Tim Smit seems almost relieved that his Eden Project did not win the Stirling Prize. 'If you win too many awards everybody starts to hate you, ' he laughs. 'And the success of Eden speaks for itself.Magna will be a wonderful boost to Rotherham.'
But it is a potting shed in the melon garden at Heligan, his 10-year restoration project and the inspiration for Eden, that he wants to talk about (see picture). Heligan, which is an old Cornish word for willow, was the estate of the Tremayne family, dating back to 1603. 'The melon garden at Heligan is an early eighteenth-century walled garden with a linked series of vernacular buildings. The potting shed is the best one because everybody who goes in there immediately understands something about Britain. It has that unmistakable smell of creosote, mildew and compost. The potting bench runs the length of the shed, with hammered zinc on the top so you could mix the compost without getting splinters. All the details are intact, and it's incredibly evocative to be in these dark rooms.'
Smit enjoys soaking up the history of the rural estate and a way of life that was all but killed off by the First World War. 'It was last used in 1915, ' he explains.'It was rotten, with mature trees growing through the roof. In that garden is where we got our famous manure-heated pineapple pits - using the same method as in Georgian times. We've also restored the bothy, where the most junior gardener slept to make sure the manure didn't overheat and burn the place down.'