Scotland, Europe, the world
Once noted for clotted cream, scones and jam, Cornwall has been transformed by two gigantic space-age conservatories. Words: Allan Radcliffe
ike all fantastical notions. the liden Project was conceived down the pub. ()ne fatefttl night in 1994 three (‘ornish botattists. including erstwhile prodttcer for Barry Manilow. Tim Stnit. decided to build the biggest greenhouse on the planet and hide it in a giant crater. As the
evening wore on and the real ale flowed. the ambitious brief
mttst have seemed almost attainable. And even this fanatical trio could scarcely have imagined that seven years and £80m worth of lottery cash and donations later. their vision wottld be brought so spectacularly to life.
The site is located near St Austell on the south coast. about 20 miles from Truro. and can be reached by car or frotn most coastal resorts by btts. At first glance. the transparent biospheres look like bubble-wrapped blancmanges that have recently arrived from a distant planet. The soft. bouncy look of these ‘biomes‘ is created by three layers of a weightless transparent foil. which fortns inflated pillows two metres deep in each hexagonal section of the dome surface.
Visitors are encouraged to prepare their bodies for the adjustment in temperatttre by making their first stop the ‘Warm 'l‘emperate Biome‘. which celebrates the natural gardens that bloom in spite of drottght and poor soil in Sottth
Africa. the Mediterranean Basin and (‘alifornia’s hortt of
plenty. This area boasts a visual and aromatic feast of trees bearing citrus frttit and olives. gt'apevines. pulses and Mediterranean vegetables. tobacco and cotton plants. At the centre is a debattched artwork by (‘ornish scttlptor Tim Shaw. depicting Dionysus. (ireek god of wine and festivity. as a giant. randy bttll surrounded by worshipping Maenads.
Next door. the “Humid Tropics Biome' is even more impressive for its size (24 bttses wide and l l double-decker buses high) and the sheer density of its foliage. Imagine (ilasgow's Kibble Palace at 50 times its normal size. Like the epicentre of Willy Wonka‘s cltocolate factory. a river rttns down the middle of a lttsh rainforest. with explorers travelling
124 THE LIST ‘1 W, .ltié 2’20)
upwards towards the biome's waterfall summit. This area brings its face to face with crops of the tropical world. from West Africa. Malaysia and South America. which produce food and goods from coffee. cocoa and chocolate through pineapples and peanuts to rubber. timber and chewing gttm. Be warned: this expedition does involve spending an hour iii the sweltering tropical heat. so light attire is essential.
As well as celebrating the beauty and diversity of foreign countries. the governing principle of liden is conservation. This standard extends to all aspects of the centre. from infortttative talks on becoming effective stewards of the local environment. to the goods in the gift shop. Despite the presence of a green (‘oca—(‘ola vending machine in the foyer. bearing a rather disingenuous claim that (‘oke is a true friend of the earth. everything on sale at liden is made from natural or recycled materials. These include clothes. food. perfumes. accessories. and. most intriguineg. books of recycled paper with covers created from shrunken plastic bags.
Another aim of the liden fottndation is to ‘play a role in the economic aitd social regeneration of (‘ornwallf With about 80‘; of its suppliers coming from inside Cornwall. the centre already plays a role in stimttlating the local economy. Meanwhile. hotels. llths and campsites are bttlgittg with the recent tourist influx. I stayed at l’ar Sands ('aravan Park. a bargain at Lb") for a three bedroom caravan for three nights. situated two miles from liden. and
just along the coast front l’olkerris wlterc Daphne Du Maurier
wrote Re/mru. Impatient Scots travellers can access liden by flying frotn lidinburgh airport to Bristol for around Hit) return with (lo then transferring by traiit to 'l'rttro. although. because of the huge interest in liden and (‘ornwall’s new-found 'sex and surfing’ image. Newqttay airport is increasingly accessible to tltttttcslic flights.
The biggest greenhouse on the planet came about after a chat down the pub
biospheres look like blancmanges arrived from a distant planet