Tim Smit is scathing about people who tour the world giving speeches.“It’s quite striking that their businesses suffer,” he says. “It’s valuable in that it gives you feedback, but ultimately you lose momentum for actually doing stuff.”

But luckily, the co-founder of The Eden Project has agreed to speak at the Oxford Literary Festival next Thursday about his book celebrating the venture’s 10th birthday, telling the story of how he transformed a 160-year-old exhausted china clay quarry in Cornwall into a major tourist attraction.

Home to plant species from all over the world, its central attraction is the ‘biomes’ — domed conservatories housing tropical, Mediterranean and other plants. Eden aims to highlight the interdependence between plants and people, and encourage environmental understanding. He says: “It’s becoming one of the few places in the world where you can see a tropical rainforest.”

An anthropology and archaeology graduate of Durham University, Dutch-born Mr Smit dropped archaeological digs in favour of rock music (he had a hit called Midnight Blue with Louise Tucker), then moved to Cornwall, where he joined the restoration of the neglected Victorian gardens of Heligan in the early 1990s.

Hooked on horticulture, he decided a claypit would be the perfect home for a much bigger garden. His passion and enthusiasm overcame a major flood and other setbacks, although early visitors wore hard hats as they watched construction.

He said: “We had 500 people working hard the whole time. Some of them had floods in their own houses but they worked 24/7.” It opened properly in 2001, to a stream of visitors that far exceeded expectations.

The experience left him with respect for engineers, who — in response to the flood — came up with a subterranean drainage system to collect rainwater, using it to irrigate plants and flush loos.

He describes Eden as “the world’s first rock ‘n’ roll scientific foundation”, uniting his music business background with his environmental beliefs. And he doesn’t suffer fools gladly. “Most environmentalists are boring as s***. and they come at you with zealotry bordering on mental illness. After a while you get bored with people telling you to insulate your house and so on.

“If that was actually the way to save the world we would all be doing it. We have also to address major social and political issues about sharing and agreeing access to our resources.”

He has a reputation as a demanding boss and believes in setting unrealistic deadlines. “Horticulture has a reputation of being rather bucolic. One thing we have had to address is getting our gardeners to realise that we are a stage set that requires rather theatrical interventions. I have challenged some of the certainties that exist but sometimes I get my mind changed.”

He has no objection to being described as “driven” or even “impatient”. He said: “In Britain we have got used to a slow pace of doing things because people make decisions slowly. If you set an unreasonable target, people get hypnotised by the target. With a five-year plan, you lose the will to carry on.”

He points to the speed of change in China, where he is in talks about building a version of the Eden Project for the 2014 horticultural festival in Xi’an. Eden’s outreach already stretches from the USA to Singapore, and touches on everything from overseas development to empowering the homeless, from community regeneration to climate change.

One of his proudest achievements is the Big Lunch, neighbourhood street parties which have spread throughout the UK, including Oxford. This year’s, on June 5, promises to be bigger than ever, and next year’s will mark the Queen’s diamond jubilee.

At 56, he has no plans to slow down, though he says he has a ‘fantastic team’ who could carry on the business if he fell under a bus. And does his busy schedule still allow time for gardening?

“I garden a little. I adore the sense of seeing new life. I used to think February was a dead month, but now I see the shoots of bulbs.”

But you get the impression that actually waiting for plants to grow might make him a little impatient.

l Eden: 10th Anniversary Edition is published by Eden Project at £16.99. The editor of The Oxford Times, Derek Holmes, will introduce Tim Smit at the Oxford Literary Festival at noon on Thursday.