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Bicton Historical Gardens

The Botanical Gardens have their roots in the early 18th century, but Bicton itself dates back more than 1300 years. It was originally called Beoccatun, meaning the hamlet belonging to Beocca, a Saxon chieftain who settled in the forest on the west bank of the River Otter, then much wider than it is now. Four centuries later, the Normans took over and built a prison at Exeter's Rougemont Castle to keep the local Saxons under control. Wardenship of the jail became a hereditary duty of lords of the manor at Bicton for some 700 years until the office of prison keeper was rescinded when the castle fell into disrepair in the late 1700s. By then, Bicton's Italian Garden was well established, and horticulture was set to play an increasingly significant role in the future of the estate.

Exotic tree-ferns now grace an almost primeval rocky glade, created at the start of the Victorian 'fern fever' era. The flint Shell House contains a unique and special collection of seashells from around the world. The area is accessed by a maze of footpaths weaving their way through the ferns.

Bicton Park Botanical Gardens is home to many rare plants with origins from all parts of the world, including one of the finest collections of trees in Britain. This Heritage garden is maintained by a team of dedicated gardeners who look after and tend the different areas, so that you can enjoy them to their fullest. The 63 acres of land and gardens to explore will keep you coming back time after time as you see them progress through the year and change with the seasons.

The Italian Garden

 

A stunning blend of formality and colour, the Italian Garden is Bicton’s world-renowned centrepiece. It is almost 300 years old, and still provides the park’s most famous view, across vast terraced lawns to a tiered fountain, standing directly in line with a distant obelisk. The stone obelisk, framed by a sunken avenue excavated by French prisoners of war, was built on a hill outside the park in 1743 to form a focal point for the gardens central axis. In the foreground, smaller fountains are ringed with flowerbeds. Specimen trees, planted urns and elegant statues complete a memorable panorama.

The Italian Garden, so-named because its style originated in Renaissance Italy, was inspired by the French designer Andre Le Notre (1613-1700), who created the gardens at Versailles for Louis XI. Le Notre worked on at least one commission in London, and it has been suggested that he visited Bicton to draw the plan used by Henry Rolle when he laid out the Italian Garden in c.1735.

   

The American & Stream Gardens

Some of the loveliest trees in the park can be found in the America Garden. This area of the park, established in the 1830’s, has for many years contained a selection of non-American plants. These include the infamous Chinese handkerchief tree, whose large white bracts flutter among its foliage in May. This area features some of the parks most colourful trees and shrubs, along with moisture-loving plants such as Primulas, Hostas and the Giant Gunnera.

   

The Mediterranean & Rose Gardens

Drought tolerant plants, including phormiums and cordylines, grow on a sunny slope below the scented delights of the early 19th century Rose Garden.
   

The Fernery & Shell House

Exotic tree-ferns now grace an almost primeval rocky glade, created at the start of the Victorian 'fern fever' era. The flint Shell House contains an international collection of seashells from around the world. The area is accessed by a maze of footpaths weaving their way through the ferns.

   

The Hermitage Garden

A place of almost perfect peace, the Hermitage Garden took its name from the romantic 19th-century bower house in which Lord John and Lady Louisa Rolle retreated from the outside world during the last years of his Lordship’s life. This far corner of the park contains a notable collection of dwarf conifers and heathers. Nearby, colourful camellias and rhododendrons stretch beyond the Hermitage into the wooded valley of the Secret Garden. 

The Hermitage itself, a Victorian summerhouse, constructed in 1839, restored in 2006, is an outstanding example of rural craftsmanship. Its walls are clad with thousands of ‘fish-scale’ wooden shingles, and the floor consists entirely of deer bones, pushed into the earth with their ‘knuckle’ ends uppermost. 

   

The Pinetum & Arboretum

Bicton has long been famed for its magnificent trees - over 1000 of them, representing 300 species, many of which are endangered in the wild. We are proud to have 25 champion trees - the tallest and/or largest of their kind in the British Isles. At 41m (134ft) our champion Grecian fir is the tallest ever recorded. Bicton’s internationally acclaimed Pinetum is devoted to the virtues of conifers, whose stately forms add a dramatic dimension to the parkland.