Where do you find both a Mediterranean garden and a tropical rainforest in the middle of the English countryside? Under the giant domes of the Eden Project in Cornwall of course.
I remember reading about the Eden Project back in the 90s, when global warming and the new millennium where the hot-topics of the day. At the time, all I could think was, “a whole tropical rainforest under a dome – cool!” Ever since, it’s been on my ‘bucket list’ of places to visit.
Knowing my mother’s obsession with gardens and my parents’ desire to visit London, it seemed like a side trip to Cornwall was in order. So, after the weekend London tried to kill me, we piled in the Prius and set off to discover a new corner of England.
The Eden Project began its life in an abandoned clay pit near the town of St Blazey in Cornwall, England. It was the brainchild of Tim Smit, a Dutch born archaeologist and garden designer, and took countless engineers, architects and garden designers 2 ½ years to complete.
The Eden Project consists of a series of domes made of steel and thermoplastic. They are UV transparent and self-supporting. Basically it looks like a bunch of magnified soap bubbles landed in the middle of a garden.
It opened to the public in 2001 and, since then, has become a centre for environmental research and education, as well as a concert venue, art exhibition space and one of England’s most visited tourist attractions.
My dreams of spending hours exploring the Eden Project’s exterior gardens, with my camera, were quickly dashed by the freezing, cold rain pouring down on the Cornish landscape. We scurried into the huge domes of the Eden Project and, before you could say ‘tropical climate,’ we were peeling off layers of wet-weather gear.
The interior of the Eden Project consists of two main ‘biomes,’ the tropical rainforest and the smaller, drier, Mediterranean biome. In addition, there is a huge cafeteria and dining hall and a sizable gift shop.
We decided to begin in the tropical rainforest and were instantly transported to a completely new world.
While strolling along the winding pathways, breathing in the humid air and smells of vegetation and damp earth, it was easy to lose sight of the giant bubble protecting us from the real Cornish elements. We could easily believe we were in Brazil or Malaysia, or some as yet undiscovered island in the South Pacific; that is, if it wasn’t for the other tourists, in similar states of undress.
We walked past brilliant tropical flowers, towering palm trees and a variety of important crops, suitable to the warm, moist climate. One of the most impressive features was the full-sized waterfall crashing down amidst the lush greenery.
The illusion was only shattered when we looked straight up and could see the exoskeleton of the dome above us. And at the very top, there was something else that beckoned – a staircase to a lookout platform, way above the forest canopy.
By now, you probably all know my love/hate relationship with heights and climbing up things. I love the views and angles I can achieve with my camera from above. I hate heights and the sense of vertigo I experience when looking down. Nevertheless, photos needed to be taken – I sacrifice myself for your dear readers.
The first step was to get in line and fill out a waver – that’s right; I had to sign my life away before I could climb the nine flights of stairs. Did I mention those stairs were see-through and the whole platform sways? Yuck!
Despite my shaking hands, the view from the top was certainly worth it. We had ten minutes to look around, photograph and get back down before the next group clambered their way to the top.
It is certainly high – 165 feet up to be exact. It’s taller than the Tower of London. It’s also hot. Temperatures at the top of the dome can reach 40 degrees Celsius. Luckily it didn’t get that hot on our visit.
Back down on solid ground, we headed into the cooler and drier Mediterranean Biome. It was much smaller than the rainforest, but more colourful, with its displays of wildflowers, cacti and tulips. This biome also smelled great with citrus, floral and herbaceous scents all mingling in the air.
After completing our tours of the biomes, it was time for lunch in the Eden Bakery. This huge cafeteria style restaurant serves a variety of vegan, vegetarian, gluten-free and carnivore-friendly meals. Whenever possible, local and sustainable ingredients are used. Although we found it on the pricy side (as we expect for a restaurant inside a popular tourist attraction), the food was very good and there was plenty of choice available.
Unfortunately, by the time we were ready to leave the comfort of the Eden Project’s domes, the weather hadn’t improved. We never did get to enjoy the exterior gardens. We can however, console ourselves with this virtual tour on Google Street View:
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The Eden Project certainly lived up to my expectations and I hope to return one day under better weather conditions to enjoy more time in the gardens.
Have you been to the Eden Project? Do you have another European garden you recommend? Share your thoughts in the comments below.
Bodelva, St Austell, Cornwall,
PL24 2SG, UK
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