Chris Allen visits Neil Lucas at a garden with a real mission to pass on good practice far beyond its own boundaries.
Neil Lucus is well known around the world for his knowledge and passion for ornamental grasses. The ten gold medals in ten consecutive years from RHS Chelsea Flowers Shows is an outstanding testament to this. He has recently been elected onto the council of the RHS and is chairman of the judge’s panel at Chelsea. With this commitment to horticulture it is not surprising that Neil is determined to share his enthusiasm with a wider audience.
He is in a good position to carry out this ambition because his key business since the early 1990’s has been as owner of Knoll Gardens and nursery near Wimborne in East Dorset. This four acre garden has evolved over many years and under Neil’s directorship it has become a garden of high standing with much to interest visitors all year round.
The flowing borders are richly planted with great planting schemes around every corner. Dramatic use of ornamental grasses amongst perennials and shrubs is a highlight throughout. From the Decennium Border to the sloping banks along the side of Dragon Garden, the bold accents of different species adds height and shape, plus gentle movement against the backdrop of mature trees and shrubs.
It is not only the single specie plantings that are dramatic, recent mixed borders of perennials with shrubs and grass in dense, bold drifts give stunning displays throughout the flowering seasons.
Knoll Gardens is of great interest all year round due to two major factors being championed by Neil Lucus; these are his sustainable methods and the naturalistic style of gardening that he is developing as the main focus for his concept of The Knoll Gardens foundation.
This fantastic project was launched in 2008 and has as its strap line ’Providing an example of tomorrow's gardens – today’.
The aim of the Foundation is to help UK gardeners make their own gardens more low impact and wildlife friendly by reducing reliance on scarce natural resources. "We have practiced these principles of naturalistic gardening at Knoll Gardens for many years" Neil Lucus explained, "The Foundation takes this a step further by making our horticulture and garden design techniques available to both professional and domestic gardeners. The concept is to create an understanding that each garden is unique but the principles of all successful gardening remain the same; namely to discover what it needs to sustain good growth and selecting the most suitable plants to create a garden in harmony with the environment and the gardener. Why fight with nature."
The Foundation is an integral part of Knoll Gardens and is run by Neil and Trustees with the invaluable support of a group of volunteers who visit on a weekly basis to carry out practical tasks within the gardens plus receiving informative gardening and plant knowledge sessions. There is also a programme of talks and demonstrations as well as monthly open days throughout the main growing seasons. The details of which can be found on their website.
A recent project carried out by the volunteers was the preparation, marking out and planting of a new gravel border complete with meandering paths and driftwood focal points. This new feature replaced an old mixed shrub border in what was historically a carrot growing field.
Volunteers are actively involved in many aspects of the gardens with several acting as visitor guides on the public open days. They all said that they benefited from the knowledge and experience gained while being in the gardens and enjoyed working as part of a team.
The range of plants grown within the gardens is extensive; there are over three hundred and fifty ornamental grass varieties alone. A large range of plants are for sale in the nursery with the majority having been trialled within the gardens for several seasons to ensure they are true to type and will perform as expected. Many are propagated from those seen growing within the gardens. Neil adds "This is another aspect where the garden and the Foundation come together in providing valuable opportunities to share information and knowledge about plants for the benefit of gardeners, we are not just talking about it, we are able to do the doing as well."
A visit to Knoll gardens in the summer will have the added delight of being surrounded by the sights and sounds of wildlife in the shape of birds, butterflies and dragonflies and other flying species taking advantage of the nectar filled flowers and seed heads of the multitude of different grass species. Local wildlife groups and volunteers are carrying out regular surveys to monitor numbers of species on different planting schemes to gain valuable information to pass on to gardeners to help boost the wildlife populations across the UK.
With Neil Lucus at the helm, Knoll Gardens is a fantastic place to visit and with its inspirational Foundation project underway there is something for everyone who has an interest in the future of gardens and how we garden in them.
All photographs taken by Georgina Allen