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date: 20 October 2019

Bloom, Alan Herbert Vauserfree

(1906–2005)
  • Francesca Greenoak

Alan Herbert Vauser Bloom (1906–2005)

by Tessa Traeger, 2000

Bloom, Alan Herbert Vauser (1906–2005), horticulturist, was born on 19 November 1906 in Over, near Swavesey, Cambridgeshire, the son of Charles Herbert Bloom, grocer and draper, and later market gardener, and his wife, Katherine Annie Jane, née Whitworth. His father's family is thought to have been descended from Huguenots who had come to East Anglia with Cornelius Vermuyden in the reign of Charles I. Interested in plants from the first, Bloom worked in a number of East Anglian nurseries when he left school, then joined his father's business. By the age of twenty-four he had his own thriving wholesale nursery in Oakington, Cambridgeshire, where he bred new aubrietas, dianthus, and campanulas, the last remaining a special favourite. He named his first new variety Dianthus ‘Oakington’ in 1927. On 16 April 1931 he married Doris Hilda Heavens, the twenty-year-old daughter of Henry John Heavens. By 1938 Blooms Nurseries in Oakington was one of the largest in England but following the outbreak of the Second World War food crops became the priority and Bloom turned his hand to agricultural production, about which he wrote in The Farm in the Fen (1944).

Bloom bought Bressingham Hall, with 228 acres of land at Bressingham, Norfolk, in 1946, and spent nearly all of his life there except for a brief, unsuccessful sojourn with his young family to try farming in Canada from 1948 to 1950. He returned to revive the fortunes of his nursery and from then on he focused on his chief love, hardy perennial plants, breeding new kinds and skilfully propagating and promoting good old varieties. The handsome semi-evergreen hybrid Heuchera x brizoides named by his father 'Blooms' variety' won a Royal Horticultural Society award of merit in 1930–31 at a time when such perennials were usually disparaged except in cottage gardens. To give his plants the best advantage Bloom introduced island beds (his first notable example was at Bressingham itself in 1953) which sailed like stately floral galleons through ample lawns. Less labour-intensive than borders, they allowed plants to be viewed from all sides, permitted easy access for the gardener, and allowed more light so plants were more sturdy and needed less staking. They could also be introduced into the smaller gardens whose owners were buying more plants than the old estates. In 1957 Bloom became founding chairman of the Hardy Plant Society, an important body for stimulating enjoyment in herbaceous hardy plants, which by the time of his death had 10,000 members. His first marriage having ended in divorce, on 30 October 1956 he married Flora Elizabeth Mackintosh, the 27-year-old daughter of Alfred Mackintosh.

Bloom introduced into cultivation more than 200 plants that he had bred and named and was responsible for thousands of others that were distributed from the Blooms nurseries. Many of them became staples of European and North American gardens, but despite his remarkable skill he remained humble before the workings of the natural world; he did not consider his plants so much a matter of pride as 'of pleasure' and always gave credit to those that had come his way not through a breeding programme but 'as chance or self-sown seedlings', as was the case with Dianthus ‘Oakington’. His great skill was in perceiving the potential of new varieties, discerning their qualities, coaxing them into growth, and working up stocks for commercial sale. He believed that for 'the gardening public' a 'plant stands or falls on its own merits, for beauty and reliability' (A. Bloom, Introductions from Blessingham, in R. Bird, ed., Plantsmen on Plants, 1990, 204).

Bloom was always a hands-on gardener but he had a shrewd business sense and realized that speedier propagation methods and new methods of retail trading and of attracting customers were the coming trend. His two sons, Robert and Adrian, joined him in the business in 1962. A steam enthusiast from a young age, Bloom had the previous year bought his first traction engine, and by the end of 1962 had collected fourteen engines, which formed the nucleus of Bressingham Steam Museum. In 1965 he laid the first of several narrow- and standard-gauge tracks. In 1972 he handed over the running of Blooms Nurseries to his sons, formed the steam collection into a trust (of which he was founding chairman and later president), and retired to his six acre private garden at Bressingham Hall with its nursery in which he and a small band of helpers raised by hand special plants 'which objected to mechanisation' (personal knowledge). His elder son Robert died in a car crash in 1995 but his younger son Adrian and grandson Jason continued the family business at Bressingham Gardens, though the Plant Centre was taken over in 2007.

Bloom had a wild streak though brought up strictly and remaining a Quaker throughout his life. At seventy he had his ears pierced. He wore hoop earrings and let his hair grow long, and looked like a kind of horticultural pirate. Though he had been a sickly child, outdoor life had improved his health and even in his nineties he was an attractive and charismatic figure. He wrote about thirty books, including an autobiography, Come You Here, Boy! (1995), and made regular broadcasts, the last occasion only a few months before he died. Proud that his was the only family in which the Royal Horticultural Society's prestigious Victoria medal of honour had been awarded to both father and son (Adrian), he also received the Veitch memorial medal and was appointed MBE in 1997. He died of bronchopneumonia at Bressingham Hall on 30 March 2005 and was survived by his wife, Flora, his son Adrian, and his four daughters.

Sources

  • A. Bloom, The farm in the fen (1944)
  • A. Bloom, Come you here, boy! (1995)
  • The Independent (5 April 2005)
  • The Guardian (6 April 2005)
  • Daily Telegraph (9 April 2005)
  • ‘Bressingham Steam Museum's Alan Bloom dies at 98’, Old Glory (May 2005), 6–7
  • www.bressingham.co.uk, 23 April 2008
  • personal knowledge (2009)
  • private information (2009)
  • b. cert.
  • m. certs.
  • d. cert.

Archives

Film

  • BFINA, ‘Squire of a Norfolk cabbage patch’, K. Ackrill (director), Channel 4, 1 Jan 1990

Sound

  • BL NSA, ‘Down to earth: an oral history of British horticulture’, interviews with L. Brodie, 7–9 Nov 2001, F11479–F11489

Likenesses

  • photograph, 1969, PA Photos, London
  • M. Warren, photograph, 1984, Photoshot, London
  • L. Douglas-Menzies, bromide fibre print, 1990, NPG
  • M. Young, oils, exh. Contemporary Portrait Society, Medici Gallery, London 1992
  • T. Traeger, silver gelatine print, 2000, NPG [see illus.]
  • obituary photographs

Wealth at Death

under £72,000: probate, 10 June 2005, CGPLA Eng. & Wales