"I remember looking over at the edge of a disused clay mine and accepting the biggest and most exciting adventure of my career - to join the development team of the Eden Project and turn this vast crater of spoil into a 'garden of wonder'."
My family never were gardeners, we lived with small gardens that were semi-wild spaces, shaded by trees and shrubs planted by people we never knew, dotted with stone piles and walls whose origins we had no part of. At least that meant we never got distracted by any obligation to do stuff, we mostly could let it all be, as it was. We could enjoy the complexity of the landscape and soundscape, full of creatures that invited themselves to live with us - birds, insects, even sometimes slow worms and frogs, exotic highlights of the year.
In hindsight this gave me a gift, gardens to explore as mini jungles without toxins or no-go areas, uncared-for but thriving anyway, a perfect place to wonder in. My first ventures in gardening were very modest - some pot plants and picture books. Later thumbing through the picture books I became amazed at the sheer diversity and beauty of plant life that had come to our gardens, I was hooked.
Years later, against the advice from my school I got a job in my local parks department. I saw the tension play out, of a world where we are encouraged to clip plants into straight lines and plant bedding in rows, but underneath we carry an innate love of things that are natural and free. I needed to explore this.
I wanted to learn the science behind what I saw around me and and enrolled to study horticulture at the University of Bath. Onwards to ecology research in Liverpool, restoring derelict land under the guidance of Professor Tony Bradshaw. and an introduction to the china clay lands in Cornwall. After a decade of teaching at the University of Reading the clay lands of Cornwall called my return. I remember looking over at the edge of a disused clay mine with Tim Smit and Peter Thoday and accepting the biggest and most exciting adventure of my career - to join the development team of the Eden Project with the challenge of turning this vast crater of spoil into soil that could grow a 'garden of wonder'.
Today we live with a similar garden; there are tidy bits and stuff we are obliged to do, but we are surrounded by semi-wild land and trees that planted themselves, and lots of other creatures invite themselves.