Eden Project Botanical Garden in Bodelva, England
(Cornwall, England, UK) Immediately after the BA flight landed in Heathrow during the early hours of the morning, we headed for the car rental lot beside the runway to pick up the Mercedes. Though it was quite cold considering that fall had arrived in London, the glorious sunshine made up for whatever small inconvenience we felt.
Getting out on the motorway, I was as quite nervous because it was my first time to drive on the left-hand side of the road which to me seemed all wrong! Everything was the opposite – the oncoming traffic and the driver’s seat were all on the right instead of the usual left. My wife acted as an unsolicited navigator, constantly reminding me to stay on the correct side every time I ventured near the middle painted strip.
We headed southwest towards Cornwall where the Eden Project was located passing through places that rang up familiar names: Winchester (wasn’t there a song about its cathedral?), Southampton (the Titanic left this port on its ill-fated voyage) and Plymouth (the last place where the first pilgrims to America set off from). It was a very pleasant drive across the undulating green English landscape because there were many rest stops where motorists could pause from a long drive to fill up gas, have a bite, or use the washroom. Surprisingly, the nice weather held up all day and one could see for miles and miles up to the turquoise waters of the English Channel which was always close by.
We arrived late in the afternoon at our accommodation at the Jamaica Inn, built in 1547, which used to be a coaching house that was immortalized by Daphne du Maurier in her novel (“Jamaica Inn”) about the exploits of ruthless Cornish smugglers. It looked quite forbidding when we arrived as the sun set, making the surroundings of the Inn darker and the shadows longer. Though I liked the ambiance, the wife wasn’t so pleased about it especially when she found out that it had a long history of being a haunted house with reports of ghost sightings. People staying in Jamaica Inn frequently reported hearing footsteps and inexplicable movement of the doors and scraping sounds of furniture in the empty rooms. Because of this, the Inn received its fair share of ghost hunters and psychics. Our room which was on the upper floor, however, was very cozy with a huge poster bed, thick rugs, period furniture and a spanking brand-new toilet. It also had a nice view of the moor that looked quite forbidding with its wind-swept look of desolation.
Anyhow, ghosts or no ghosts, we had a very fitful sleep, snuggled underneath thick comforters as the heavens opened up with the rain rattling against the window pane and drumming on the wooden roof slate tiles.
Cornwall has a beautiful, rugged coastline with a rich mixture of Celtic history and pirate legends. This is the place of King Arthur and the Pirates of Penzance. The climate here is temperate because of the Gulf Stream that’s why there are many beautiful, sub-tropical gardens around where rhododendrons, bougainvilleas, and orchids grow side by side with ash, sycamore and willow. We drove across this beautiful piece of landscape for over an hour before we reached St. Austell, our destination.
The Eden Project is actually 2 huge biomes holding different plants from all around the world – a gigantic greenhouse, if you will. Located in the bowels of what used to be a deep clay pit, it was one of the big Millennium Projects in Britain which opened in March 2001. Gazing down from the elevated carpark, it looked as though we had stumbled upon an alien colony in the middle of a jungle. These huge structures, made of light, hexagonal, transparent plastic panels of extraordinary strength called Ethylene Tetrafluoroethylene (ETFE), looked awesome and beautiful at the same time.
Dominating the site were the two huge biomes: The Humid Tropics Biome which was 240m long, 110m wide and up to 50m high making it one of the largest greenhouses in the world and the smaller Warm Temperate Biome. The former was filled with plants and trees from the lush rainforests of South America, Africa, and Asia while the latter contained plants from Mediterranean countries, Australia and California – places that were hotter and drier. Around these two structures were “farmlands” with apples, barley, tea and lavender planted on the slopes that wove a tapestry of various shapes and colors. It was quite a spectacular sight!
The Project was conceived as a showcase of the world’s varied plant life in a living theater-like setting where visitors can walk through just like in a Disney park. It was designed to be an entertaining and educational experience championing the case of conservation and interdependence of people and plants. Millions of people had already visited the place since its opening. A bit of trivia: James Bond battled the bad guys inside one of the biomes in “Die Another Day“. Check it out.
From the entrance of the large biome, a two-meter footpath wended its way inside as we passed by bananas, palm trees, mangoes, bamboo, rubber, coffee, cocoa, kapok and other tropical trees surrounded by various plants found in their natural habitat. There were crops such as rice, sugar, pineapples and cassava. One focal point was a typical Malaysian house similar to our bahay kubo surrounded by a garden of fruit-bearing trees, herbs, flowers and vegetables like pak-choy, beans and upo. One plant that people were oohing and aahing over was the ampalaya! With its clinging vines and ripened fruit that was open and colored yellow to deep red-orange, it sure looked exotic not to mention very sensuous as well.
As the path went higher (and closer to the roof’s transparent hexagonal panels), it got hotter and this was done on purpose to mimic differences in topography. Misters and waterfalls kept the air humid while ground-level irrigation maintained moisture in the soil with the air kept at a temperature between 18-35 degrees Celsius. There was a waterfall at the highest point that cascaded down to a pool below where gigantic lotus plants floated. On the sides were ferns, water plants and all sorts of shrubbery. It was a good vantage point which made it quite crowded because everyone wanted a selfie next to it.
An interesting area was the spice and medicinal forest where all sorts of highly-regarded plants were found. There was, for example, the Madagascan (from Madagascar) periwinkle whose alkaloids are used to treat leukemia and Hodgkins’ Lymphoma. It is grown as a crop since the alkaloids they contain are too difficult or expensive to synthesize. Only a miniscule 5% of rainforest plants have been tested for their medicinal value, therefore, conserving this natural medicinal chest may provide cures for other illnesses. There were informative signs describing each plant and we learned quite a lot from their brief annotations. Like, did you know that in 1667, the English swapped the small nutmeg island of Run in the East Indies with another island in the New World owned by the Dutch? Well, Run no longer exists but that other island in New York has prospered and we all know it by its famous name: Manhattan.
Our tour ended amidst the cola and chewing gum trees. The cola tree from West Africa with its caffeine-rich seeds provides the flavor of your favorite Coke or Pepsi. Meanwhile, the milky latex, chicle, from the sapodilla tree is the main ingredient of Wrigley’s. That’s why it’s called chiclet.
Recycling is a mantra practiced in Eden. Trash bins have their own designations for food, solids, and plastic. Even the water used to flush the toilets is recycled. They aim to be waste neutral in the near future – meaning, they will use more products made from recycled materials rather than sending them off to be recycled. As one of their signs, which I found quite amusing but very true, said: No waste – no problem!
The Temperate Biome wasn’t as spectacular as the one for the Tropics but nevertheless, there were quite a lot of amazing indigenous plants as well such as capsicum, maize, cotton, olives, tobacco, citrus, and cork. The landscape was wilder in the sense that the plants lived in a tougher environment due to natural and, to a greater extent, man-made causes. Overgrazing, soil erosion and intensive cultivation come to mind.
We learned interesting facts as well, like the old reputation of tomatoes as an aphrodisiac came from a French mistranslation of pommi de mori (apple of the Moors) as pommi d’amour (apple of love). And chilli extracts are now added to sprays and paints to ward off insects, aquatic mollusks and rats. Do you know why jamon serrano from Iberian pigs is the best among all hams? They feed on fallen acorns from the cork trees. Cork trees regenerate their barks that are stripped at 9-12 year intervals for up to 200 years and 4,000 corks are produced per strip. Think about that next time you pop the cork off your Moet & Chandon champagne bottle.
My favorite part of the biome was the vineyard where Dionysus, the Greek’s God of Wine, was depicted as a bull. Also known as Bacchus, he was associated with wine, fertility, festivity and intoxication. Starting out as the god of vegetation, he changed when he started drinking the fermented juices of the vine he was growing. Shown around him in the vineyard were sculptures of figures dancing in wild abandon. Party time!
We loitered around the place for the rest of the afternoon, checking out the flower gardens and plants unique to Cornwall before leaving as the sky threatened a heavy downpour. It was a great experience worth the long drive to this small corner of England.
As we left, I noted down these words on the wall of Eden’s entrance:
Work like you don’t need the money,
Love like you’ve never been hurt,
Dance like nobody’s watching,
Sing like nobody’s listening,
Live like it’s heaven on earth.
Amen, I say.
Also Read: 8 Most Beautiful City Parks in Europe