Bickham is a 17th Century house set in a wooded valley west of Exeter. The original house was built in 1680, but it has been much altered over the years, with major works being done in the early 19th Century. The house has remained in the ownership of the same family since it was built, although it has passed through the female line several times, and the family name has therefore changed. The builder of the house, John Short, was a lawyer in Exeter, as were many others of the family. His grandson, also John Short, married Charlotte Baring, daughter of John Baring of Mount Radford, who was MP for Exeter for many years, and whose grandsons went on to found Barings Bank. John Short and his father-in-law John Baring went into the wool business together in Exeter.
The house remained much the same for many years, although quite a lot of work was undertaken when Julia Short, the present owner’s grandmother, came of age in 1915. She had inherited the estate on the death of her father, while still a young child. During the Second World War the house was occupied by Barnados, and when they left, nothing was done to the house until Julia Tremlett and her husband John took over the estate at the time of their marriage in 1967. Since then a lot of changes have taken place, including making a new kitchen and several bathrooms, and the building of a billiards room in the old kitchen.
The oldest part of the garden is the walled garden which is certainly as old as the original house. It is about an acre in area, and was once used entirely for growing produce for the house. Now only about one third of it is used as a kitchen garden, and the rest is divided up into lawns, flower beds, a herb garden, a pergola garden, greenhouses and a polythene tunnel for growing plants for sale. The top third of the walled garden is planted with specimen trees, and in 1999 an avenue of palm trees (grown from seed) was added, which leads to a summer house, built to commemorate the new millennium.
When the Tremletts came in 1967 the main part of the garden consisted of lawns, naturalised bulbs and specimen trees, but since then much planting of herbaceous borders and island beds has taken place, with the aim of providing more year-round interest.A terrace has been laid, a formal parterre garden with a lily pond has been added, and a pond garden created. A lake has also been made in the field in front of the house. Each year some new project is undertaken, and although sometimes this is the restoration of an existing part of the garden, there are always plans for new additions. The house has recently been used by Frankfurter Films as a location for their adaptation of one of Rosamund Pilcher’s books.
Bickham Gardens is situated south of Exeter 1 mile off the A38 (Exeter - Plymouth Road). Leave the dual carriageway at Kennford, follow signs to Kenn. 1st right in village, follow lane for 3/4 mile to the end of a no through road. 7 acres in wooded valley. Lawns, mature trees and shrubs; naturalised bulbs, mixed borders, butterfly bank.