Photo of Alan Gardner in the spectrum, next to purple text

Alan Gardner is a gardener. He’s A. Gardner. Literally, it’s his name.

Alan has created Royal Horticultural Society gardens and won awards at Chelsea, Hampton Court and Tatton Park. At age fifteen, Alan bought a cactus from his local florist because he liked its shape. He placed the cactus on his windowsill. One of his dad’s colleagues got hold of an unwanted seed catalogue and Alan dug up the garden within the week.

In an interview with Your Autism magazine, Alan told our charity that “I was bullied at school quite severely, because I stood out as being different – and that was even before the nail varnish and the tattoos! So I thought, 'Okay, if I’m different, I’m going to be really different'. I had the last laugh, I just had to wait for gardening to become rock and roll.” After a producer from Channel 4 saw a YouTube video of Alan talking about his garden “Out of the Blue” at the Chelsea Flower Show, he was cast to present the Autistic Gardener.

On the program, Alan mentored five other autistic gardeners, one of whom is now in horticultural college. In one moving scene, another cried because Alan took her ideas seriously, showing large audiences the impact of accepting autistic people’s differences and encouraging their strengths. Only 16% percent of autistic people are in full time employment. Autistic people told our charity that they want to work, but many employers don’t see their abilities, they see their autism. Alan believes that being autistic has made him a skilled gardener as, like lots of people on the autism spectrum, he collects lots of information on a specialised subject. Alan told us that he “thinks about gardening 365 days a year, 24 hours a day” and is, “incapable of doing anything half-heartedly. I could have easily made a living designing gardens in Birmingham, couldn’t I? But no – I had to go to the Chelsea Flower Show. That puts me in the top fifty garden designers on the planet. But I’m still not happy with that. I’ve got to keep going back till I get gold for best in show.”

Alan is committed to making a society that works for autistic people and we made him an ambassador for the National Autistic Society in 2015. He has campaigned for our charity by acting as the face of our partnership with the National Gardening Scheme where we expanded the benefits of gardens to a number of our local support branches across the country, supporting his hometown of Birmingham’s Autism Friendly Award and donating all the plants from his award winning Chelsea Garden Show. He was the cover star of Your Autism Magazine in Autumn 2015.

Alan’s commitment, mentorship, advocacy and pink hair demonstrates what we can do to create a society that works for autistic people. Once seeds are planted, we can watch them grow.