Escape to Cornwall: On gardening leave at the Eden Project

view gallery VIEW GALLERY

Cornwall’s popular attraction is now offering visitors the chance to become ‘Gardener For a Day’ in its artificial biomes. Sarah Baxter, self-confessed novice, puts her green-fingered credentials to the test. What could go wrong?

I’m very bad at gardening – I kill plants and nurture weeds; I don’t even know if I own a spade. So enrolling as an Eden Project “Gardener For A Day” – a behind-the-scenes experience at the Cornish biomes – was both an intriguing prospect and a source of some concern. On one hand, I might learn something. On the other, there was a chance I might maim Britain’s best leisure attraction – a title Eden won at the British Travel Awards in both 2011 and 2012.

“You can’t do any serious damage,” horticulturalist Lucy assured me as she led the way into the Rainforest. I felt a wave of relief – or perhaps that was just the hot, moist air of the leafy biome, where conditions are kept at an Amazon-esque humidity. All around us coffee bushes, banana palms, kapoks and cassavas, papaya, cola, stinkwood and jasmine joined in a mass exhalation; the place felt intensely alive. And yet human life was virtually absent: the best thing about being an honorary gardener is that, as the day starts at 8am, you get Eden access well before the doors open to the public.

“The staff have to start early to deal with any hazards that have sprung up overnight,” Lucy explained, as we strolled from West Africa into Malaysia – two of the biome’s distinct  zones – completing her daily check for dangerous foliage. She soon spotted a potential menace, a broken bough that could (worst case scenario) fall during the day and clobber a visitor. Our mission: to render it harmless.

Being careful not to fall into a rice paddy, Lucy and I hauled the branch out of harm’s way and set upon it with a saw. In minutes, it was kindling, and loaded into the back of the buggy for recycling. Horticulturist John – a former Savile Row tailor who’s swapped scissors for secateurs – had it much tougher. He’d spotted a frond about to fall from the top of a giant palm; no job for an amateur, he delegated his watering duties to me while he ascended via mechanical cherry-picker to carry out some vertiginous pruning.

Watering plants didn’t sound like a glamorous job, but it was curiously soothing. For a start, I was confident I couldn’t get it wrong and I certainly learned things – namely, don’t water an overhanging branch that you’re just about to walk underneath. But mainly it was rather therapeutic. I had a purpose, but a simple one; one that made me feel useful but also allowed time to absorb and enjoy the prolific green, exotic flora and enormous butterflies. I was almost disappointed when John wanted his hose back.

Time for a tea break, with horticulturalist Steve Burrell. “We tailor Gardener For A Day to the individual,” he said as I clutched my coffee with mucky fingernails (a badge of honour, I felt). “If someone is a keen allotment owner, we can get them working on our crops. One lady grew up in Malaysia. Her daughter bought her the experience so she’d be surrounded by the plants of her childhood again.”

I had no such specialism, so was enjoying a more generic day, which covered a bit of everything. So far I’d helped avert a tree-toppling catastrophe and watered a Rainforest; next up, the Mediterranean biome, to prune some vines.

This was a lovely job. For a start, tending neatly grown vines requires no bending. Also, I have an un-neatly tended grape-triffid in my own garden, so I actually picked up some useful tips, such as how ruthlessly they should be pruned (practically to a stump) and how frequent de-leafing would increase my grape crop. There was more to be done. I dead-headed the ornamental flowers, weeded some beds, harvested a few physalis and helped collect the Outdoor biome’s crop of tomatoes and green beans. I was even shown inside the usually off-limits tool shed by horticulturalist Catherine.

“I can tell you’re not a keen gardener,” she said smiling as I glanced perfunctorily at the piles of trowels and loppers inside. “Most people who do the Day experience are dying to have a peek in here!”

However, even for a novice, peering behind the scenes at this Cornish claypit-turned-horticultural Elysium was a joy. At 3pm, I was off-duty so I wandered round to enjoy it as a visitor. I was drawn back into the Rainforest – by its fecund otherness and to check on my disarmed tree (which was doing fine, I was pleased to note).

I was also keen to see the new Aerial Walkway. Opened in July, this raised boardwalk above the West Africa zone is the first phase in Eden’s elevated plan. The intention is for the Walkway to continue over other areas of the biome, to include a Weather Station, a wobbly Rope Walk, a treetop Fruit Bar and a path behind the churning waterfall. But all in good time.

For now, I’d make do with the existing section, where Yelli music, from Cameroon and Gabon, serenaded my ascent to the canopy-level lookout. From here, I was eyeballing the nuts of the cola tree and staring up at chandelier-like artworks that symbolise plant pollination.

And from up here, all looked well with the forest. I grinned. I hadn’t killed a thing.

Visiting there

The Eden Project (01726 811972; edenproject.com) is near St Austell. The Gardener For A Day experience costs £99 for one/£175 for two, including lunch and refreshments.

Staying there

The writer stayed on the Boconnoc Estate (01208 872507; boconnoc.com), a 25-minute drive from Eden. This venerable stately home, set in private rolling parkland, has four hireable self-catering properties on site, starting from £460 for a three-night break.

More information

visitcornwall.com

Arts and Entertainment
Babysitter Katie and Paul have terse words in the park
tvReview: The strength of the writing keeps viewers glued to their seats even when they are confronted with the hard-hitting scenes
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
American singer, acclaimed actor of stage and screen, political activist and civil rights campaigner Paul Robeson (1898 - 1976), rehearses in relaxed mood at the piano.
filmSinger, actor, activist, athlete: Paul Robeson was a cultural giant. But prejudice and intolerance drove him to a miserable death. Now his story is to be told in film...
Sport
England’s opening goalscorer Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain battles with Scotland’s Charlie Mulgrew
FootballEngland must learn to keep possession and dictate games before they are exposed by the likes of Germany and Brazil
Life and Style
Make-up artists prepare contestants for last year’s Miss World, held in Budapest
fashion
Sport
Wigan Athletic’s back-of-the shirt sponsor Premier Range has pulled out due to Malky Mackay’s arrival
Football
PROMOTED VIDEO
Independent Travel Videos
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Amsterdam
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Giverny
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in St John's
Independent Travel Videos
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Travel

    Recruitment Genius: Chef De Partie x 2

    £16000 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This charming and contemporary ...

    Recruitment Genius: Membership Sales Advisor - OTE £20,000 Uncapped

    £15000 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The fastest growing fitness cha...

    Recruitment Genius: Personal Trainer - £30,000 OTE Uncapped

    £15000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The fastest growing fitness cha...

    Recruitment Genius: Customer Service Advisor / Administrator

    £13000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

    Day In a Page

    US immigration: President Obama ready to press ahead with long-promised plan to overhaul 'broken system' - but will it get past a Republican-controlled Congress?

    Immigration: Obama's final frontier

    The President is ready to press ahead with the long-promised plan to overhaul America's 'broken system' - but will it get past a Republican-controlled Congress?
    Bill Cosby rape allegations explained: Why are these allegations coming out now? Why didn’t these women come forward earlier? And why has nobody taken legal action?

    Bill Cosby rape allegations explained

    Why are these allegations coming out now? Why has nobody taken legal action? And what happens next for the man once thought of as 'America's Dad'
    Four years of excruciating seizures caused by the 1cm tapeworm found burrowing through a man's brain

    You know that headache you’ve got?

    Four years of excruciating seizures caused by the 1cm tapeworm found burrowing through a man's brain
    Travelling to work by scooter is faster than walking and less sweaty than cycling, so why aren’t we all doing it?

    Scoot commute

    Travelling to work by scooter is faster than walking and less sweaty than cycling, so why aren’t we all doing it?
    Paul Robeson: The story of how an American icon was driven to death to be told in film

    The Paul Robeson story

    How an American icon was driven to death to be told in film
    10 best satellite navigation systems

    Never get lost again: 10 best satellite navigation systems

    Keep your vehicle going in the right direction with a clever device
    Paul Scholes column: England must learn to keep possession and dictate games before they are exposed by the likes of Germany and Brazil

    Paul Scholes column

    England must learn to keep possession and dictate games before they are exposed by the likes of Germany and Brazil
    Michael Dawson: I’ll thank Spurs after we win says defender as he prepares to return with Hull

    Michael Dawson: I’ll thank Spurs after we win

    Hull defender faces his struggling former club on Sunday ready to show what they are missing. But he says he will always be grateful to Tottenham
    Frank Warren column: Dr Wu has big plans for the professionals yet he should stick to the amateur game

    Frank Warren column

    Dr Wu has big plans for the professionals yet he should stick to the amateur game
    Synagogue attack: Fear unites both sides of Jerusalem as minister warns restoring quiet could take 'months'

    Terror unites Jerusalem after synagogue attack

    Rising violence and increased police patrols have left residents of all faiths looking over their shoulders
    Medecins sans Frontieres: The Ebola crisis has them in the headlines, but their work goes far beyond West Africa

    'How do you carry on? You have to...'

    The Ebola crisis has Medecins sans Frontieres in the headlines, but their work goes far beyond West Africa
    Isis extends its deadly reach with suicide bombing in Kurdish capital

    Isis extends its deadly reach with suicide bombing in Kurdish capital

    Residents in what was Iraq’s safest city fear an increase in jihadist attacks, reports Patrick Cockburn
    Underwater photography competition winners 2014 - in pictures

    'Mysterious and inviting' shot of diver wins photography competition

    Stunning image of cenote in Mexico takes top prize
    Sir John Major: Negative West End portrayals of politicians put people off voting

    Sir John Major hits out at theatres

    Negative West End portrayals of politicians put people off voting
    Kicking Barbie's butt: How the growth of 3D printing enabled me to make an army of custom-made figurines

    Kicking Barbie's butt

    How the growth of 3D printing enabled toy-designer to make an army of custom-made figurines