Many of us have heard of the Eden project and are perhaps familiar with its iconic bio-spheres. Used as a backdrop for various programmes such as 'The Gadget Show',  David Attenborough's 'Flying Monsters 3D' and films such as the James Bond feature 'Die another Day', you will be at the very least aware of what the Eden project looks like even if you couldn't put a name to it.

As a site, the Eden project is large and impressive with bold styling across the board from its architecture and landscaping, to its unique one-off pieces of art.

However, on the long walk down to the car park through a selection of unkempt and uninspiring borders, you can't help but worry that  something may be missing in the Eden experience.

The site is designed so that your first glimpse of those magnificent biospheres happens only once you have entered into the main complex. Until that point, you are faced with 'local council-style' gardening and promotional displays that wouldn't look out of place in any half-decent garden centre. Remember that this is one of the countries top visitor attractions - not your local Wyevales! That being said, the driftwood pony by the main entrance is superb!

Once through the ticket isles and out onto what can only be described as an incidental but pleasant enough viewing platform. This is your first view of the record-breaking biospheres, and in the sunshine the sheer size and purity of design makes for an outstanding effect.

So too is the look of the surrounding landscaping, with clear sweeping arcs, accentuating the slope of the quarry. Combined with a striking use of colour and form they have created a visual effect that is hard to beat.

However, in the out-lying displays things begin to look a little worse-for-wear under closer inspection as little thought has been put into the long term maintenance of the landscaping. This is compounded as it appears that a number of the group planting species have been chosen on how they look, rather than their suitability for the ground that they have been planted.

This a mistake constantly, and rather boringly repeated by garden designers around the world, most of which are all about the design, and leave very little thought about the horticulture. Of course it may be that the Eden project 'powers that be' have a policy of regularly scrubbing out old displays in order to keep everything fresh, but surely that goes against their ethos of sustainability?

This begins to put a question in my mind and it is this. Is the Eden project purely an exercise in design or is there going to be any substance to this place?

The Rainforest Biome

Incredibly, this impressive structure - the larger of the two bio-spheres - is not only home to crashing waterfalls and a mangrove swamp, it is also home to the world's largest captivated rainforest!

Without doubt it is the most impressive artificial rainforest that I have seen. In fact, I would go as far as saying that it is better than that of the historic palm house at the Royal Botanic gardens at Kew - and I properly love Kew gardens!

The unique point of the tropical biosphere is the sheer height of the central dome. So large is it that it is listed in the Guinness book of Records as the world’s largest conservatory – whatever that’s supposed to mean? Any who, it is so tall that none of the truly tall bamboos were able to reach its ceiling which means that your eye isn't being drawn to focus on its structure. Therefore it enhances the feeling that you really are outside walking through a true tropical environment, and not a just ambling within the confines of a greenhouse – however fancy it may be.

The various bamboo and wooden hut structures gave the place a nice 'adventure' feel, and together with the makeshift smoothy bar helped to add to the magic.

The hot temperatures that can be experienced with the bio-sphere are something that visitors will need to be aware of, because along with the humidity it can become stifling. Luckily, the brains behind the Eden project have thought about this, and not only have they supplied drinking fountains and a smoothy bar, there is even a cold room for the more delicate of souls!

As good as it is there were a few things that let it down. The first issue I had was the generous use of wood for supporting structures within the biome. Presumably the wood was from sustainable sources so that the Eden project's ethos can remain intact. However in the warm humid atmosphere of the Rainforest biome most of the wood that I saw was either rotting away or covered in mould and fungi - not very appealing. Secondly, the tropical biome was rife with scale insects, aphids, ants and most noticeable - thick layers of black, sooty mildew.

It appeared to be almost everywhere and especially at eye level and this really detracted from the plants.

Whatever the Eden's projects policy on pest control is  - presumably organic - it isn't working and needs re-assessing. If left to continue this will severely weaken susceptible plants and eventually damage the rainforest ecosystem.

My third issue is this. Where replanting had taken place along the visitor walkways - presumably to replace plants that had been wrecked by the sooty mildew - the team at the Eden project has chosen plants that anyone of us could have picked up from a local Homebase house-plant department.

When you have a world of plants to chose from I found this very disappointing. I really didn't drive all the way down here to view a mature selection of cheap 'bottle garden' plants. However, these problems are something that would have built up over time so it is a shame that I didn't get an opportunity to visit this place in the early days as it would have been truly amazing. Today it just looks a bit too tired.

The Mediterranean Biome

In this the smaller of the two biomes, order had appeared to have been restored. This environment was clean, fresh and the displays were tidy and thought about although similar to many other mediterranean gardens.

You could argue that the easy option was taken and therefore it was a bit boring. As far as I was concerned it was what it was, and they make a decent effort at portraying a comprehensive range of Mediterranean plants.

The downside is that unlike the rainforest biome, you couldn't immerse yourself with the environment and you were always aware of the structure around you. It wasn't original but it was a safe effort.

As far as I was concerned this was by far their most professional display. So long as you do your very best to ignore the bizarre and rather creepy display of mythical forest creatures.

In Conclusion

The Eden project reminds me a lot about of the old Millennium Dome. Why? because it comes across as being a bit too try-hard. Too many meaningless and thrown together displays, perfectly matched by a number of rather pointless 'New Age Hippy' works of art.

Dave the annoying and shouty storyteller kept disturbing my concentration - and therefore my enjoyment  -and really there was just far too many 'entertainment' staff trying to keep me occupied.

If I want street entertainers I will go to Covent Garden and throw some coins at them.

In a nutshell, too New Age, too much try-hard, too much pretty, pretty plant design, and not nearly enough serious horticulture.

The Eden project prides itself on being an educational charity, so when I left later that day I was surprised to find myself asking just what was the Eden project all about?

Once you take all the pretty away I didn't feel educated, there was no unique message, and I have no idea what good causes they spend their/my money on.

Take away the biomes and I could have been anywhere.

I also had a particular hatred for the enormous effort and cost that went into the superfluous 'contemplation' seed that you will find displayed in the not-very-educational Core building.

Ask yourself this. Just how many clean water wells could you have had built in Africa for what it cost to
manufacture and display this self-indulgent white elephant?

C+ need to try harder!

Comments are invited.

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