building, and as I strolled I realised that a one time visit on one day is nowhere near enough. The Eden Project struck me as a unique and unusual place to be, a tourist in a crowd enjoying and learning – wow!
Briefly, the project is set in a disused quarry that was landscaped, using the contours where the clay was cut and two large steel and plastic domes were erected to house warm weather plants (this is a basic description) and surrounding them were created gardens with chosen designs of purpose and within those were created the means of appreciating the area from different viewpoints. Later an education and display building was added called the Core designed to reflect natural shapes.
Within the grounds and under or inside the domes there are places to eat that offer specialised foods (although you can get a pasty) linked to the ideas of how we eat and what we eat. For example, in the Mediterranean dome olives dominate, and down below in the bakery it is grains offering bread and cakes made from cereals – as well as a variety of food we would normally want to see and eat.
One of the themes of the project is about what we eat, where we get it from and how it is processed, and that theme also explains how food produced in the different regions, points out the exploitation of producers and destruction of the land. This is linked to showing how plants can be used to supply our many needs and possibly supplanting much of our oil based manufacturing.
I spent a lot of time exploring the Tropical and Mediterranean domes and out into the gardens and ran out of time to explore all of the Core. I saw a specimen of a plant in the Tropical dome that I have at home and realised I was treating mine cruelly so will give it better treatment from now on. Thanks! But the experience of being in a steaming jungle was nice. The temperature rose to a pleasant but humid 32 and by the time I reached the top was around 40 – nice. I saw small birds and lizards, bright flowers, and saw how gardens would grow in the tropics. There will be some high level walkways built for the summer which will add to the experience.
However, the project is too large, too complex to describe it completely, so I won’t. Instead I will continue with my impressions.
I saw a lot. I loved the WEEman, a sculpture of discarded electrical goods pointing out how much we waste by buying shoddy goods – we should all be aware that what we buy has a short lifetime. A washing machine is no longer repaired but instead it is replaced often because the electronic components break down rather than the mechanical, or a computer becomes no longer useful because it is out of date, or simply the cell phone becomes unfashionable. Good and thoughtful comment.
I liked the combination of dark Tulips and Silver Beet (Chard) growing in rows; the planting on the hill showing Cornish landscape in the wild; the primroses; the sculptures, the lesson of the huge bee, the willow bowers, the plants from which paper can be made and the emphasis on the value of plants like hemp for rope making.
Then there was the walking the pathways, especially the zig-zag that moving along it up or down will present different views of the domes and gardens. Er, I haven’t mentioned the Amphitheatre, had I? I like the idea and I reasoned, after seeing the short movie in the Core, that they were right to do that, but it seems to detract from the whole, but
obviously it works.
I bought the book by Tim Smit and the DVD (a copy for my sister too) and realise how ambitious the project is/was and yet, seeing it I can accept it existence as part of the Cornish landscape. Odd that because when you look around at the barren quarries on the way there it appears to have nothing in common.
The story it told me was of our place on this planet and how we can either live in harmony, more or less according to our needs, or abuse it and, damaging the Biosphere, which is our home, destroy ourselves in the process. We could survive and live in a wilderness, but if we look after what we have got we could live in a comfortable world. It is up to us, or is it?