Ten-year-old Alex Rigby, a Year 6 pupil at Brackenfield special school, in Nottingham, loves to get muddy, to be out in all weathers, to dig up onions and to eat carrots. All of which explains why he is the first blind gardener of the year, a new award from the horticulture charity Thrive, and the Royal National Institute for the Blind.
Alex, who is visually impaired and has breathing and learning difficulties, won his prize jointly with a Year 12 group, Skillpower, from Exhall Grange school, in Coventry. He did so for his three-year commitment to the Brackenfield gardening club, which he has attended every Thursday lunchtime since joining the school three years ago.
Brackenfield has a big commitment to gardening, with all key stages 3 and 4 students spending two afternoons a week working on the school's 11 deep vegetable beds, alpine and butterfly areas and polytunnel, growing parsnips, beet, onions, garlic, tomatoes, cucumbers, potatoes, carrots, swedes and leeks, all of which are cooked in the school's cooking club, or sold, or raffled to raise funds for the garden.
But Alex's participation is voluntary, says IT instructor Stephen Beresford, who, with teaching assistant Sue Ridge, runs the gardening club:
"Alex loves being outside. He has very little sight in one eye but his other eye is fine. Come rain or shine, he's out there in his favourite Wellingtons, digging up parsnips, collecting leaves, weeding, and then he goes back and tells his teacher what he's been doing."
* The Blind Gardener of the Year competition is part of Thrive and RNIB's Getting on with Gardening project. For details see www.carryongardening.org.uk