By Mike Halliday, Guthrie-Smith trustee
On a recent trip to the U.K. we took the opportunity to visit the Eden Project in Cornwall. This millennium project was the brainchild of Sir Tim Smit, who had earlier helped restore the nearby Lost Gardens of Heligan.
Having heard a bit about it, we thought that while we were in the area we should take a look, maybe spend a couple of hours, then move on to another of the many local gardens. What happened in fact was that we were so enthralled by what was happening there, we spent the entire day.
So what actually is the Eden Project, and how does it relate to Guthrie Smith Tutira?
Basically a 25 acre disused quarry was taken over in 1995, transformed over a five-year period into a sort of hybrid botanic garden / laboratory / learning institution / tourist attraction, incorporating both tropical rainforest and semi-arid Mediterranean conditions by using huge temperature and humidity controlled bio-domes.
The plants grown in these domes are not just for show but to demonstrate how plants have a place in everyday life, e.g. tapping a rubber tree and producing rubber bands and kitchen gloves; making olive oil, producing cork, etc.
The education centre has many displays and activities for all ages to participate in, with the continuing theme of making people think every day how plants have an influence in their lives. An example of this is the ‘Cycles Tree’, every branch showing a cycle of some sort – carbon, nitrogen, oxygen, etc.
Making people aware
A basic tenet of the Eden Trust that runs the project is to take the positive approach of making people aware of how important plants all over the world are in their everyday lives, rather than the negative perception adopted by some environmental groups of making everyone feel guilty about things they have little influence over.
At Guthrie-Smith, according to our trust deed, part of our mandate is “To promote and advance the education, recreation and wellbeing of the people of New Zealand”, and our long-term objectives include: “the creation of a unique national arboretum, the development of a Centre of Learning and the creation of a place for people to learn about, and enjoy, the outdoors”.
It was easy then for me to see a common thread in the aims of the two operations, along with the common problem of the disconnect between modern societies and the basic essentials of water, sunlight and soil for our everyday needs.
Obviously, due to our small population base in New Zealand, undertaking a project of the magnitude of Eden is not practical, and would be financially unsustainable; however taking some of the educational ideas and adapting them to our particular situation could become very real, given the required support.