Dr Jo Elworthy: Living in Eden – how to leave the world better than you found it

Nov 18 2019

Dr Jo Elworthy joins David Oakes in this episode of Trees A Crowd

David Oakes

David Oakes


Dr Jo Elworthy


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About this episode:

Dr Jo Elworthy is a botanist and the director of interpretation at the Eden Project in Cornwall. She’s been involved with Eden since its inception, and has spent a great deal of time researching plantlife as well as creating books and films specialising in botany and horticulture. A chance encounter with the man who dreamt up the Eden Project, Sir Tim Smit, led her to take the biggest risk of her career – and the best decision of her life. The sounds of robins frame this conversation as Dr Elworthy sets out to prove that we can leave the world better than we found it, armed with many captivating anecdotes about the trail that led her to paradise. Jo also talks about her collection of four-leaf clovers, how to make art inspired by cyanobacteria, filling her father’s Jaguar with winkles, and why moss is as spectacular as David has been telling people it is for the past 30 years!

David's thoughts:

The very robin which can be heard throughout our opening discussion.


Cornwall is a bastard of a long way away from anywhere other than Devon. In fact, where the Eden Project is situated – sandwiched between St Austell and St Bazey – means you’re still an hour and a half away from the furthest reaches of this magnificent county, famed for the smallest, windiest, single-carriage tracks ever known to man. Perhaps it is this isolation, this distance, Cornwall’s separation from the rest of the country, that gives the Eden Project such allure. So many people I meet desire a visit to this man-made paradise, and yet most never have. Sir Tim Smit came to talk at my school when I must have been about 16, just as the Project had opened; I remember being entranced by the scale of his vision. I longed to go. And yet it took me 18 years to get my act in gear and to make the trip down along the South coast, through Dartmoor, to visit this magical world. Obviously, the podcast gave me the perfect excuse for a return visit shortly afterwards.

Speaking to Jo was such an uplifting, positive experience – one I hope you can now share. Her attitude towards people, as well as towards the plants she has come to represent, couldn’t be more open and enthusiastic. To hear someone talk so passionately about how to “leave the world better than you found it”, and to hear how Eden has become a place for hope where one can find a reaffirmation of a belief system, yet without any sound of artifice or bombast, was such a joyous experience.

Take the risk, she says. Take nothing and make something, she implores. This is a woman who sold her house to follow an idea. This is a woman who lauds science and loves moss. How can you not respect her words when she speaks?


Jo and David with “Infinity Blue”


There has been a lot in my life recently that required trust and instinct. Indeed, starting this podcast, distracting myself from my usual professional trajectory, required a certain optimistic inquisitiveness and hope. But the ensuing adventures, encounters, experiences and pleasures have been as varied as they have been life affirming. To sit out of a morning and to talk birds and bugs and botany with an informed stranger is a true joy. But the manner in which much of this has, after the fact, seemed weighted with coincidence, prescience and heightened relevance seems, to echo Jo’s cry to respect the holistic, the interconnectedness of things. Whether it be scientific interconnectedness, or human social reaction and consequence (can you indeed separate the two?), I feel our planet and our relationship with it can only benefit exponentially.

How better to end this blog than with a video embracing interconnectivity of art and nature – as does this podcast, hopefully! Here’s a trailer for “∞ blue” (“Infinity Blue”):



Eden Project – https://www.edenproject.com/

Eden Project (Twitter) – https://twitter.com/edenproject

Lost Gardens of Heligan – https://www.heligan.com/

Sir Tim Smit (Wikipedia) – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tim_Smit

Kew Gardens – https://www.kew.org/

James Lovelock (Wikipedia) – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/James_Lovelock

“Infinity Blue” by Studio Swine – https://www.studioswine.com/work/infinity-blue/

Silent Running (IMDB) – https://www.imdb.com/title/tt0067756/

Biosphere 2 – http://biosphere2.org/

The Hero’s Journey (Wikipedia) – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hero%27s_journey

Homeostasis (Wikipedia) – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Homeostasis

Tardigrades (Wikipedia) – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tardigrade


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