Wednesday 19 Jun 2013
As CBeebies encourages children to learn about life through the wonder of gardening in Mr Bloom's Nursery, the programme's title actor, Ben Faulks, describes how the show grew from a tiny seed of an idea to a 26-part television series.
"The original concept for Mr Bloom's Nursery came from a piece of walkabout theatre that I developed in 2006, called Vegetable Nannies, which involved dressing up real fruits and vegetables as babies and pushing them around in a pram," explains Ben. "I was playing a gardener who loved his vegetables and wanted to take them for a day out. It was very interactive and aimed at engaging with children and their families by getting them to feed the vegetables, change their nappies and care for them like little babies.
"That toured for a few years and then I started looking for ways to develop it into a television show, which led to a meeting with CBeebies. I was teamed up with their in-house development team and together we grew the idea into Mr Bloom's Nursery."
In August last year, Ben found himself in a specially created allotment in Manchester where he made the world of Mr Bloom come alive for local children.
"It's really important to me that kids can go outside and use their imaginations. In the allotment we let children roll up their sleeves, get their hands dirty and get hands-on with vegetables. I hope that it inspires them and proves that vegetables shouldn't be something alien that lands on their plates."
With 45 children – or "tiddlers" (as Mr Bloom calls them) – from across the North West of England involved in the making of Mr Bloom's Nursery, Ben had to keep on his toes during the filming: "I never cease to be amazed by the imaginations of children. They always throw in lovely curve balls that take you off in a completely different direction to the one you thought you were going in! While most of the series is scripted, the children never were, and there are moments with them and me in the garden where you could never foresee what was going to attract their attention. Children's imaginations are so rich and their input always enhances a project."
Ben explains that Mr Bloom's Nursery isn't just a show about gardening; it's also a show about growing.
"The most important thing is the theme of nurture," says Ben. "The idea is that it's a nursery for growing vegetables but because the vegetables talk and express their feelings, what goes on inside is just the same as the daily lives of children in pre-school nurseries."
It's inside Mr Bloom's Nursery that we find the puppets, known as the "veggies", a group of baby vegetables with distinctive personalities such as Joan the bossy fennel, Sebastian the suave singing aubergine and Margaret the shy but fun cabbage. How did they come up with the characters for the veg?
"During my shows I used to look at a vegetable and think about the character traits they gave off," says Ben. "Vegetables are all very different in appearance but I always look at what the essence of that vegetable is. For instance a squash looks very dense and thick-skinned and durable, which embodies the character of Raymond, and radishes are very peppery and springy and I always imagine them bouncing around like our characters the Wee MacGregors."
So could you also turn it around and look at people and what they might be if they were a vegetable?
"Absolutely," says Ben. "I haven't given this a great deal of thought but if I was to be pinned down I would have to say I was a swede. Like a swede's straggly roots my hair seems to take a course of its own, to which the directors of Mr Bloom's Nursery will testify!"
Mr Bloom's Nursery is the first new CBeebies in-house programme to come out of the North West as the finishing touches are being made to the channel's new base in Salford, a huge bonus for Ben who is based in Manchester. He says: "One of the most rewarding things is that it has been filmed in my home base of Manchester. The fact that it's been made in my city with kids from the local area and just over a mile from my house has been wonderful. But there have been so many wonderful things about Mr Bloom's Nursery. Everyone that's worked on the show has put so much into it and it's grown into something really, really special – it's a beautiful piece of TV."