The Eden Project

First written and posted on 31st July, 2012. Please click here if you would like to read the original post on This and That.

Some of you may have noticed I haven’t updated my blog for a while, the reason being my life has been a roller-coaster for the past couple of weeks – in a good way! In September I will be moving to Cornwall to start a year’s apprenticeship in horticulture with the Eden Project. I can’t believe it, I’m so excited!

I applied for it at the beginning of July, when I wrote my application I was ill with a nasty cold – I looked through it once I was better and noticed a vast array of grammar and spelling mistakes. I definitely didn’t get in based on my English skills!

I didn’t hear anything for nearly two weeks and assumed I hadn’t got any further in the process – until I got a phone call from Eden on the 19th, inviting me down for an interview on the 23rd – omigod!! I was shell shocked and totally elated at the same time, I honestly didn’t think I stood a chance even getting through to the interview stage – especially when I read four thousand people had applied for the apprenticeship!

I had less than a week to prepare myself for my first ever interview, that fact alone was making me hugely apprehensive – also when I thought about how much came down to me making a good first impression added even more to my nerves. I don’t think I slept a wink the night before my interview!

I live in south west Devon, about sixty miles away from the Eden Project itself, which is near St Austell in Cornwall. My parents drove me down, it helped just having them there for moral support.

Once we’d found our way to the Foundation Building (the place interviews were being held) I was beginning to feel sick with nerves – forget butterflies, it felt like I had herds of rhinos stampeding in my stomach!

Looking back I don’t think my interview went that well, I think there were a lot of areas where I could have said more and worded things differently. Not to mention the most awful moment when I was asked “what do you know about the Eden Project?” and my mind went completely blank. It was like there was a flashing neon sign in my head with the word NOTHING written all over it – which wasn’t true at all, I had loads to say, I just couldn’t seem to remember anything!

The one thing I didn’t want to do in my interview at any point was um and ahh and that’s exactly what I did when I couldn’t think of anything to say! There was a man and a woman asking questions, and another woman at the side of the room doing a lot of writing as I answered each question. I found it hard watching someone speak and write at the same time, but I tried not to let it put me off too much.

I don’t think the man, James, liked me at all, I felt more uncomfortable with him that I did with the woman – Dina came across as someone really nice, and even made a few jokes which relaxed me a little. 

You’re probably reading this and thinking “how the hell did I get the apprenticeship?” when all I’ve done is highlight the negative, but it wasn’t all bad! Once I got into my stride I managed to think about my answer in advance as the question was being asked, and once I got talking about the place I work at the moment (a garden nursery) I opened up completely – that was the best part of the interview by far. 

It must have been about half an hour/forty five minutes long, yet felt like it had been no time at all. When I think of it now most of it is still a blur, it was one of the intensest moments of my life and I can only remember little fragments of it. . . Maybe in a way that’s a good thing!

After the interview I was introduced to a woman called Claire, who runs the horticultural course at the Duchy College, which I’ll be attending every Friday. I didn’t know that at the time of course, my head was all over the place after having just come out of the interview room so all that she said pretty much went in one ear and out the other!

My parents and I had planned to look round St Austell afterwards to see if there were any suitable places to rent as my accommodation, but we were given free passes into the Eden Project and couldn’t turn that offer down, so we spent the rest of the day looking round the site.

Apparently I had been to the Eden Project before but I was about five or six so I don’t remember it at all – however this time was completely different, it was amazing. I don’t think I quite realised the scale of the whole thing, I couldn’t compare it to anything I’d ever seen before. The second I saw the massive bubbling biomes I was lost for words – it took my breath away.

I was like a child in a sweet shop that day, running round looking at all the different sculptures, gardens and plants – oh the plants!! I took about three hundred photos which even I admit is a ridiculous number!

You can see throughout this post I’ve included my favourite shots of the different parts of Eden I saw that day. It’s such a huge place with loads of nooks and crannies that we didn’t have time to see it all by any means but the main areas we went to were both biomes, and round the central attractions outside the event tent.

The whole design for Eden is an incredible feat of imagination and creativity, there’s not a single waste of space throughout the entire site, every corner is filled with something wonderful and unusual. I think that’s what I love about it so much, the surprises you see round every bend and the way I couldn’t anticipate what I would see next.

The first stops we made were to the biomes – I’d read so much about them, and I wasn’t disappointed by any means! The Rainforest one was awesome, it really felt like you were in a jungle in the Amazon, not in a greenhouse in Cornwall!

There was a maze of different pathways, each one leading you back onto the main trail with fantastic sights to see on the way. I particularly loved the exotic flowers, including the banana tree with its long trailing purple blossom. I’ve seen plants like that on TV before but never in the flesh.

There was also a hut which was a replica of one you would find people living in, in the rainforest. Bamboo trees surrounded it, indoors there was even a mosquito net over the bed – I couldn’t believe how realistic it was.

For me the climax was definitely the waterfall, it was right at the top of the biome and the atmosphere up there was astonishing. I’m used to that type of humidity (working in glasshouses and polytunnels every day your body adapts to that kind of temperature) but even so I was still sweating buckets!

The water wound its way down to the bottom of the biome, there was a small pool at the end of a bridge and at first I couldn’t work out why it was sparkling so much – then I realised it was full of coins! I threw a five pence piece in, just to give me luck after my interview. Maybe that’s what clinched the deal for me!

There were stone walls in the biome and someone had cleverly painted tribal drawings on them. Sometimes there were short poems to accompany the pictures, which made it come alive even more.

There was one disappointment in both biomes though, usually a viewing platform is open which enables you to go right to the very top and look down on the whole biome – but it was closed that week due to the high temperatures. It wouldn’t have been safe for anyone to go up there without collapsing from heatstroke!

There was also a hot air balloon in there too, but again it couldn’t be used for the same reasons as the viewing platform. I love heights and really wanted to get a bird’s eye view of the place but there’s always next time. . .

It was quite a relief to leave the tropical heat of the Rainforest and go and get some fresh air! Outside it had turned out to be a beautiful day, sunshine and clear skies – you couldn’t have wished for better weather.

We had a picnic sitting in one of the many eating areas around Eden, then explored the gardens before steeling ourselves into the next biome! The gardens at Eden are gorgeous, full of camellias, dahlias, sweet peas, cosmos, roses. . . there was even a section full of meadow flowers. If I could pitch a tent and live there I would!

The Mediterranean biome was hot, but it was a drier, more pleasant heat – nothing like the stickiness of the Rainforest. I’d never seen so many grasses and cacti before, with sandy soil getting in between my sandals and my toes!

It was like being in a desert, only with more trees and canopies overhead to provide shade. There were a lot more sculptures in it than the other biome, they each had their similarities but both had a contrast to them which made them unique in their own right. I couldn’t possibly pick a favourite!

Time was getting on a bit by this time, my parents and I had one last look round the outside gardens then made our way home – it’s a two hour drive from Cornwall back home to Devon.

It had been a fantastic day, but I thought that’s as far as it’s going to go – I went to sleep that night resigning myself to the fact that based on my interview, and having seen myself what an outstanding place Eden was, that there was no chance of me getting the apprenticeship in a million years.

So you can imagine my complete and utter shock when Eden rang the next day, congratulating me and telling me I’d won the place. OMIGOD!!! I hadn’t prepared myself for that outcome at all, I was speechless. That’s the only time in my life I’ve ever cried out of pure happiness! I was a blubbering wreck for the rest of the day, I don’t think I knew myself how much this opportunity meant to me until I was given it.

Even now, a week later, I still can’t believe it’s happened and how much my life’s changed in the space of ten days. The initial shock has rubbed off a tad now, it doesn’t feel quite as overwhelming as it did – but I still don’t know what to say. Which, for those of you who know me, is very unusual indeed!

I have so much stuff to sort out before I move away that I don’t know where to begin. I have a welcome day on the 3rd September, and my actual start date is a week later, on the 10th. I have less than six weeks to pass my driving test, buy a car, sort out my finances and say goodbye to my family and friends. There’s nothing like putting yourself under pressure is there. . . The one thing I can say about myself is I don’t do things by halves!

There is one worry which has been taken off my shoulders, and that’s accommodation. Dina sent me details last week about a bungalow which is on the nursery site for Eden, seven miles away from the Eden Project itself. There’s only one other member of staff who lives there full time, and their room is on the other side of the office buildings, so I’ll basically have the place to myself.

Rent is £62.50p a week which is great, I wouldn’t find it cheaper elsewhere. I earn £420 a month, (which goes up to £540 in January) so for this year I will be living on £42.50p a week, once rent is taken away. That’ll be just enough for food and any other necessities, like petrol, etc!

I’m going down to Cornwall again next week with my parents to look at my accommodation (Dina and James are going to give me a guided tour!) and also to go round Eden again with my best friend. There’s going to be plenty to write about over the next month as this experience is completely new to me – I can’t wait to share it with you all!

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