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Bressingham keeps on blooming

PUBLISHED: 09:58 29 October 2013 | UPDATED: 11:57 29 October 2013

View of the All Seasons Bed at Foggy Bottom, Bressingham. September, Autumn. Picea glauca Alberta Blue, Imperata cylindrica Rubra, Pennisetum villosum, Tsuga canadensis Elizabeth, Pinus koraensis Winton, Caryopteris, Molinia. View of mixed border with bright red Imperata, Grass, with mist. Designed by Adrian Bloom. Picture by Richard Bloom

View of the All Seasons Bed at Foggy Bottom, Bressingham. September, Autumn. Picea glauca Alberta Blue, Imperata cylindrica Rubra, Pennisetum villosum, Tsuga canadensis Elizabeth, Pinus koraensis Winton, Caryopteris, Molinia. View of mixed border with bright red Imperata, Grass, with mist. Designed by Adrian Bloom. Picture by Richard Bloom

© Richard Bloom

Lucy Redman visits Bressingham Gardens, established 60 years ago by renowned plantsman Alan Bloom. Pictures by Richard Bloom

Adrian Bloom, August 2006. Picture by Richard BloomAdrian Bloom, August 2006. Picture by Richard Bloom

The sign says: Stop, look and listen for the train . . . at least I’m in the right place, the private drive leading to Bressingham Hall, once the home of the great Alan Bloom and now an amazing treat for garden loving bed and breakfast guests.

When Alan Bloom, creator of the world famous Bressingham Gardens, near Diss in Norfolk, died in 2005 at the tender age of 98 he was a hard act to follow. However, his son, Adrian has taken on the mantle and developed the gardens into a spectacle of textures, form and colour that can be enjoyed all year round.

It was this passion for plants that led them both to be awarded the Royal Horticultural Society’s prestigious Victoria Medal of Honour (VMH) for services to horticulture.

I hadn’t visited Bressingham for about 20 years and was astounded to see how much it has changed, with lots of new planting, particularly in the last 13 years. My first visit was as a teenager with my mother, who took a classic photo of me clutching a plant while standing on the footplate of the steam train with Alan Bloom, whose long white hair and earring made him a memorable character.

The Dell Garden, Bressingham, Norfolk - View of flint bridge built by Alan Bloom with mixed borders with perennials, shrubs and bulbs either side. Picture by Richard BloomThe Dell Garden, Bressingham, Norfolk - View of flint bridge built by Alan Bloom with mixed borders with perennials, shrubs and bulbs either side. Picture by Richard Bloom

So it was an honour and a delight to wander around with Adrian, discussing the plant combinations and seeing how he is developing this special garden.

The 16 acres (6.5ha) are split into six distinct areas, which Adrian is in the process of subtly linking. Entrance to the gardens is through the Blooms of >>

>> Bressingham Garden Centre, which, although no longer owned by the family, sells some plants raised at Bressingham. Jason Bloom, Adrian’s eldest son, carries on his grandfather’s business, which was established by Alan in 1926 as Blooms Nurseries Ltd. The high quality, mainly perennial plants are bred or selected by the family and sold to nurseries such as RHS Wisley or by mail order (www.bressinghamgardens.com)

Bressingham Steam Experience, partnered with the gardens, was developed from a hobby started by Alan in 1962. It provides a fun journey around the gardens and nursery, after which a walk around the Dad’s Army museum is enjoyable for all ages!

Geranium Rozanne in the new summer garden, Heliopsis Lorraine Sunshine. Perennials, July.
 Picture by Richard BloomGeranium Rozanne in the new summer garden, Heliopsis Lorraine Sunshine. Perennials, July. Picture by Richard Bloom

The Summer Garden was created in 2001 from an old meadow to give a more pleasing new entrance to the Dell Garden. There is a large selection here of Miscanthus sinensis, Bressingham being the national collection holders of this Japanese ornamental grass that can grow three metres high. Here is the first of Adrian’s spectacular ‘river’ plantings of Geranium Rozanne whose repeat flowering (June – until autumn frosts) purpley blue flowers with a white centre look superb en masse, snaking through other taller perennials.

In the Winter Garden, opened in 2006, Adrian has used his clever river effect planting again, using Ophiopogon nigrescens underplanted with snowdrops, edged with clumps of Cornus ‘Midwinter Fire’, drifts of hellebores and winter flowering heathers. The main season here is November to April, but it is also attractive in summer with choice grasses such as Chionochloa rubra (Red Tussock grass) from New Zealand, which forms huge clumps and looks amazing staggered through ground covering plants.

I was seriously impressed by the gracefully arching Cedrus atlantica glauca pendula, which has been encouraged to frame the view of Bressingham Hall.

The island beds in front of Bressingham Hall were the first to be planted in 1953 by Adrian’s father who experimented with a new way of growing hardy perennials – island beds.

Portrait of Adrian Bloom in the Adrian's Wood garden at the Bressingham Gardens. August 2006. Picture Richard BloomPortrait of Adrian Bloom in the Adrian's Wood garden at the Bressingham Gardens. August 2006. Picture Richard Bloom

These informal borders surrounded by curved grass paths can be viewed from all sides and are much less formal than long herbaceous borders, which were the norm in 1953.

This area was gradually increased to 48 curvaceous beds covering 6 acres (2.4 hectares), which in 1962 had 5,000 different species and varieties. It became known as the Dell Garden and is now looked after by Alan’s son-in-law, curator Jamie Blake.

As we walk through another new area of planting – The Fragrant Garden – I am drawn to a stunning plant combination of a delicate purple leaved Sambucus Black Lace, which is a brilliant foil to Monarda Violet Queen, whose whorls of purple flowers buzz with bees for weeks.

In Adrian’s Wood we marvel at the five giant Redwoods – Sequoiadendron giganteum – which Adrian planted in 1964 and now tower 80ft (24m). Finally we reach Foggy Bottom, where Adrian’s bungalow nestles among wonderful plants. I remember this area in the ‘70s as mainly conifers and heathers. Like his father who enjoyed experimenting with perennials, Adrian played with broad sweeps of grass, conifers and heathers. His early books inspired gardeners and taught them which plants to select and how to grow them.

In the third phase of Foggy Bottom, the heathers have been replaced with perennials and shrubs, and the conifers reduced. The effect is stunning, with more movement and interest.

This garden is a joy to behold. If you haven’t been to Bressingham recently, do return to enjoy the exciting new plant combinations and be dazzled with a huge array of shape, form and colours – a real treat! I was like a child in a sweet shop and look forward to returning to see what Adrian, Jamie and the team do next!

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