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Date: 
Tuesday, August 4, 2020 - 09:30

A new garden full of the floral wonders of South Africa is captivating visitors as they head towards the Eden Project Biomes this summer.

In the latest spectacular addition to Eden’s 30-acre outdoor garden, the newly-cleared 800 square metre area is being planted with many of the trees, shrubs and flowers which define the beauty and diversity of the country’s landscapes.

The new garden is inspired by the Veld, a wide range of habitats in South Africa from the mountains to the coast.

It is set just outside the Rainforest Biome – the world’s largest indoor rainforest – next to a newly-created entrance to the Biome, designed to enable effective social distancing as people enter the covered spaces from Eden’s great outdoors.

Among the botanical stars of the show ready to burst into bloom are pink and white proteas, a signature plant in South Africa, summer-flowering watsonias, spiralling aloes, and striking red-hot pokers in red and yellow hues.

The planting is being led by Florence Mansbridge, specialist horticulturist with the outdoor team, who travelled to the Veld a year ago on a study visit funded the Royal Horticultural Society and Cornwall Garden Society.

Florence said: “It was amazing to see these plants in their natural habitats and get a feel for the richness of the landscapes. South Africa is one of the most biodiverse countries in the world, with almost 20,000 different plant species.

“We are creating a vibrant exhibit that celebrates the beauty and diversity of its flora as a whole, with swathes of colour throughout the seasons and structure from trees, shrubs, succulents and Cape reeds.

“We are also drawing attention to the fact that there are many species that are under threat. Nearly a quarter of South African flora is considered either threatened with extinction or is of conservation concern. We aim to show people how they can help and inspire them with wonderful ethnobotanical and ecology stories about the plants and their visitors.”

Among the very special plants being grown are Protea and Leucadendron from seed collected by Robbie Blackhall-Miles and his partner Ben Ram, who are based in North Wales and are carrying out conservation work in the Western Cape.

Another eye-catching plant is Watsonia pillansii, distinguished by its bright orange summer flowers with elongated narrow tubes which are visited by nectar-feeding birds such as sunbirds.

A stunning architectural plant is Aloe polyphylla, which grows in a perfect spiral in the high Maluti Mountains of Lesotho. Many visitors to Eden are surprised to find out that this aloe is hardy down to -15C as long as it has good drainage.

Then there are the Cape reeds. Florence’s favourite is Thamnochortus insignis, which has beautiful green arching stems tipped with golden brown inflorescence. Due to the long stems it used for thatching and grown commercially for this purpose.

Eden already has an established National Collection of Kniphofia, known commonly as red-hot pokers. They occur naturally across South Africa and are mostly found growing near rivers or in places where conditions are damp for part of the year. In their natural habitat they are visited by sunbirds and sugarbirds.

Eden horticulturists have observed that in Cornwall bees are able to puncture holes in the tubular flowers to get to the nectar. The striking architectural variety Kniphofia caulescens is among the stand-out plants.

The new garden will continue to captivate through the seasons.  In autumn there will be a show of beautiful flowering bulbs such as Amaryllis belladonna, Hesperantha coccinea and Nerine bowdenii.

The garden complements the existing South Africa area in Eden’s Mediterranean Biome, a long-established favourite with visitors.

Florence said: “There is some overlap with the plants but we wanted to show what we can grow outside in mild, temperate Cornwall. We have been focusing on some of the higher altitude species. We are creating a naturalistic style of planting and wanted to take full advantage of the range.”

The new garden is on a south-east facing slope high above the base of the former clay quarry. It is part of what Eden calls the Wild Edge, where people entering through the Visitor Centre take a left turn and walk through gardens within the outdoor garden, including the new Korea exhibit, rugged Wild Cornwall, the Outdoor Mediterranean area, North American Prairie and then on to South Africa.

Florence said: “We are having wonderful feedback from visitors about the planting. In the past many had headed straight for the covered Biomes.  Now they are discovering the beauty and diversity of our outdoor gardens as they wander around and down the paths.”