Monday, 9 April 2007

Adam & Eve in Eden

It was with full stomachs and smiles on our faces that Best Beloved and I left Riverford organic vegetables in Devon and journeyed west into Cornwall and the Eden Project.

Since this 'global garden' ( opened it's gone from strength to strength. Built into the remains of disused china clay pits, the huge conservatory structures (like ginormous, honeycomb faceted bubbles) called biomes, are visually spectacular. Nevertheless, because of the sunken site they sit in the natural, wider landscape very comfortably.

And these biomes offer a most interesting, educational experience: walking through the Warm Temperate Biome you can enjoy the climate and landscape and see the plants and crops that grow in California, South Africa or the Mediterranean. In the Humid Tropics Biome you can journey through the steamy rainforests typical of Malaysia, West Africa or South America and experience all the pleasures and discomfort of doing so.

Everywhere there was excellent signage, informative plant labels, unusual side shows. There are various outdoor areas of interest too and a building – The Core – positively exploding with interactive and stimulating displays. Seasonal plantings and changing installations add interest: overall, a very informative and fun place to visit.

During term-time there are lots of school parties and it must be a teacher's dream place for class visits. Much of the site is undercover so no worries about inclement weather, there's a ton of stuff to set questionnaires on, harmless thrills like being caught by a water spray in the humid zone and, most importantly, it's safe: no cars, no lakes, no porn shops.

Although the outdoor planting of the sloping sides of the pits is constantly changing, we thought the current planting scheme of such an amazing site rather disappointing. Of course, it may be that with such dominant conservatories the planting simply needs to be much bolder or it may have been because it was March and – in spite of displays of bulbs – there was a lack of vegetation.

But it was the catering – particularly after our excellent Riverford lunch – that really disappointed us: a pizza restaurant and a Cornish pasty outlet were hardly what we expected. The eating areas were character-less cafeterias and the food was very expensive.

The Eden Project boasts 'working with the grain of nature', 'conservation and sustainable futures' and trying 'to manage our resources': surely they should put their money where their mouth is. They should show us how to grow crops to suit the local climate and – ideally – serve it to us.

And I have a cunning plan to address these two criticisms: those landscaped slopes that surround the biomes could be planted with wide swathes of purple sprouting broccoli; quadrangles of carrots, beetroots and leeks; sprawling jungly pumpkins. In the summer months strawberries bedded on straw; pots of tumbling tomatoes; globe artichokes with their dramatic foliage and block plantings of corn on the cob could delight the eye.

Planting like that could make a visual impact; serving those vegetables could give out an inspiring culinary and ecologically sustainable message. Even the catering at the Eden Project should be part of the ethos they espouse: Adam and Eve could never have thrived on pizzas and pasties alone.


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