Perfumer’s Paradise in Cornwall
The signs lead you through the lanes and villages bordering the china clay centre of St Austell (pronounced “sunt-ossl”) in the south of the county of Cornwall. To the north east of the town lies a worked-out china clay pit which is being magically transformed into a modern day Eden. The fragrance industry is just one very small step from the natural world and a visit to the Eden Project enables all of us interested in the plant world to experience the sights and aromas of plants as diverse as Nutmeg and Lavender, Cocoa and Orange. All are in their natural, growing state. The site is divided into three basic areas – the Outdoor Landscape, the Warm Temperate Biome and the Humid Tropic Biome. The Biomes are the familiar bubble-shaped conservatories with their hexagonal “panes” that give the impression that the Martians have landed and are living in Cornwall!!! Themed artistic displays and interpretations are an integral part of the Project’s work and are seen throughout the site. A bright late March day with a cool breeze greeted us as we made our way down the Zigzag path from the visitor centre to the base of the pit about 30 metres below. Beds of tree-ferns and many flowerless shrubs line the route which ends at the stairway around which drifts of spring flowers – daffodils, narcissi and primroses – were to be seen in glorious colour. The pond at the bottom was lined on one side with giant Brazilian Rhubarb, which is the most unlikely looking specimen with large leaves, a flower like a pineapple and a short fat hairy stem. Areas of Lavender, Tea, Hemp, Sisal, Flax and food crops are amongst the many other outdoor exhibits.
The warm Temperate Biome houses plants from the Mediterranean Basin, South Africa and California. Areas of the Biome are dedicated to each part of the geographical regions mentioned. Amongst the interesting plants to be seen are herbs such as basil and rosemary, flowers such as gerberas and fruits such as orange, lemon and peach. An interesting exhibition on “Plants as perfumes” immediately held our interest with some familiar facts and an interactive odour display. This part of the Project is sponsored by Quest and The Body Shop.
The Humid Tropic Biome was the highlight of the visit for me. This is the largest conservatory in the world; it is 240m long, 110m wide and 50m high. The twisting path climbs the hillside through lush vegetation made up of over 1,000 plant species. The air temperature rises from 18°C at the lowest point to 35°C at the top. Misters and waterfalls keep the air moist and by the time you reach the upper levels you know you’re in the rainforest. But the extremes of temperature and humidity are worth it. On route we have seen plants of Vetivert, Costus, Cardamom, Starfruit, Banana, Cinnamon, Chilli, Peanut, Papaya, Coffee, Chicle Nut, Clove, Cashew, Cola, Loofah fruits, Nutmeg, Rubber and Annatto and many more. Of special mention are the Cocoa trees with ripe pods and the display showing the various processing stages of extraction from cocoa beans to cocoa mass.
The Eden project is in its infancy. Many of the plants and beds are still maturing. It will evolve as each year goes by. It is well worth a visit now and we are determined to visit again next year to see what’s new and how the established areas have matured. If you never knew (as I didn’t) that the flowering head of the Costus plant looks like a large green toilet brush, then you need to get along to the Eden Project and check it out. You won’t regret it!!