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Tributes paid to nursery pioneer ‘of highest order’

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Laurence Flatman, described by a fellow horticultural expert as “a real Norfolk countryman who loved plants”, has died.

It is the second major loss to the horticultural world in a matter of months, following the death of David Howard, founder of Howard’s Nurseries at Wortham, in December.

Apart from two years’ National Service, Mr Flatman, who was 88, spent all his working life at the world-famous Blooms nurseries, where he eventually rose to become a director.

Laurence Flatman, left, with Alan Bloom, of Blooms Nurseries, Bressingham.
Laurence Flatman, left, with Alan Bloom, of Blooms Nurseries, Bressingham.

Adrian Bloom said: “I was chairman of the company for many years, but obviously Laurence preceded me in joining the company and helped my father, Alan, with the business for many years.

“He was one of the pioneers in helping to establish the company and became a big part of the business, through being the manager of the wholesale section and then a director.

“He attended many conferences and was a major player in the move forward into the garden centre business. He had many friends in the horticultural world and across the company.”

Although described by horticulturist Peter Seabrook as a Norfolk countryman, Mr Flatman was, in fact, born just the Suffolk side of the county boundary in Redgrave.

His father was a game dealer and, on trips to Diss market, they passed the Bressingham nurseries, where his eye was caught by the colourful plants, said his son, Steve.

“One day, he got his father to drop him off at Bressingham. He met Alan and got a job and the rest, as they say, is history,” said Mr Flatman.

“He worked his way through the ranks, became a manager looking after the alpine section and, eventually, became a director, mainly looking after the sales side.”

His work took him all over the country and also to about 30 Chelsea Flower Shows. “He loved plants; they were his life, and he built up friendships here and abroad,” said Mr Flatman.

In retirement, his travels included visiting friends Dick and Pat Harris at their nursery in the Blue Mountains.

He also took up Rotary and was president of the Diss club in the millennium year and was vice-president of Diss Horticultural Society.

In Rotary, he undertook many charitable works but, true to his nature, it was always done quietly, said his son.

“He was a man I never heard say a bad word about anyone. He loved life and his gardens and meeting and helping other people,” he said.

Ken Jolly, a fellow member of Diss Horticultural Society and a friend of Laurence’s for more than 40 years, said: “In the early days of the steam museum at Bressingham, Blooms Nursery was wholesale only.

“When Laurence was a director, he set up a small area of plants for visitors to the museum to buy. This lasted several years and was the beginning of the garden centre.

“Lawrence was deputy chairman to me in Diss and District Horticultural Society for 12 years and, at that time, was a great help and very willing to share his knowledge of plants and flowers.”

Respected gardening writer and broadcaster Peter Seabrook wrote in the Garden Trade News that Mr Flatman “served Blooms with complete loyalty throughout his working life”. His plant knowledge was “remarkable and his reputation in the garden trade of the highest order”, said Mr Seabrook.

He added: “He will be sorely missed but not forgotten and lives on in hardy geranium Laurence Flatman. I was fortunate to have known him, worked with him and count him as a very good and dear friend.”

Mr Flatman made his home with his wife, Doreen, at the appropriately-named Alpina, in Low Road, Bressingham, and is also survived by their children Stephen, Wayne, Lynne and Nicola, and by his grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

A service of thanksgiving will be held in St Mary’s Church, Diss, on March 2 at 2.30pm.

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