THE  GARDENS  OF  EDEN

MANILA, January 26, 2005 (STAR) By Susan Isorena-Arcega - Take an exhausted deep-sided clay pit. Carve into a flat-bottomed bowl and landscape the sides. Mix in 83,000 tons of soil made from recycled waste. Add superb architecture that draws inspiraton from nature. Combine with a huge diversity of plants, many of which we use everyday but don’t often get to see. Harvest the water draining the pit and use it to irrigate the plants (and flush the loos!). Season with people from all walks of life. Cook for a few years to create a beautiful site celebrating man’s place in nature.

[PHOTO AT LEFT COURTESY OF  www.edenproject.com

Such was the recipe concocted by an urban regeneration team determined to boost the image of Cornwall, that oft-written about haven for smuggling activity along ancient English shores. Just like most communities, Cornwall found its sons and daughters having to take the train to the Big City (London) to earn a living.

Folks back home hosted artists and other eccentrics who had long been coming to derive fantastic inspiration from the air. Bed-and-breakfast hotels mushroomed. Why not turn cultural tourism into a really big economic initiative with a strong educational slant?

The idea came from English architect Tim Smit who became fascinated with plants when he was asked to restore the Tremayne family’s Heligan estate after a devastating hurricane in 1990. Wouldn’t it be fantastic to build a greenhouse big enough to tell the story of man’s relationship with plants?

Smit did not have to look very far. Down the road was the Bodelva clay pit, which had long outlived its use to the community. Together with fellow architect Jonathan Ball, a native Cornishman, Smit sought to assemble the finest horticultural team ever (the English being obsessed with their gardens, Smit and Ball were humble enough to admit that, after all, they were "only archi-tects")...and find the money.

They convinced two heavy-weight British horticultural prize-fighters–Phillip McMillan Browse (former Horticultural Director of RHS Wisley) and Peter Thoday of Victoria Kitchen Gardens fame who also happened to be president of the Institute of Horticulture. Then they sought support from Sir Nicholas Grimshaw, who stepped up to that now famous challenge: "The good news is that we’re giving you the chance to build the eighth wonder of the world. The bad news is that we can’t pay you."

Together they launched the Eden Trust in 1998, and registered it as a Charity dedicated to education, environmental conservation, and sustainability.

A proposal for what they called The Eden Project was submitted to the Borough of Restormel (their equivalent of a local baranggay council). The group broadly aimed to bring together science, art, technology, and commerce to create a constituency for change.

The Eden Trust maintains that humans have caused problems in the world, but there are also places where we have lived in harmony with nature without complete destruction, and sometimes, with a beneficial effect. Communities all over have already begun to take steps to be effective stewards of the world. The Eden Project was to showcase those steps and to tell how each one of us is, already, a global citizen.

For three years, the team battled away at making the dream a reality. Initially, they managed to convince the companies to work for 18 months without pay or contract, and then, for good measure, even lend Eden a significant sum to be repaid only if the Project was successful. Word soon spread, and before they knew it, the Millennium Commission weighed in with lottery funding as it singled out Eden as the landmark project of the far Southwest.

Subsequently chipping in were the European Commission, the Southwest Regional Development Agency, NatWest Bank, and a long list of donors that now include the likes of British Telecom, Estee Lauder, Body Shop, and Kellogg’s.

The Eden Project today is a living theater of plants, people and possibilities. Over 1,000,000 plants have now taken root in jaw-dropping gardens of peace housed in a number of artificial climate-controlled biomes touted as the biggest conservatories in the world. They subdivide into the Outdoors, the Humid Tropics, and Mediterranean Temperate zones.

Each indoor biome is a gigantic hexagon-shaped bubble about 11 double-decker buses high and 24 long, with no internal support. Each hexagon has a lifespan of 25 years, transmitting UV light and able to take the weight of an entire rugby team despite weighing less than one percent of an equivalent area of glass. From afar, the structures look like glistening honeycombs shaped into footballs embedded halfway into the pit.

The organic matter that comprises the topsoil was a result of research and experimentation at Reading University. With a tight budget and time frame, organic waste and recycled material were used, avoiding peat. Local mine wastes provided the minerals, with china clay coming from rejected stock. Composted bark was taken from the forestry industry, and Wiggly Wigglers gave worms to dig and fertilise the earth.

The scientific team then determined the right recipe for each biome, taking into account the different plant needs in each climate zone. Later, licensed biological pest controls such as birds, frogs, and lizards, along with beneficial insects, were brought in after being bred in captivity at the Newquay Zoo.

They have developed a Waste Neutral Programme, encouraging visitors to reduce, reuse, repair, and recycle. As a policy, they purchase items made from recycled material, either for use or for sale at the souvenir shop. Water on the complex is predominantly recycled groundwater and harvested from the rain.

A special module on fuel is incorporated into the Eden system. Knowing that vast quantities of fossil fuels are used to transport food thousands of miles around the globe, at Eden, food miles are reduced by using local produce when possible. Electricity is provided by Cornish wind farms, and most of the onsite vehicles run on LPG.

In the restaurants, visitors get a kick out of watching their food grow while they eat, even as they discover ancient stories about herbal use– did you know that Romans ate parsley to sweeten their breath and discourage intoxication, while Greeks fed it to their horses? Throughout the gardens, plants are meticulously labelled, with posters reminding visitors of plant history and use, thereby providing strong educational tools for children and adults.

Artworks provided by local artisans and internationally-renowned celebrities breathe additional life and color into the project. They are not always beautiful, but they are all surprising and thought-provoking signposts to new attitudes and ways of thinking. Some are interesting commentaries on globalization.

Even as world leaders discuss our future in the context of political and religious scenarios, The Eden Project has chosen to focus on the basics of survival–food, clothing, and shelter–as seen in various parts of the world, but particularly from the perspective of countries in Asia, Africa, and Latin America.

When we visited, there was a special exhibition on Philippine rice by Welsh painter John Dyer, who had spent months at the International Rice Research Institute in Los Baños. There was even a modular sari-sari store which featured among its goods an Ifugao basket, jaleang ube, Marca Piña soy sauce, Maggi noodles, and a bilao of balimbing.

Not to be outdone, the performing arts also make their contribution. Eden Live features a year-round events program of interactive workshops, debates, live music, and theater performances that put champagne in your veins and ideas in your head. In spring there is Bulb Mania, while summer features Flower Power. Autumn brings its Rainforest Canopy, while at the end of the year, visitors experience Winter Tales. A spacious outdoor venue has also hosted Eden Sessions, which have attracted music artists like Moby, PJ Harvey, Elbow, Badly Drawn Boy, and The Thrills, while the summer’s grand finale is capped by the world music showcase from Womad. This year, a world-class program featuring opera and classical music was also launched, with a special night-time ice-skating spectacular enhancing the dramatic soundscape.

It’s hard trying to get the flavor of the Eden Project on a few pages or columns because in essence, it is the greatest stage on Earth. If it had been merely a theme park, it would not allow us to feel good and positive about the future. Eden is about serious issues and certainly educational in the widest sense. But it is also optimistic and celebratory. Still a work in progress with even more ambitious plans being laid out, the Eden Project is a vibrant reminder of our place in nature and a living demonstration of how, in a couple of short years, a regeneration team of five transformed a hole in the ground into a stunning lost world.

The entire construction, design, and professional crew who gave beyond the call of duty have their talents imprinted right across the site. Still, every single one of the five million visitors that have come since it opened in March 2001 have also become part of Eden’s story, reminding us of what we "ordinary" people can do once we set our minds to it. By simply trying to promote a tone of voice, an attitude that brings people together in an apolitical way, the Eden Project encourages us all to think that being idealistic need not be the same as being naïve.

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Log on to www.edenproject.com and get learn everything you need to know about a trip to Eden.


Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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