Alan Bloom

Innovative Norfolk nurseryman


Alan Herbert Vauser Bloom, nurseryman: born Over, Cambridgeshire 19 November 1906; MBE 1997; twice married (one son, four daughters, and one son deceased); died Bressingham, Norfolk 30 March 2005.

Alan Herbert Vauser Bloom, nurseryman: born Over, Cambridgeshire 19 November 1906; MBE 1997; twice married (one son, four daughters, and one son deceased); died Bressingham, Norfolk 30 March 2005.

It is not very long since the world of horticulture was peopled by a host of colourful, even mildly eccentric individuals who had in common an unbounded enthusiasm for plants, an understanding of the conditions in which they thrived, a commitment to growing them to the highest standards and to expanding the range available to gardeners. Today, when many former family nurseries have been acquired by large corporations, such characters are few. Alan Bloom was among the last of them.

I first set eyes on him some 13 years ago - a tall man, still muscular though well into his eighties, his thick white hair tumbling below his shoulders as he forked up clumps of aconites for sale at the family garden centre he had founded 40 years earlier at Bressingham in Norfolk. Yet, although he looked for all the world like an ageing hippie, he had been one of the most innovative plantsmen of the post-war years, responsible for a profound change in the look of British gardens.

It was in the 1950s, shortly after he founded the nursery in the grounds of the Georgian Bressingham Hall, that he developed a theory about growing perennials. Until then, they had been confined principally to long, deep mixed borders of the kind popularised by William Robinson and Gertrude Jekyll. These were usually sited beneath walls and fences, in shade for a part of the day, which meant that many plants became leggy and needed staking. In addition, such borders are difficult to weed.

"I realised that perennials weren't getting a fair deal," he told me, after I had persuaded him to put down his fork and go into the house for a talk. His solution was to grow them in "island beds", dug into the middle of lawns and other open areas. This allowed the plants to grow more sturdily, as well as giving access to the hoe from all sides.

He performed a similar service for lovers of alpine plants, another of his specialities. Until then these had normally been grown in rockeries, again notoriously difficult to maintain without a staff of professional gardeners. Bloom found that they thrived, and made more of a visual impact, in simple raised beds, where they did not have to fight for space with large stone boulders.

He demonstrated both these techniques in his six-acre garden, the Dell, which became a popular attraction for gardeners and helped to establish Bressingham as one of the four or five most successful nurseries in Britain. He introduced nearly 200 new perennials during his career, including popular varieties of crocosmia, astilbe, geranium and phlox. In the 1960s, when steam trains were being phased out on British railways, he fed another of his enthusiasms by buying up several old engines and establishing a steam museum next to the nursery, further increasing the flow of visitors.

As the son of a nurseryman, Charles Bloom, Alan's career was decided for him at an early age. At 16 he began performing menial tasks at a succession of nurseries in the east and south of England. This was in the early 1920s, when the chief means of delivering batches of plants to customers was to take them by horse and cart to the nearest railhead. In 1926 he started his own wholesale nursery at Oakington, Cambridgeshire, and bought a farm at Wickham Fen to grow his stock. By the time war broke out in 1939 the nursery was a thriving concern.

During the Second World War he switched to growing food crops and in 1946 he sold the nursery and farm and moved to Bressingham. Discouraged by the Arctic conditions of his first winter, he decided to accept the challenge offered by emigration to Canada and in 1948 he took his young family to Vancouver Island, leaving the fledgling Bressingham nursery in the hands of a manager.

He never settled in Canada and after two years he came back to his nursery. In the 1960s, after some soul-searching, he decided to expand into the retail market by following the trend towards growing plants in containers, the advantage being that they were easier to transport and display and could be planted out at almost any time of the year.

"I was reluctant to change," he wrote in his 1991 book, Alan Bloom's Hardy Perennials,

preferring to grow alpines in pots and perennials in the open ground as I had always done,

and to keep to wholesale only; but our retailing customers were calling for container-grown plants.

He also had reservations about advances in propagation by tissue culture, which he thought would undermine the old virtues of human skill and commitment in plant breeding. But he concluded: "Material progress is ever a two-sided affair, of gain for some and loss for others."

In 1972 he retired from the day-to-day running of the nursery, leaving it in the hands of his sons Adrian and Robert, but he continued to work in the garden, and he remained at Bressingham even after the nursery was sold to outside investors in the 1990s.

He wrote some 30 books and appeared often on television and radio, most recently in a radio interview last year. The Royal Horticultural Society recognised his achievements with the award of both the Victoria Medal of Honour and the Veitch Memorial Medal, and in 1997 he was appointed MBE.

Michael Leapman

Sport
world cup 2014A history of the third-place play-offs
News
Tommy Ramone performing at The Old Waldorf Nightclub in 1978 in San Francisco, California.
peopleDrummer Tommy was last surviving member of seminal band
Life and Style
Swimsuit, £245, by Agent Provocateur
fashion

Diving in at the deep end is no excuse for shirking the style stakes

Sport
The Mexico chief finally lets rip as his emotions get the better of him
world cup 2014
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Voices
Spectators photograph the Tour de France riders as they make their way through the Yorkshire countryside
voicesHoward Jacobson: Line the streets for a cycling race? You might just as well watch a swarm of wasps
Life and Style
lifeHere's one answer to an inquisitive Reddit user's question
Life and Style
Several male celebrities have confessed to being on a diet, including, from left to right, Hugh Grant, Benedict Cumberbatch and Ryan Reynolds
...and the weight loss industry is rubbing its hands in glee
News
peopleDave Legeno, the actor who played werewolf Fenrir Greyback in the Harry Potter films, has died
Sport
Mario Balotelli, Divock Origi, Loic Remy, Wilfried Bony and Karim Benzema
transfersBony, Benzema and the other transfer targets
Sport
Yaya Touré has defended his posturing over his future at Manchester City
News
Detail of the dress made entirely of loom bands
news
Life and Style
beauty
Sport
There were mass celebrations across Argentina as the country's national team reached their first World Cup final for 24 years
transfersOne of the men to suffer cardiac arrest was 16 years old
Arts and Entertainment
Armando Iannucci, the creator of 'The Thick of It' says he has
tvArmando Iannucci to concentrate on US show Veep
News
A mugshot of Ian Watkins released by South Wales Police following his guilty pleas
peopleBandmates open up about abuse
Sport
Basketball superstar LeBron James gets into his stride for the Cleveland Cavaliers
sportNBA superstar announces decision to return to Cleveland Cavaliers
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Information Security Manager (ISO 27001, Accreditation, ITIL)

£70000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Information Security Manager (ISO 27001, A...

C# Developer (HTML5, JavaScript, ASP.NET, Mathematics, Entity)

£30000 - £45000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: C# Developer (...

C# Integration Developer (.NET, Tibco EMS, SQL 2008/2012, XML)

£60000 - £80000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: C# Integration...

Biztalk - outstanding opportunity

£75000 - £85000 per annum + ex bens: Deerfoot IT Resources Limited: Biztalk Te...

Day In a Page

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting
Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

In the final part of our series, Chris Green arrives in Glasgow - a host city struggling to keep the politics out of its celebration of sport
Out in the cold: A writer spends a night on the streets and hears the stories of the homeless

A writer spends a night on the streets

Rough sleepers - the homeless, the destitute and the drunk - exist in every city. Will Nicoll meets those whose luck has run out
Striking new stations, high-speed links and (whisper it) better services - the UK's railways are entering a new golden age

UK's railways are entering a new golden age

New stations are opening across the country and our railways appear to be entering an era not seen in Britain since the early 1950s
Conchita Wurst becomes a 'bride' on the Paris catwalk - and proves there is life after Eurovision

Conchita becomes a 'bride' on Paris catwalk

Alexander Fury salutes the Eurovision Song Contest winner's latest triumph
Pétanque World Championship in Marseilles hit by

Pétanque 'world cup' hit by death threats

This year's most acrimonious sporting event took place in France, not Brazil. How did pétanque get so passionate?
Whelks are healthy, versatile and sustainable - so why did we stop eating them in the UK?

Why did we stop eating whelks?

Whelks were the Victorian equivalent of the donor kebab and our stocks are abundant. So why do we now export them all to the Far East?
10 best women's sunglasses

In the shade: 10 best women's sunglasses

From luxury bespoke eyewear to fun festival sunnies, we round up the shades to be seen in this summer
Germany vs Argentina World Cup 2014: Lionel Messi? Javier Mascherano is key for Argentina...

World Cup final: Messi? Mascherano is key for Argentina...

No 10 is always centre of attention but Barça team-mate is just as crucial to finalists’ hopes
Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer knows she needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

18-year-old says this month’s Commonwealth Games are a key staging post in her career before time slips away
The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

A future Palestine state will have no borders and be an enclave within Israel, surrounded on all sides by Israeli-held territory, says Robert Fisk
A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: The German people demand an end to the fighting

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

The German people demand an end to the fighting
New play by Oscar Wilde's grandson reveals what the Irish wit said at his trials

New play reveals what Oscar Wilde said at trials

For a century, what Wilde actually said at his trials was a mystery. But the recent discovery of shorthand notes changed that. Now his grandson Merlin Holland has turned them into a play
Can scientists save the world's sea life from

Can scientists save our sea life?

By the end of the century, the only living things left in our oceans could be plankton and jellyfish. Alex Renton meets the scientists who are trying to turn the tide
Richard III, Trafalgar Studios, review: Martin Freeman gives highly intelligent performance

Richard III review

Martin Freeman’s psychotic monarch is big on mockery but wanting in malice