Journey to Eden

Described as a "living theater of plants and people," the Eden Project is an international visitor attraction set in a former clay quarry in Cornwall, England. The focus of the 280,000-square-foot gardens is on the two giant greenhouses, which simulate Mediterranean and tropical climates for trees and plants. Once described as a "giant blanc-mange [pudding] in a pit," the Humid Tropics Biome could now hold the Tower of London and is 11 double-decker buses high, making the Guinness Book of World Records.

The nonprofit Eden Project, owned by the Eden Trust, is ethically driven but also somewhat commercial—marketing a line of Eden natural body care products, for instance—since it needs revenue to preserve its independence. As Eden Project creator Tim Smit says, "We want to maintain a strong and diverse financial base. But Eden is not for sale, because we believe it should belong to everyone." The Project, which received substantial funding from the British lottery, opened to great acclaim in 2000.

There are more than 10,000 plants on display at the Eden Project, including kapok and gum trees, coconut and banana palms, and exotic fruit such as pineapple and mango.©Thomas dodd/fourth door review

Eden’s mission is "to promote the understanding and responsible management of the vital relationship between plants, people and resources, leading towards a sustainable future for all." As part of this showcase for sustainability, there are more than 10,000 plants from many climatic zones (including huge kapok trees, coconut palms and Saint Helena ebony, once thought extinct). Staff includes Ghillean Prance, one of Britain’s most eminent botanists.

In addition to the plants, art and music are central to Eden’s interpretation strategy and there have been many artistic expressions and exhibitions on the site. The most recent of these included the controversial artist Damien Hirst (who uses animal parts in his work), as part of a unique touring exhibition inspired by the threat of coastal pollution.

Throughout the summer months, Eden hosts live music, in collaboration with Peter Gabriel’s WOMAD organization and others, including world music from Ghana and the pop artist Moby. "Our aim is to excite and change the way we understand our environment by stimulating all the senses," says Smit.

The Eden Project has become a major educational resource that works in partnership with schools and universities, and it attracts more than two million visitors a year. Some 1,700 much-needed jobs have been created. "It brings a gloss to the image of Cornwall," says Bryan Rawlins, a local council member. "But this is still one of the most deprived areas in Europe."

Smit says the project has ambitious goals. "It is not just a marvellous piece of science-related architecture," he says, "it is also a statement of our passionate belief in an optimistic future for mankind."