With Bressingham Gardens, you can really witness the power of plants and enthusiasm, and how they can transform a blank space. The Bloom family’s iconic garden creation in Norfolk still enchants and influences visitors 50 years on.

The gardens at Bressingham Hall have been described by Piet Oudolf (the designer of the High Line in New York City) as a big influence. They have been the driving force behind many revolutions in the way we garden, and have introduced some of the most loved plants of the 20th century. 

Guest blogger James Robbins has been enjoying the Bressingham Gardens recently, and has written for the Mr Plant Geek website about the history of these wonderful gardens:

“The gardens at Bressingham Hall have been developed since the 1950s by the Bloom family. The Dell garden was developed by Adrian’s father, Alan Bloom during the 1950’s and 60’s. He was a keen gardener and collected and swapped plants with his friends. The garden quickly became a testing ground for these new varieties. 

Traditional herbaceous borders were planted to be seen from one side, with a hedge or wall at the back and a path or grass at the front. Tall plants were planted at the back and shorter ones towards the front. This meant that the plants at the back would tend to get very lanky as they stretched to reach the light and flop forward, so they needed lots of support to keep them upright. Alan changed all this by creating ‘islands’ of planting set within sea of grass.

Here tall plants could be planted in the middle grading down to lower plants at the edges. He started to select plants that would not need staking so they could be arranged in a much more natural way, giving the planting a more relaxed look. The influence of this naturalistic style of planting is still being felt today whether it is described as ‘prairie planting’ or a ‘perennial meadow’.

The 7 original beds quickly expanded to FORTY SEVEN, which fill the 6 acres with a dizzying selection of almost 5000 different varieties. (It also unfortunately created the mammoth task of 2.1 miles of edges to be cut every week.) 

Alan’s work is often seen as the reinvention of the herbaceous border for the 20th century and the beginning of the ‘new perennial movement. The gardens at Bressingham became famous for introducing the gardening public to a new range of plants that were far improved upon their victorian counterparts. One of the most famous instructions from the Gardens is Geranium ‘Rozanne’ which was voted ‘Plant of Centenary’ by the RHS. This azure blue hardy Geranium is well known to thrive on most soil types, and will flower prolifically for months on end. 

Geranium ‘Rozanne’ is the best!

Alan’s son Adrian then started the gardens at Foggy Bottom 50 years ago. He wanted to experiment with using conifers and heathers and used his own garden as a testing ground. He wanted to see which varieties being sold as ‘dwarf conifers’ would actually remain dwarf. Many varieties that are sold as small plants start slowly, but while your back is turned they start to swallow up chunks of garden. Before long they become an amorphous blob of green swamping out the rest of the border.

Alan Bloom in the Foggy Bottom garden

The garden was initially developed around the house but quickly spread out utilising broad open pathways to create long vistas. What began initially as a flat field soon transformed as the trees began to mature, creating both shelter and divisions within the garden. The mix of evergreen conifers and heathers with herbaceous perennials has created a garden with year-round interest and set the trend in gardening for several years. The garden at Foggy Bottom continues to evolve. Now, as the conifers mature, judicious crown lifting exposes their bare stems and sculptural forms and creates space for new herbaceous plantings underneath.

In 2003 Adrian started work on a new section of the gardens focused on winter interest. The winter garden is planted with shrubs that flower in winter with beautiful scents like Hamamelis and Sarcococca. These are planted alongside the sculptural forms of specimen conifers and large stands of Dogwood which has brightly coloured stems in winter. Serpentine rivers of lower plants weave their way through the borders with Hakonecloha, a grass which tints bronze in the autumn juxtaposed against the red tinted leaves of Bergenia, and the black leaves of Ophiopogon.”

The gardens at Bressingham are a credit to the small, but dedicated team that take care of them and offer inspiration and education round every corner for all levels of gardener. Plan your visit now.

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