Gardener Billy’s tool legacy nurtures veg growing project

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Keen gardener Billy Hay will have the new SAMS garden named after him. No_T15_BillyHay
Keen gardener Billy Hay will have the new SAMS garden named after him.

The widow of a prizewinning gardener well-known for growing giant organic veg has gifted his beloved tools to students creating a new garden in his name.

When Danielle Hay read a story in The Oban Times about SAMS students wanting to turn an overgrown corner on their Dunbeg campus into an organic vegetable garden, she knew what to do.

Her late husband Billy Hay, who was just 52 when he died suddenly in 2015 from an aortic aneurysm, had been the proud owner of a huge and treasured collection of hoes, spades, other long-handled tools, wheelbarrows and even a hydroponics system where he grew veg in water rather than soil.

Mrs Hay, who lives in Oban and whose twins were just 16 with her older son only 23 when Billy died, said she messaged the students with the offer of his tools to help them get their gardening project off the ground.

‘Billy would be happy about that. He was well-known for being a gardener. I’ve had to simplify our own garden since he died. He did so much. He even had a hydroponics system and polytunnels out the back. He used seaweed water a lot and never used chemicals so he would’ve approved of what the students are wanting to do. It’s fitting they should have his tools and put them to good use again,’ she said.

Former Oban High School pupil Billy, who died in his sleep 35 years to the day he started working with CalMac, was a regular at local horticultural shows, winning prizes for his 4ft long leeks, 6ft carrots and parsnips and football-sized onions. His talents were not only confined to the garden as he also played bowls for Scotland and took part in the 1994 Commonwealth Games in Victoria.

‘Losing Billy was devastating. He’d been absolutely fine, he’d just passed his medical for work. He passed away in his sleep. The pathologist told me he wouldn’t have felt a thing. It could have happened at any time,’ said Mrs Hay.

‘It was a horrible time for me and the children. The twins Ryan and Iona were only 16 at the time. Ryan’s been following in his dad’s footsteps. He’s studying horticulture at Argyll college and he’ll soon be applying to do marine biology at SAMS so he’ll have an opportunity to keep up his gardening there, using his dad’s old tools.’

SAMS student Cameron Stewart said: ‘It’ll be our pleasure to name the garden after Billy. We’ll do our best to create a garden he would have been proud of.’