Thyme, rosemary, pine trees. And what is that warm anise-like aroma that mixes with all the other rich herbs? Fennel! A silvery olive tree flutters its leaves very slightly when I walk past it trying to map the smells that float in the air. The smellscape takes me right to the Mediterranean. But I can feel no wind, and the ceiling is made of plastic.
I am inside a 35-meter-high plastic-bubble in Cornwall, England. This giant greenhouse is the home of one of Eden Project’s two biomes. Here the rainfall, humidity, soil, and temperature can be adjusted to create an ideal environment for temperate and arid plants.
The paths in the greenhouse take me from South Africa to Chile. From round, red tomatoes to ripening citrons. Outside, the rain is hammering the hexagons on the ceiling, but here, among the trees and bushes, the air is dry and cool.
Because it is chucking down on the day we are visiting, I can’t help but wonder, whether the whole place, situated in a big crater, might soon become a lake. Interestingly enough, I learn that all the rainwater is collected and used on-site! The thirsty rainforest growing in the neighbouring greenhouse-bubble needs it. Indeed, the air within the largest indoor rainforest is humid and heavy. Visitors can walk above the canopy and explore how rainforests create clouds that help cool the planet. Down on the ground level, little birds called roul-roul partridges help to maintain the biome. These professional gardeners walk along the paths ignoring all the cameras aimed at them.
Eden Project sits in an old clay quarry. Because of its location on the bottom of a pit, it appears isolated. As well as the biome-bubbles, Eden Project includes an outdoor garden, an exhibition centre, garden shop, restaurants, and food and drink kiosks.
Even though I enjoy the visit and the opportunity to escape the rain, I can’t help flinching when I think of the ticket prices: £23 to get in. You have to buy a visitor pass for a whole year, even if you only visit Eden Project once.
Can’t afford it? Every Saturday the place organises a free park run. Of course, you do have to run or walk five kilometers, and you won’t be able to enter the biome-bubbles or the exhibition centre. Nevertheless, it could be a fun thing to do.
Eden Project is planning to build similar structures in China, Australia, the USA, and New Zealand. One of the Chinese projects has been reported to open as soon as 2020. However, I didn’t find any recent updates on the project. Eden Project is planning to expand its operation in the UK as well. The first planning report of Eden Project North has been submitted; the Lancashire complex is due to open in spring 2023.