Steve's exotic oasis
ALTHOUGH he might not have reached National Collection status yet, Steve Eyre is getting closer with his ever-growing collection of South African blooms.
His big love is nerines and at this time of year they are looking their best, all 450 plus varieties of them.
Last year Steve pit them on view for the first time as part of the National Garden Scheme open gardens programme.
Now visitors will have another chance to see them when Bickham House and Bickham Cottage opens on Sunday, October 14. Steve is the first to admit that as soon as he saw a greenhouse full of nerines he was hooked, and has been collecting them ever since.
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For the past five years, he has been the gardener at the 17th century country property. The seven-acre gardens which surround the property have been opening to the public for the NGS for well over a decade. But as well as looking after the main garden, Steve has turned his own plot into an oasis of exotic planting.
The cottage garden is divided into separate areas by old stone walls and hedge banks. The front garden is full of mainly South African bulbs and plants.
There is also a lawn surrounded by borders with agapanthus, eucomis, crocosmia, diorama, plus a stream garden with primulas and glasshouses full of nerines and tulbaghias. There is also a pond with large koi carp.
Steve first became interested in nerines in the late 1960s when he started working as an apprentice gardener at Bicton College.
"There was a big bed of them in the grounds and they used to flower in October when all the other colour had gone," said Steve.
"I thought they were fantastic so started reading up about them. I then bought a couple of pots of them and was hooked."
While researching the plants he came across a specialist nursery in the Isle of Wight and went to visit.
"I walked into a greenhouse full of them and was absolutely spellbound," he said. "I bought a few pots and kept in touch with the owner.
"A few years ago he contacted me and said he was retiring and asked if I would take over his collection. That was about 6,000 or 7,000 pots. Unfortunately that was too many for me to look after, so I had to say no.
"A short while later he contacted me again and asked if I would take 25 per cent of them. I agreed and put another polytunnel in my garden. I took 1,500 pots and around 300 different varieties, most of which are now in flower, so visitors to the open day will be able to see them in all their glory."
Bickham Gardens itself is renowned for being stunning and boasts colourful herbaceous borders and island beds, 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 been made in front of the house, and other features include a impressive walled garden, kitchen garden and orchard.
The garden opens three times a month from April to September in aid of the NGS, and for a one-off special in October, including the usual home-made cream teas, refreshments and plant sales.
It will be open on Sunday, October 14, from 2pm to 5pm, and will be signed from the flyover at the top end of Kennford. Admission £4, children free. The address is Bickham House, Kenn, Devon EX6 7XL.