Modern Garden of Eden Draws Millions in U.K.

Eleanor Stables
for National Geographic News
February 6, 2003

An isolated, abandoned industrial site in Cornwall, England, a region long scarred by mines and slag heaps, has been reclaimed; the former clay pit is now a virtual garden of Eden.

Showcasing 4,500 plant species, the Eden Project is designed to increase public awareness of our dependence on plants, support research and conservation projects around the world, and provide a vision for a sustainable future.

The project received its first funding in 1997, and is already the third most popular admission-charging tourist attraction in Britain, hosting approximately 2 million people during 2002. Only the London Eye and the Tower of London surpass it in popularity, according to the English Tourism Council.

Why has the Eden Project so captured the public imagination?

"We live in a cynical age and Eden is about the possibility of positive change," said Tim Smit, founder and chief executive of the project.

That positive change has thus far included turning an abandoned, ugly pit into a flourishing garden; teaching millions of visitors about environmental stewardship; boosting the local economy; and last but not least, demonstrating that a business operating on environmental principles can make money.

Plants and Biomes

The grounds within the nearly 200-foot deep (60 meter) former clay pit cover 37 acres (15 hectares] and are interlaced with pathways, herb and flower gardens, planted terraces, trees, and experimental crops.

The outdoor gardens are anchored by two biomes. The Humid Tropics Biome, the world's largest conservatory, is home to plants from the Oceanic Islands, Malaysia, West Africa, and tropical South America. The Warm Temperate Biome sitting next to it houses plants from the Mediterranean, South Africa, and California.

A third biome mimicking a dry-tropics ecosystem is in the planning stages.

Increasing public understanding of the need to adopt a sustainable approach to life on this planet is a key component of the project.

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