Bloom by name and nature

Achillea, rudbeckia and grasses.
Achillea, rudbeckia and grasses.

IT’S not too often you get to meet a master plants-man whose name is legendary on both sides of the Atlantic.

So when Adrian Bloom came to Alnwick recently as part of the RHS outreach gardening talk series, it was too good an opportunity to miss.

Adrian and Rosemary Bloom.

Adrian and Rosemary Bloom.

Blooms of Bressingham has been synonymous with the best herbaceous perennials for decades. In the 1960s Adrian and his brother Rob further developed the nursery business, started by their father in 1926, and in 1985 gave it the present brand name.

But even in the early days, his father Alan Bloom was bringing The Dell Garden, Diss, Norfolk, to the attention of an eager public. He appeared on television with shoulder-length hair and gold earring, the opposite of Percy Thrower, but a knowledgeable nurseryman who introduced cultivars that remain very popular today – Crocosmia Lucifer for example.

Both father and son became internationally-known for the perennial varieties they introduced worldwide but most notably in America. In this country they still hold the distinction of being the only father and son to hold the RHS Victoria Medal of Honour at the same time.

While immersed in the family business, Adrian has developed his own six acre Foggy Bottom Garden over the past 30 years. It lies next to Bressingham Gardens and is big on plant associations.

This exemplifies his philosophy of planning and planting for continual change in the garden, which leads to year-round interest on even the smallest site.

His garden has a framework of 500 conifer varieties, one of the largest collections in the UK, and because he has worked with them since the beginnings of his career, I’d question whether anyone has greater knowledge in this field.

Through his use of these, heathers and other plants he has become the leading exponent in creating year-round colour in the garden.

His books on the subject are legion. Click his name into an online search engine and one of the obvious links is to Amazon, where you can find an occasional collaboration with his son Richard – a talented photographer.

Adrian is presently managing director of Blooms Nurseries Limited, which is the family business, and honorary president of Blooms of Bressingham.

Over the years he has travelled widely abroad promoting the business, and designing smaller gardens in Japan, New Zealand, Australia and America. For many years he has appeared on television programmes both sides of the Atlantic and still spends some of his time working in America.

Given the background, the immense experience and esteem I’d held at a distance for this gardener over the years, a request to take him on a pre-talk tour of The Alnwick Garden was like another dream come true. What a delight to be in the company of this modest, quietly-spoken gentleman who was accompanied by his wife Rosemary.

His visit happened to coincide with the Spring Flower Festival weekend, with stunning tulip displays, music, and associated activities for all ages throughout the garden. A far cry it seems from his previous visit three years earlier, whilst passing through the town en route to Scotland. He was impressed by the progress and could not believe the high standard of maintenance throughout the garden.

On any gardening tour there are times to listen, times to talk. In the Taihaku Orchard he asked to be reminded of the Cherry Ingram story – my turn to talk. A few steps later he pondered the date of a Wellingtonia (Sequoiadendron giganteum), and began to explain that the two giants of north-western America (Sequoia sempervirens a Sequoiadenron giganteum) were introduced in 1843 and 1853 respectively.

As the latter arrived only a year after the Duke of Wellington’s death, it was called a Wellingtonia in his honour, much to the annoyance of many Americans. The word sequoia derives from the Cherokee Indians’ culture. Adrian Bloom explains in his updated version of Gardening with Conifers that great competition existed among estate owners to be first in having some of these conifers to show off to visiting royalty and dignitaries. This would suggest planting by the Fourth Duke at Alnwick.

And so to the gardening talk attended by enthusiasts, some of whom had visited Blooms of Bressingham. The title, Blooms Best Perennials and Grasses, was taken from the book he’d just written, copies of which were available to buy (ISBN 9780881929317).

Adrian’s calm, authoritative, PowerPoint presentation relayed images of Foggy Bottom developing over the years, with absolute gems of group plantings revealed. He is strong on creating rivers of bloom that run through a piece of landscape. These feature key plants such as his proud introduction, the herbaceous Geranium Rozanne.

There are hundreds of perennials and grasses available to gardeners but how can they know whether they’re making the right choice? In this talk and in the book, Adrian addresses that question and calls on his lifetime of knowledge to name the 250 best plants.

He further distils this into a group of 12 as follows: Ophiopogon planiscarpus Nigrescens, Helleborus x hybridus, Bergenia Bressingham Ruby, Brunnera macrophylla Jack Frost, Hosta Francee, Geranium Rozanne, Actaea simplex Brunette, Hackonechloa macra Alboaurea, Crocosmia Lucifer, Miscanthus sinensis Morning Light, Sedum Matrona and Rudbeckia fulgida Goldsturm.

Sorry about the long names folks but as Adrian Bloom would tell you, some plants have no common name, others have several, but a single botanical name can be recognised anywhere in the world.