“The most exciting thing is growing people and giving them their life back again.”- Colin Crosbie
An SRUC Horticulture alumnus, Colin Crosbie, is helping to influence and advise a brand new venture in the UK - River Garden Auchincruive. Breaking ground in March of 2018, River Garden Auchincruive has become a facility like no other on land previously owned by SRUC.
This venture is a residential training centre for people in early stages of recovery from drug and/or alcohol addictions. Independence from Drugs and Alcohol Scotland (IFDAS) purchased SRUC’s walled garden at Auchincruive, where Colin worked for a year and a half as a young adult, on the banks of the River Ayr.
After working in the gardens of Auchincruive as a young adult, Colin undertook Horticulture studies at West of Scotland Agricultural College, now SRUC. He then worked at the Windsor Great Park- the Savill and Valley gardens- before being appointed as Head Gardener to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth, The Queen Mother, where he worked for five years. Colin then became Superintendent at RHS Wisley, before working as the Garden Manager and finally the Curator. He returned home to Scotland and has his own business as a horticultural consultant and leads garden tours around the world.
“If someone had said to me, when I was working here as an 18 year old, and then going on to study Horticulture at Auchincruive, that I would end up travelling the world, looking for plants in the wild- in China and Japan; managing big gardens down south- I would have said ‘not in a million years!’, but Auchincruive gave me the opportunity and I am so grateful. And this is why I am keen to give something back to the gardens here, because of what it gave me.”
IFDAS first approached Colin when the organisation was looking to buy the grounds at Auchincruive. Colin happened to be volunteering his time at Bethany Christian Trust, an organisation that cares for homeless people in Scotland.
“Drug and alcohol addiction plays a very large part in homelessness. These people are normal people. Alcohol is a drug addiction, it’s no respecter of education, social background, anything- it can affect anyone. So it appealed to me to be able help people who are recovering from addiction and to do that in this wonderful garden.
“The therapeutic benefit of working in gardens is wonderful. At RHS Wisley, I worked with ex-servicemen, people with PTSD, and children with special needs. When you put them into a garden where they start growing plants, sewing seeds, harvesting, and watch the seasons coming around, you see how inspiring gardening is for people.
“So I thought, yes we can do that in Auchincruive. By growing people, and that’s what we’ll be doing - we’ll be growing people - they will be helping us to grow the garden.”
River Garden Auchincruive will be a three year programme, where residents will be able to learn new skills in the garden, an onsite café, and a restaurant- as well as holiday cottage let. These residents will be earning their own money and will receive support for both their mental and physical well being. A major goal for the programme is for residents to finish the course with money in their personal savings account, work experience and necessary qualifications.
Colin, while passionate about ‘growing people’, has exciting plans for the garden.
“When I was here in the 1980s, we had masses of fruit and vegetable production. We want to get that happening again, firstly to feed the people who will be working here. Then when we have our restaurant open, our own-grown produce coming into the kitchen onto the plates in front of diners will be quite something.
“And then there is the wonderful garden, which was probably created around 1800. We have a fantastic framework to work with. One of the most exciting things that we want to do in the next three to five years is to bring back the herbaceous borders. At one point the longest herbaceous borders in Scotland were found at Auchincruive. It was the most visited garden in Scotland when it opened. Thousands of people came in to walk round and see the produce on the slope, the wonderful plants in the glasshouses, and these magnificent borders. We want to bring all that back. The people will be helping us to do that are these wonderful people who will be getting over their addiction and working in the garden.”
River Garden Auchincruive broke ground for its organisation in March of this year and has welcomed its first small group of residents.
For more information on River Garden Auchincruive visit www.ifdas.net