Gardens - Indoor Gardening

Greenhouses: Rooms with a view

Extend your growing season by gardening under glass

The Eden Project
At heart it's a greenhouse—or rather, two enormous greenhouses—but that doesn't give England's Eden Project its proper due as a Noah's Ark for plants. The structures are actually biodomes housing plants from all over the world in settings matching their natural environment. It's also an educational facility that demonstrates the domestication of plants—how we make use of them.

At first glance, the impression is of immense silver-white caterpillars that have landed from Mars. In fact, the greenhouses were built in a manmade crater, a worked-out china-clay pit in Cornwall, England. “It was the perfect site, a real beauty,” says Tim Smit, former rock music producer and the man behind the Eden Project. The pit, 60 metres deep, was a wind-sheltered bowl facing south when Smit encountered it two years into planning the project. Construction of the biodomes began in October 1998; they opened to the public, landscaped and planted, in March 2001.

Some of the vegetation, except for plants such as the gnarled, old olive trees in the temperate biodome (the other one holds plants from the tropics), won't reach full size for a few years. But the plants have perfectly tailored conditions in which to grow. To be energy efficient, the structures are built against the sides of the pit so their back walls soak up the sun's warmth during the day and release it at night.

Each biodome comprises three geodesic domes—connected hexagons, like honeycombs or bees' eyes—an efficient design because it spreads weight and other stresses uniformly over the whole structure. The skin of the biodomes is not glass but ethyltetrafluoroethylene, or ETFE, a transparent foil related to Teflon. It weighs less than one per cent of the equivalent amount of glass and needs much less steel framing to keep it aloft. It also lets in more light than glass, which is good for tropical plants growing in northern conditions, even if it is Cornwall, one of the warmest parts of England. —Liz Primeau

Helpful websites
B.C. Greenhouse Builders Ltd., A5 19327 94th Ave., Surrey, B.C. V4N 4E6; 888/391-4433;

Dekbrands, 5 Veronica St., Box 1027, Cobourg, Ont. K9A 4W5; 800/263-7903 or 905/372-1960;

Jacobs Greenhouse Mfg. Ltd., 371 Talbot Rd., Delhi, Ont. N4B 2A1; 519/582-2880;

Lee Valley Tools, Box 6295, Stn. J, Ottawa, Ont. K2A 1T4; 800/267-8767;

Lexis Greenhouses & Supplies, 15 Grenfell Cres., Bay 6, Ottawa, Ont. K2G 0G3; 877/611-5711 or 613/226-7358;

Oran Industries Ltd., 48 Caster Ave., Woodbridge, Ont. L4L 5Z1; 905/851-7877;

Vinylbuilt Windows, 3333 Langstaff Rd., Concord, Ont. L4K 5A8; 800/361-1753 or 905/669-1200;

Eden Project, Admission: Adults £9.50, seniors £7.50, students £5, children 5-15 £4, children under 5 free, families £22. Guided tours available. For information: 011-44-1726/811911.

image from istockphoto/Antema

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