Jim McColl: City in bloom good for all our souls

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Gardening is part of living. I swear, the need to garden, to feed ourselves body and soul is in our genes.

The influence of gardening on society is therefore enormous, as they say; it ticks all the boxes – healthy exercise, healthy eating and social inclusion, to name but three. No wonder the gardening market in the UK is currently worth £5 billion per annum. The major task of the Calyx is to help people make that spend wisely.

My work in gardening takes me all over Scotland, and I’m still being asked – what has happened to the Calyx? First time round in the search for funding, we came second to the Falkirk Wheel and what a cracking project that has proved to be.

We were disappointed but not downhearted after all we had proved that there was – and still is – a need for a national facility to serve the nation’s gardeners. What we still need is a site, and a way to deliver our project.

The proposed route to fund the Calyx is through planning, hence our commitment to Edinburgh’s Garden District, where the Calyx will be integrated into one of Scotland’s most ambitious proposals for a new and different kind of community.

Importantly, it is big enough to generate the kind of funds required for us to deliver our vision. The preferred site is a dream, especially as the location is near to national travel networks, linking our site to the whole of Scotland – and its gardeners.

I have always been hugely impressed by the “campus” approach to creating our post-war universities at Stirling and Heriot-Watt, for example. These are stunning environments in which to learn, to research and to develop society. In my view, we can use that same approach for the benefit of the millions that garden week in and week out. The campus itself becomes the place for learning, where my fellow “students of life” can come to be educated, excited, enthralled and inspired about the land and how we use it to sustain ourselves.

It also gives us a personal introduction to the bigger picture – our natural environment.

We need a “Calyx campus”, staffed by people who are trained horticulturists, able to give sound, impartial advice, to demonstrate the hows and whys of gardening to help Joe Bloggs invest his hard-earned cash wisely. I want to inspire people across Scotland who have their own few square yards to garden in.

Undoubtedly, the Calyx would become a major visitor attraction in itself – with the underlying bonus for people to transform their own gardens helping to enrich their lives. We have the dream site, and we can deliver something wonderful for ordinary people from the whole of Scotland and indeed from all parts of the globe. Gardening is one of the great and most accessible forms of creative and healthy activity. Let’s show the world how it can be done.

Jim McColl MBE has been a presenter of the BBC’s Beechgrove Garden for more than 35 years.