Saturday, 24 October 2009

A day at the Heligan Gardens

Pentawan, Cornwall, UK

Ian Martin of the Eden Project led us on a Saturday visit to the Lost Gardens of Heligan, which gave us a glimpse into horticulture in Cornwall. At the entrance, there was an autumn harvest of diverse varieties of food plants that reminded me of the ‘biodiversity fairs’ that we sponsor in southern Mexico, in which members of indigenous communities bring the food, medicinal and other useful plants for public display during holy day festivals in their villages. At Heligan, the vegetables come from carefully tended plots in the center of the gardens, each variety labelled with handsome, hand-printed wooden stakes. What most interested me is the successful creation of microclimates that allow Cornwall gardeners to grow many exotic species introduced by plant explorers from around the world. One example is the ‘pineapple pit’ – a slanting greenhouse with an underground heating system that produced the humidity and warmth needed to encourage this Amazonian species to produce fruit. This appreciation of microclimate extends to the valley of vegetation – unfortunately called the ‘Jungle’ – oriented obliquely from the gardens towards the sea. It contains a tangle of tropical and temperate plants transplanted from afar, a testimony to the creative horticultural knowledge and practice developed over centuries in this region.

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