Documents: Special Interest: Gardening In England:

Blooms of Bressingham - A Family Tradition
by Kathy Wood
by Kathy Wood



Kathy Wood has been the feature garden columnist for The Muskoka Sun for the past 8 years as well doing freelance-writing on gardening, lifestyle, travel and business.

She is a Region VII Director (Canada and International) for the Garden Writers Association and a member of the Bracebridge Horticultural Society.

Kathy enjoys sharing her knowledge and photographs with others as a frequent speaker at horticultural societies, garden clubs and women’s groups throughout Muskoka and central Ontario, providing gardening workshops through the Town of Bracebridge Culture and Recreation Department and as a provincial judge for Communities in Bloom.


November 2, 2008

In the summer of 2004, I was fortunate to join a group of Canadian and American garden writers on Donna’s Garden Writers tour of England.

Britain has always been known for its strong gardening tradition, perhaps that is because, unlike Canada – the new land, it has a deeper history. The moderate climate and the Victorians intense passion for nature and botany created a land of respected and knowledgeable plantsmen. Alan Bloom was one such man and he, in turn, passed on his love for gardening to his son, Adrian. Bressingham Gardens showcase six acres of incredible and unusual plants in Norfolk, 90 miles northeast of London.

In 1930 Alan Bloom founded a nursery specializing in Herbaceous Perennials and Alpine Plants. He moved to Norfolk in 1946 and created his Dell Garden between 1953 and 1962. This park like meadow garden now contains over 5,000 species and varieties of perennials from around the world. In the mid 1950’s it was Alan who pioneered the use of hardy perennials in 47 “island beds”. Some say that Bressingham Gardens is the “home of the island bed” for it was Alan who popularized this familiar garden feature. Alan found that island beds were easier to tend than the traditional wide herbaceous borders and that the islands offered a series of pictures rather than a single view as one traversed the garden space. The Bressingham Gardens are now the home to the National Collection of Miscanthus sinensis. The Dell Garden is the quintessential English garden, full of bright expanses of colourful blooms in all shapes and sizes along with textural foliage expertly chosen to provide continuous colour from spring through fall. Bright swaths of green grass pathways lead you in, among, and around the islands beds providing you with the opportunity to view the stunning beds from all sides. For those with a penchant for picture taking, the Dell Garden is a photographer’s paradise. The rising sun filtering through the disappearing mists make for unforgettable photos while the setting sun makes the flowers glow with mellow evening light.

Alan’s son Adrian, returned home in 1975, after traveling in North America during his youth, to create his Foggy Bottom Garden, located a few hundred yards from his father’s Dell Garden. While his father’s garden featured hardy perennials, Adrian’s passion is conifers. This garden, created 30 years ago, exhibits a foliage garden to provide year round seasonal colour and interest. The centerpiece of Foggy Bottom is 500 varieties of conifers, collected from all over the world and tested for hardiness to English conditions. A tour around his garden illustrates the amazing number and variety of conifer species. From weeping to upright, from pyramidal to globes, in shades of greens, yellows, blues and grays the diversity is bewildering. Although this is a large garden with broad meandering grass pathways, and a vista around ever curve, Adrian has tried to showcase plant associations and ideas to provide a succession of colour, texture and interest that can be easily adapted to the smaller setting of a home garden. Adrian’s passion for conifers certainly opened my eyes to a plant group I hadn’t really given more than a passing glance previously. While Alan’s garden features traditional English heritage structures in its thatched cottage and stone bridges, Adrian has taken a liking to all things American. The home he built is a ranch style bungalow that blends into the landscape and in the woodland area separating the two gardens, Adrian plans on planting native American species plants and building a covered bridge. Although so different in their nature these two gardens compliment each other.

Alan was responsible for breeding and introducing to the market nearly 200 varieties of perennials. Adrian and his brother Rob developed the nursery business in 1962 and it was Adrian who created the Blooms of Bressingham brand in 1985, distributing his father’s plants all over the world. Although the Bloom family sold the Blooms of Bressingham plant distribution business recently, son Adrian still acts as honourary President and consultant to the company helping to select each season’s offerings. However, those who are lucky enough to live in England can purchase plants directly from the Bressingham Plant Centre, one of the most innovative and comprehensive in the country located across the road from the gardens. Throughout the seasons, gardening enthusiasts will be able to purchase over 5,000 varieties of plants seen in both the Dell Garden and the Foggy Bottom Garden plus many more unusual perennials.

Alan Bloom was awarded both the Victoria Medal of Honour (V.M.H.) and the Veitch Memorial Medal (V.M.M.) by the Royal Horticultural Society and a M.B.E. in recognition of his great contribution to the horticultural world. His son Adrian was also awarded the Victoria Medal of Honour. Adrian was responsible for putting up the Blooms exhibit for the Chelsea Flower show for 35 years. They are the only father and son to simultaneously hold the prestigious Victoria Medal of Honour.

After 1962 with the gardens now established, Alan developed another pastime, collecting steam locomotives and traction engines rescuing them from the scrap heaps of Britain. He restored the engines and developed a museum of steam powered engines with a fascinating collection of steam memorabilia located next to his gardens. The museum is also the home to the Dad’s Army collection of items from the hit BBC TV series. A small train takes one on a trip around the gardens on a network of railways while children (young and old) can enjoy a ride on the antique carousel – I did.

I was fortunate to meet Alan Bloom on this summer visit. With failing eyesight and hearing and the fact that his home (also operating as a Bed and Breakfast) sits amidst his public garden, Mr. Bloom now rarely ventured out in his garden. However, upon hearing that fellow garden writers were visiting his garden, we were told that he would like to meet us at an appointed time outside Bressingham Hall, his Georgian home. Even at 98 years of age he was happy to share his love of gardening with us. With his gold earring and his trademark long white hair, Alan continued to be a real renaissance man. On March 31, 2005 Alan Bloom passed away, the gardening world losing a great and renowned plantsman, perhaps one of the greatest of the twentieth century. However, the beauty of the Bressingham Gardens will live on in these historic gardens under the direction of son Adrian, Adrian’s son Jason Bloom and Alan’s son-in-law Jamie Blake as the family tradition continues. Adrian is constantly upgrading and renovating the gardens with new and unusual plant varieties. For more information about the Bressingham Gardens or to take a virtual tour of the site check out their website at www.bressinghamgardens.com .

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