US Homeowners Treated to Giveaway Gardens

US-British alliance offers 20 free gardens to show there's more to landscaping than a few bushes

By , Special to The Christian Science Monitor

On warm evenings when their children are tucked in bed and all is quiet in the house, Jeff and Barbara Mead will slip outside to take in the fragrance and beauty of their new garden.

It's lovely, "beyond our expectations," says Mrs. Mead of the 200 or so plants recently introduced to their garden. And it's getting lovelier by the day.

It's also unique, for theirs is the first "Blooms of Bressingham" garden in the United States.

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More will follow within the next few years, perhaps 20 or so around the country. All of them, with a wholesale value of perhaps $5,000, will be free.

Alan and Adrian Bloom, founders and CEOs of Blooms of Bressingham in the United Kingdom, are preeminent among breeders of herbaceous perennials in the world.

Long recognized in Europe for the quality of their plants, the father-and-son team has joined with Ohio-based Yoder Brothers to enter the North American market.

The alliance is seen as an ideal fit for both companies: The Blooms gets Yoder Brothers' long-established marketing skills in the US and Yoder Brothers, perhaps the world's largest producers of chrysanthemums, get an extended range of product lines that match the quality of their own specialty.

Meanwhile the news, significant for gardeners everywhere, is particularly so for the 20 or more that will receive free gardens in the next few years as a way of introducing Blooms' products to America.

The idea of giving away free demonstration gardens began in the 1970s when Adrian Bloom argued that much could be done to remove the monotonous sameness of row houses in Britain by innovative plantings in the small front yards.

Few believed him, so he designed and supplied plants for a garden to prove his point. It was a great success, and two more followed with similar praise.

Now Adrian Bloom hopes to accomplish the same thing with his giveaway demonstration gardens in North America. But where three free gardens were adequate in Britain, the varying geographic locations and climate zones in the US and Canada demand infinitely more, hence the tentative figure of 20.

In selecting the Meads for his first giveaway garden in North America, Adrian Bloom followed the same criteria he used in Britain: The home had to be architecturally typical of the region, somewhere in the mid-price range for the area, and standing on an average-sized lot.

In the Meads' case, the home is a New England Cape with a modest-sized front yard.

In the future, local suppliers of Blooms' plants will advertise a giveaway garden in their area. Homeowners who feel their properties qualify can then apply. The local suppliers will make a final selection from the applications that come in.

The idea behind these giveaway gardens is to show that by creating a unique individuality for a home, raising its value and salability, and often dramatically improving its livability, well-designed plantings are a worthwhile investment for any homeowner.

In the US, housing developers usually roll in a lawn and do basic foundation planting as part of the deal. Although not contemptuous of this, Adrian Boom feels that American homeowners should know that there's more to landscaping than that. He feels the trend is growing slowly, and he wants to encourage it.

Meanwhile the Mead garden is getting the desired results. "Everyone loves it," says Mrs. Mead. "It's got all my neighbors talking and stopping as they pass by. Even a self-confessed nongardener across the road has been inspired to spruce up her garden."

Particularly delightful for the Meads is the effect it has had on their children. Three-year-old Emmie "knows how to weed and deadhead (remove spent flowers)," says Mrs. Mead. And 16-month-old Will "pulls his truck and stroller down the path every day to his 'secret place.' "

As for the adult Meads, they plan to buy a rustic-looking swing seat so that on those balmy evenings next summer they will be able to sway back and forth as they absorb the beauty and fragrance that surround them.

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