Tuesday, August 28, 2018 - 11:45

The Eden Project has welcomed three horticulturists from South Africa as part of partnership with a nature reserve on the Western Cape.

Olwethu Mankai, Dumisani Silwanyane and Khaya Madlebe are spending two weeks on work placements at Eden, learning about the project’s plants and the work of the horticulture team.

They are also consulting on planning for two new South African gardens at Eden, one a redevelopment of the existing South African area in the Mediterranean Biome and the other a new outdoor garden recreating the South African veld, or grasslands.

The students work for the Grootbos Foundation, part of a luxury eco-reserve on the Western Cape, located about two hours from Cape Town.

Khaya Madlebe said: “I feel honoured to be chosen by the Grootbos Foundation to have this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to come to the Eden Project. I have really enjoyed being exposed to different plants that I would not come across in South Africa and learning about them from the amazing team.

“There are so many different plants and insects and every day I continue to see things that I missed the day before. I have learnt a lot of skills about caring for other plants and making sure they remain strong and healthy in the different environments.

“I would like to thank the Eden Project for sharing their knowledge with us and making us have the best experience here. This is something I will remember for the rest of my life.”

Catherine Cutler, Eden’s horticultural team leader, said: “We have a longstanding partnership with Grootbos and we are huge admirers of their community and conservation work. The exchange of staff and students has strengthened both our teams.

“We are excited about the new exhibits at Eden, and the opportunity to exhibit some of South Africa’s extraordinary plants, including endangered species, which importantly will tell the story of the heroic work of Grootbos in conserving some of the rarest plants in South Africa.”

The Grootbos Foundation was set up in 2003 as a non-profit organisation working on conservation, while also focusing on the training and skills development of the surrounding communities. It is an organisation dedicated to empowering others through ecotourism, enterprise development, sports development and education.

The team who are visiting Eden are part of the Foundation’s Green Futures programme, which provides educational training to eight to 12 unemployed young adults each year. Olwethu, Dumisani and Khaya have all graduated from the Green Futures programme and are now staff members at the Foundation.

The programme aims to give the student candidates the skills and confidence necessary to market themselves and become employable, while at the same time contributing to the conservation and promotion of South Africa’s unique biodiversity.

The placements at Eden are designed to be a reward for the best students of the year and are often the first experience the students have had outside their home country. Through working at Eden and living in Cornwall, it is hoped that they gain valuable experience, both professional and personal.

As well as providing local knowledge and expertise for Eden’s new South African gardens, the Green Futures students will be involved in gathering seed from the reserve which will be grown on at Eden’s nursery.

Eden horticulturist Flo Mansbridge is also be taking a research trip to South Africa, co-funded by the Eden Project, Cornwall Garden Society and Royal Horticultural Society.