Eden Project and Lost gardens of Heligan

These are two of the most fantastic garden in the UK, probably the world.  I visited Eden  in 2004 or thereabouts, and Heligan a little earlier, and was keen to see how they have evolved.

 

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The Eden project, for those who don’t know, was created out of an open cast china clay pit at the end of the last century.  It was designed to show that the damage we do to the earth can be (and should be) repaired.  I’m not sure whether this message has got through yet!  I think we visited in spring last time and this time it was autumn.  These pictures show the increase in tree growth in that time.

Although the bio-domes are the most striking feature of the site, on this visit I found the outside areas just as fascinating.  I don’t know whether they had the forest garden area (on the lead in between the carparks and the ticket hall) last time we came, my interests have evolved slightly since then.  This was a nice little plot, mainly of ornamental edibles.  It was interesting to see the buffalo berry (shepherdia argentea), a plant which I am considering growing this year.  This has edible black fruit, but is also nitrogen fixing, so can do well on poorer soils.  I was impressed by how tall it was growing.

forest garden eden
Forest garden with shepherdia shrub

There were lots of flowers even in late September, and the autumn leaves were also giving a good show.  Most plants were quite well labelled, but there were some interesting ones we could not find labels for, including a plant that looked rather like solomons seal, but had black berries (‘not everything in a forest garden is edible’….) (Edit:  It well may have been solomons seal.  Although the spring shoots alegedly make a good vegetable, the berries casue stomach upsets so are not recommended) Other interesting plants included tiny fuchsia and pomegranite plants and a hardy aloe: Aloe striatula which is hardy to -10, so I could grow it outside on Skye.

community allotments
chinese – british allotment

I found the allotment areas most interesting.  They had set them up to reflect the diversity of cultures of people that grow plants in the UK.  So there were chinese, african, caribbean and indian themed allotments, with plants reflecting the cuisine of these areas, as well as more traditional british vegetable plants and flowers.  There were several malabar gourd plants, (making bids to take over the crater!) vegetable spaghetti, which I remember has similar but smaller noodley fruit, fantastic displays of outdoor tomatoes and chilli, soya beans and chick peas, sweet potato (as well as the normal kinds).  There were lovely plants of yacon, mashua, oca, achocha, physalis, quinoa and amaranth.  Some I’ll have to look up to see what their growing requirements are: japanese ginger, dasheen, lemongrass, turmeric, and vietnamese coriander, which all could be interesting additions to the polytunnel, if not outside.  I think I spotted new zealand spinach growing as a ground cover, but I could not find the identifying label for it.

south american plantings
Amaranth, mashua, yacon with possibly NZ spinach at front right

They had obviously made an effort to consider the environmental consequences of the development itself.  There were several bin areas for visitors to use, with separate bins for different sorts of recyclable waste, including compostable waste too.  I’m not sure where they compost the waste – that wasn’t on display and I would have found that interesting.  There were water dispensing points to enable refills of water bottles, outside as well as water fountains inside the tropical biome.

tropical dome
Tropical biome – jungle feel

The tropical biome was just as good as I remembered.  It is difficult to believe that they used it as the ice palace in “Die another day”.  Still a fantastic bit of engineering, let alone the plants!  The jungle really feels established and doesn’t have too manicured a look to it.  There are ant colonies and little lizards as well as birds.  Less useful as a source of planting inspiration for me though!

lizard
Lizard in tropical biome

We didn’t have time for the warm temperate biome, and were getting a bit tired, but had a quick look through the microscopic world display area, which had been under construction last time I came.  The use of artworks to illustrate different aspects of microbes was fun, including beautiful hand cut paper and life size figure embroidery.  There were interactive exhibits of various kinds including a huge one dedicated to the source of chloroplasts that convert carbon dioxide to oxygen.  A thirty foot metallic blue cyanobacterium billowed fragrant smoke rings to the delight of children (of all ages!).  It was quite cute to watch the kiddies trying to catch the rings, but I shan’t even try to upload the video I took.

cyanobacterium
Giant cyanobacterium blowing smoke rings

Opposite the car parks we eventually found the ‘wild chile’ area.  This was mentioned on the site maps, but there were no signs to it or to explain what was going on, until we got to the far end of it, where there appears to be a second entrance.  I have been interested in Chile since I discovered that much of that country’s interior shares a similar mild rain forest climate to the UK.  The area has been set up as a living reserve for plants that are endangered in their native range.

wild chile
Monkey puzzles were the only clue that this was the ‘wild chile’ area

There was an impressive array of young monkey puzzle trees, I judged them to be possibly 18 years old from counting their branches.  Just another twenty years or so for the nuts then!  There was also a lovely nothofagus forest.  This is another tree I’m interested in. The southern beech, as it’s known, likes a mild damp climate and grows very quickly.  It ought to be ideal for coppicing on Skye.  There were n. nervosa, n. obliqua and n. x. leonii, all doing very well.  I couldn’t get hold of these when I was planting my coppice wood, although I did manage to get hold of three n. alpina (which may be a synonym for n. nervosa) a couple of years ago, which are still very small trees (well, even ‘shrubs’ would be dignifying the plants at the moment, although they are still alive).  Another interesting chilean edible we saw was luma apiculata, an ornamental shrub with small glossy dark green leaves.  The black fruit are edible.  I have a tiny one of these, just planted a couple of years ago and doing alright.  I tried a couple of berries and they were nice raw, not too sweet, but not sharp either, just juicy.  There were several plants, and they appeared to flower better in the sunnier spots.  There were a number of huge fuchsias still flowering away.  I didn’t spot any fruit, which have a quite sweet and spicy flavour when ripe.  There was also an impressive gunnera plant, which we are asked not to plant in this part of Scotland, since it likes it too well!  The leaf stalks are edible like rhubarb, although it’s not something I’ve tried.  It would still be too windy for those enormous leaves here!

nothofagus woodland
Nothofagus woodland

On the following day I was able to have another walk round the wild chile area whilst the car was on charge, as we stopped again on our way to Heligan.  It looks like they have been recently planting a trials area for bamboos.  Without information displays it is hard to say what they are trying to achieve this time.  They were carefully planted and mulched, with a variety of bamboos judging by the attached labels.

insect hotel
Insect hotel at Heligan

Really the visit to Heligan was too short to do it justice.  We had to leave again in good time to continue our journey.  Part of the garden was closed as well unfortunately, so we couldn’t visit the hidden valley area.  They had made the most impressive ‘insect hotel’ I have ever seen in a sunny spot on the woodland walk, and we were taken by some beautiful oaks, although did not find out what variety they were.

gunnera hibernation
Protecting Gunnera

In the jungle they were putting the gunnera to bed for the winter by cutting the leaves off and putting them upside down as umbrellas.  Gunnera are fairly tender, so even in milder areas of the UK can need a bit of protection.  Massive tree ferns and palm trees are a feature of the jungle garden, and they have obviously been considering the future as well, with smaller monkey puzzles as well as the original garden’s 100 year plus specimens.

young monkey puzzle
Young and original monkey puzzles

Bamboos and bananas also give a tropical feel to the garden.  I’m sorry to have missed the hidden valley, since I remember that as one of the most atmospheric parts of the garden.  They were obviously hard at work, since we could hear chainsaws going.  I hope this is just planned maintenance, and they have not suffered losses in the hot, dry summer.

helligan vegetables
Lettuces in walled garden

We wandered back through the huge ornamental vegetable gardens.  These are bigger than I remember, with such beautiful displays of lettuce and rhubarb forcers!  I couldn’t resist the reduced plants in the sales area, although AC luckily spotted that the camellia sinensis were c. Sinensis var. assamica, rather than c. sinensis var. sinensis, so I avoided those (too tender).  I did pick up a little lady boothby climbing fuchsia which should be fun.

I would recommend a full day at Eden.  We probably didn’t start going round till nearly 12 noon.  You would certainly need more than the couple of hours we were able to spend at Heligan to make the most of the trip!

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19 thoughts on “Eden Project and Lost gardens of Heligan

    1. They certainly both are worth visiting, whether or not you’re into gardening, but only if you’ve got the time to make it worth while!
      Wow! My advice would be to come to Skye slightly out if season if you can. Two reasons, first, the last few years, we’ve really had rather more visitors that the infrastructure can cope with in July and August, which can spoil it a bit, second the weather is generally better in May and June than the summer holidays, and a further reason is the midges….they start up towards the end of May and can be a nuisance.
      Castles to stay in, not on Skye I don’t think, although there are some pretty nice highland house hotels. You could consider the Skeabost hotel, which is quietly situated in the mid north which was refurbished recently and has a lovely character, or the Sligachan hotel in the centre of the cuillins which has it’s own brewery. Do visit Dunvegan castle – it has been in the same family for 800 years, and is as close as you get to an authentic scottish castle, but I don’t think they do air b n b. There’s a great general store just over the hill in Glendale too (plug plug!). Some National Trust properties have ancilliary accomodation to rent out and you can stay in some pretty historic places that way, but again not on Skye. You’re more likely to find a ‘black house’ than a castle to rent here. You’re welcome to drop in and say hello! Email me at nancy at p6resthome dot co uk if you want further advice.

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  1. the winds of Harris and Lewis do nothing to stop gunnera!! the leaves might get a bit brown and wind burnt on the edges but mosty they come through unscathed and the stems stay upright and unmoved, do not plant, it is very invasive on the isle of Harris and is trying to be on Lewis too, it is pollinated by the wind and the millions of seeds are spread by the wind, it suffocates any native vegetation growing under it and it offers nothing to wild life, it’s a designers plant and nothing more,

    thanks for the mini tour of these 2 gardens,
    Frances

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    1. Yeah, I had read gunnera was getting a nuisance. I’ve heard that the stems can be eaten as a vegetable, but I don’t know what they taste like. If it’s getting invasive, presumably the sheep don’t like it!

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      1. it is beyond ‘getting’ on Harris, there have been programmes to try to irradicate it for several years now, if it gets into a valley between the mountains and especially if there is a river/stream flowing through then the wind blows the seed along the water way and the whole length becomes a river of gunnera, and due to our wet mild climate it spreads fast, the winters are not cold enough to even slightly damage it,

        yes, I read the stems could be eaten but when I did some searching I could not find evidence of westerners eating it only indiginous people in Latin America and that was based on what people had heard not witnessed, the sheep don’t eat it nor any other creature,
        Frances

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      2. Stephen Barstow includes it in his 80 plants book as one of his favourite perennial edibles and says it is not as acid as rhubarb and csn be eaten raw in salads as well as with sugar to make jams, or just dipped in salt. Younger stalks are nicer apparently. If you give it a go let us know. I’d try it if I had some, but a bit like salal, which is also an invasive edible (nice berries) one doesn’t want to contribute to a kn9wn problem 😕

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      3. yes, I did read it can be eaten raw, I wonder what it would taste like,
        I’ve spent several years killing mine, yes I had bought one back in 2002 and it was great until about 2011/12, but that was when I started to find seedlings, at first I was not too bothered, then a couple of years later I heard what was happening on Harris, so I started to kill mine off, they were large and it took a number of years, I still find the occasional seedling coming up, if I find any more seedlings coming up next year, I’ll try the stalks before digging it out and putting it into the cooked council compost bin, I’m definately not encouraging it even if it turns out to be the best thing I’ve ever tasted,
        thanks for the info from Stephen Barstow, I’ll do a search for him later,
        Frances,

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  2. I love Heligan and they have a beautiful children’s book about the mud maid that I often read my children, a haunting story about the gardens during the war and afterwards. It really is beautiful.
    On a separate note I was wondering if you could email me? I’m using a quote you put on my blog a while ago when I requested winter stories for an article I was writting. The editor wants to know your gender and name if possible? My email is kevalviti@hotmail.com
    Many thanks
    Kev

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    1. Yes, we saw the mud maid sculpture. There were several beautiful sculptures in the grounds including a woven figure.
      I’ve sent you an email (and caught up on your ‘blog!)

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  3. I went to Heligan about 1998, I don’t think it had been open that long. I loved it, it’s the only place that having got there early afternoon and wandered round for half a day, we returned the next day to see it properly. I’d love to go back and to have chance to see the Eden project as well.

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    1. The Eden project would take even more time! I’m sure that you could easily spend two or three days there!
      The first time I visited Heligan I enjoyed it more. I’m not sure if it was that we were so tired that I didn’t appreciate it so much this time, or that we were unable to see part of it. I just remember it feeling much more jungley.

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