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Revamped Eden garden tells the story of South Africa’s amazing plants and the race to save them

Indoor exhibit is being transformed with a new walking trail  


South Africa exhibit


The Eden Project’s indoor South Africa garden is being transformed with new planting and a walking trail, highlighting the country’s incredible biodiversity.  

The garden, within the warm temperate Mediterranean Biome, focuses on how plants from South Africa’s South Western Cape serve a multitude of purposes including medicinal needs, food supply, shelter and cosmetics.  

It highlights the threats of climate change, agriculture, building, infrastructure developments and poaching and showcases vital conservation campaigns to protect the valuable habitats. 

Eden has partnered with South African institutions to develop the exhibit and as part of this, seeds from endangered plants have been imported, sown and grown at the project. 

The Cape Floristic Region of the South Western Cape is as botanically diverse as the rainforest and contains over 9,000 different species of plants across an area roughly the size of the island of Ireland. In contrast, there are only around 2,000 different plant species throughout the entire United Kingdom. 

Among the stand-out plants being grown are three different species of conebush, part of the Proteaceae family which defines South Africa’s fynbos (fine bush) habitats. It is estimated that only five per cent of their natural habitat, Elim fynbos, remains primarily due to farming, making these plants endangered.

Ground works on the Eden exhibit began last November (2020) and during this time, 28 students from Eden Project Learning learned over four days how to build a gabion wall made of wire gabion baskets, filled with shale and granite. 

A major addition to the exhibit will be the creation of a new informal path leading through a section of the garden previously inaccessible to the public, allowing visitors a closer look at more species.  

The path, which is due to be completed later this year, will meander through an area of the South Western Cape known as Succulent Karoo, showcasing a diverse array of succulent plans from small Gasteria to magnificent aloes, brightly coloured vygies, including Lampranthus and Delosperma, and annuals.  

It will then lead on through the shrubs and arching restios of lowland fynbos and finally past the Pepsi Pool, full of fragrant Cape pondweed. In South Africa, tannins in plant roots stain streams and pools a light golden colour which resembles the Pepsi beverage, thus giving it the name Pepsi Pool. 

The plans also include developing and opening up the stream that currently runs through the exhibit and leads to the pool, making it more prominent. This will create additional microhabitats for moisture-loving plant species as well as being an attractive feature.  

To aid the revamp and to acquire specific seeds, Eden has been working with long-established contacts at the Grootbos Foundation in South Africa. The Grootbos Foundation engages with landowners in conservation activities and works to provide education and employment to young people and for the past 18 years Eden has hosted Grootbos students in Cornwall.  

Eden has also been collaborating on the project with SANBI (South Africa National Biodiversity Institute) who run the famous National Botanic Gardens of Kirstenbosch and Karoo Desert in South Africa and promote education and the importance of conservation.  

In preparation for the update to Eden’s exhibit, Rosie Henstridge, a Living Landscapes Technician at Eden, spent three weeks in the South Western Cape with the Grootbos Foundation and SANBI for work experience and to study the rich biodiversity and fragility of the area.  

Rosie, who looks after the South Africa exhibit in the Biome, said: “I was inspired by the passion and dedication of everyone I worked with and met. 

“I really wanted to understand the conservation efforts underway to protect these unique habitats and to engage with experts in the propagation, establishment and maintenance of some of the key plants. 

“We have a real opportunity at the Eden Project to inspire our visitors with some great stories of ecological conservation and the benefits it brings to communities and this beautiful and meaningful new display in our South Africa exhibit is a great example.”