Friday, May 13, 2011 - 17:37

The Eden Project in Cornwall is opening its first ever permanent garden outside the famous pit.

The Chilean arboretum contains around 800 plants of 60 different types and covers a hectare of land by the edge of the Eden pit.

Many of the plants are native to an area of endangered forest in central Chile. The garden could potentially be used as a research and educational resource with the possibility of plants being propagated for reintroduction to the wild.

The collection began with collaboration between Eden, the Royal Botanic Gardens Edinburgh and the International Conservation Conifer Programme. Even though the area has only opened to the public recently, Eden’s horticulture team have been nurturing it for almost as long as the project has existed.

The garden is filled with plants from the Valdivian Forests biodiversity hotspot in Central Chile, which represents almost one third of the world’s few remaining large tracts of relatively undisturbed temperate forest.

The collection features thriving examples of some of the noble South American conifers including the Monkey Puzzle (Araucaria araucana), the Alerce (Fitzroya cupressoides) and the Cloud Podocarp (Podocarpus nubigenus).

Alongside the towering conifers are many plants that have become firm garden favourites in Britain. Examples of Fuchsia, Lobelia, Geum, Gunnera, Escallonia and Berberis form a key part of the collection.

Jamie McCormick, the Eden Project skilled horticulturist responsible for the Chilean garden, said: “These forests in Chile are some of the most important and endangered biodiversity sites in the world, so we’re glad to be able to highlight their issues to our visitors. What’s more, Cornish gardeners have long been fascinated with Chilean plants and they thrive in our climate.

“As well as telling the story about the threat to these plants, it is also important to demonstrate their beauty. This arboretum is a picturesque, relaxing place, a place to breathe deeply and serves as a contrast to the bustling Eden pit at the height of summer.”

Chile is cut off from the rest of South America by the Andes, the longest range of mountains in the world, on its east and the Pacific Ocean to the west. It also boasts the driest desert in the world and the some of the wettest forests in the world - nine metres of rain can fall in one year. Many of the plants in the country aren’t found anywhere else in the world.

The entrance to the Chilean garden is behind Eden’s Pineapple car-park – ideally located for a visit before or after seeing the main site. The new edition of Eden’s guide book has directions and information about the area.