January 2014:

Photographs: Charles Francis

Eden Project Outdoor Biome

January 2014: A conversation with horticulturalists Julie Kendall and James Clark

Eden is home not just to two giant greenhouses, but also the first major new Cornish garden this century. How did you create it?

Julie: This was still a building site when we started planting. The first thing was getting the soil — we had to buy worms, as it was pretty sterile. We then had to get thousands of plants in, and we were working in the rain, watching the soil being washed down the slopes. For the first few years, it was an ongoing project. It was only about six years ago that it started looking like a garden. But as well as being a garden, this is the outdoor biome. If visitors ask: “Where’s the third biome?” we say: “You’re standing in it!”.

What is the thinking behind the planting?

Julie: The garden has zones representing different parts of the world, and areas for vegetables, herbs and crops. These cropping areas are mostly on the flat, whereas most of the geographical zones are quite slopey. There are herbaceous areas as well, to cover the flowery side of gardening. It’s about getting people to interact with how varied the plant world is. For the first few years, there were few pests and diseases, because the soil was manufactured. We now use a mixture of coir, pine needles, moss and grit to recreate peat, as we are a peat-free garden, and it works very well.

Julie Kendall

How does the garden highlight horticulture in Cornwall?

Julie: Here in Cornwall we’ve been in the vanguard of horticulture since the days of the plant-hunters, and Eden is the newest part of the plant-hunters’ story. We have a special Cornish crops area with things like strawberries, cauliflower, parsnips, spring cabbage and cut flowers, and we now also have Tom Hoblyn’s A Sense of Memory garden, which won gold at the 2011 Chelsea Flower Show. Normally, a Chelsea show garden is only for a fortnight, but this one was inspired by memories of Cornwall and now it’s growing here in Cornwall. There were no bulbs in it, so to enhance the Cornish theme we’re planting daffodils and bluebells.

Spider sculpture

A giant spider sculpture in the Sense of Memory garden

Do you have a favourite area of the outdoor biome?

I love the carnivorous plants. People are always surprised you can grow exotic plants like Sarracenia x readii outside. And no one believes we have native carnivorous plants, but we do. We like to get children to learn about gardening in a fun way before they’re indoctrinated with the idea that it’s boring — and there’s no better way to do that than show them some bug-eating plants.

Sarracenia x readii

Sarracenia x readii 

What jobs are you taking on this winter?

For several years, we planted a million bulbs in the autumn and early winter.  We’re now trying to build these up as well as adding new ones each year. They’ll be starting to come through in January.

Planting bulbs

There’s lots of apple pruning to be done, and we’ll also be dealing with a bank of phalaris, a grass which has turned into a complete and utter thug. It forms thick mats, and we’re going to have to get a digger in to get it out. We’ll also be reducing the height of the hedges. It’s a big job — everyone is out there with the loppers.

The monkey puzzle plantation in the Wild Chile garden must be at the highest point of the whole site. How did it come to be there?

We’re working with the Royal Botanical Garden Edinburgh, which has sourced endangered monkey puzzles from Chile.  Cornwall isn’t short of monkey puzzles, but they all came from one genetic source. These are different varieties, and are being propagated here, with the long-term aim of re-introducing them into the wild. The Chilean garden looks wonderful in the snow, and there are great sea views from up there.

 Monkey puzzle

What’s the story behind the international allotments? 

James: With allotments having a resurgence in popularity, we decided to have not just one, but a series, representing different communities in the UK: Afro-Caribbean, Chinese, Indian and eastern European, as well as a UK community allotment. Attached to the global gardens is the Andean section, with crops which can be grown in this country — potatoes and tomatoes are the most obvious ones, but there are others which have possibilities for both small and large scale growing. We grow lots of chillies, aubergines and sweet potatoes, and leave things in the ground while they’re still looking good. We can’t really have fallow periods: from March to November, people expect to see fruit and vegetables growing. But it’s always good to see new potatoes being harvested.