Q&A Head of Horticulture at The Eden Project

Paul, centre right, with some of his Eden team 

Paul Stone is the Eden Project’s Head of Horticulture, with 30 years’ experience building award-winning gardens – twice winning best in show at Hampton Court Flower Show and four times winning gold at the Chelsea Flower Show. Paul embarked on his new role in April of this year, however has been with the Eden horticultural team from the beginning, supervising the manufacture of 83,000 tonnes of top soil made from recycled waste and the complex planting of the Rainforest Biome.

You have been an integral part of the Eden team from the start – what are some of the greatest environmental challenges you have faced during this time?

By the far the biggest challenge for us has been natural water. The Eden Project sits in a disused clay pit – which is essentially a big hole in the ground trying to fill itself in. Springs appear frequently, and we’ll find that our newly-placed top soil has been washed away or has slumped in unpredictable areas, which is a problem we’ve had to deal with since the beginning. Most recently, a large landslip caused the centre of the outdoor garden to be closed to the public for two years.

Rain also erodes the landscape, so we have drainage systems and a variety of different methods in place to collect it and use as grey water for our public toilets, and for watering the plants. Diligent maintenance is essential as without these systems, the site would flood as was once, disastrously, the case a few years ago when our pumps failed to deal with the flow of water into the site.

How many species of plant does the Rainforest Biome hold now?

We currently have over one thousand species of plant in the Rainforest Biome - conifer, fern and monocot (including bamboo and bananas) to name a few!

Can you tell us more about the upcoming Korean Garden, opening next spring?

There’s a section in the northern part of the garden called the “wild edge” which focuses on biodiversity. We’ve developed this in collaboration with the new Seoul Botanic Garden - who we’re also working with on the theme of renewal and regeneration - looking at the effect that war can have on the environment and plants that contribute to restoration and re-greening. As part of this, we’re planning to display a “de-militarised” zone (such as the one between North and South Korea) alongside a rock cascade and a pagoda, as well as many hundreds of plants native to Korea - including lilac, oak and magnolia.

What advice would you give to anyone starting out in horticulture or those wanting to take the next step to be head gardeners?

Horticulture is a very broad profession and requires diverse skills and knowledge, but don’t let this put you off, as it’s impossible to be an expert at everything! Resilience and patience are required skills in this field as many of the jobs can be repetitive and involve a lot of hard work and effort. The reward at the end your endeavors - whether it’s a newly-grown plant or eating your delicious fruit and vegetables – make it all the more worthwhile. Being a head gardener means you’re also in charge of people as well as horticulture; helping staff to flourish is as pleasing as growing great plants. 

What are the most difficult challenges you face on a day to day basis at the Eden Project?

I find that I’m often needed across a wide range of meetings and communication on a daily basis, so management of my time can be a challenge. It’s particularly frustrating, because I’d love to spend more time simply with the team and in the garden, striving for world class horticulture and delivering the Eden Project message. Planning for deadlines is vital at Eden, because there’s so much going on all the time and very high levels of expectation.

What do you love most about your job?

I’m so lucky because, as a horticulturalist, I have never woken up in the morning not wanting to go to work – which I realise is such a special thing! It’s a combination of many factors, including working so closely with nature and being able to express my creativity.

What are the five key things you would say are most crucial to your role?

  1. Listening
  2. Understanding
  3. Communication
  4. Action
  5. Reviewing

To find out more about THE EDEN PROJECT, please visit their website here