Since 1994 internationally acclaimed gardener Neil Lucas and his team have created a wonderful naturalistic garden, a haven for both people and wildlife. Seamlessly blending graceful grasses, adding drama with striking perennials and form and structure with mature trees and shrubs, the gardens offer a wealth of interest and diverse habitat throughout the seasons.
A perpetual calendar of natural delights
Enchanting vistas and intimate alcoves surprise and delight as you explore the winding paths that snake around the naturalistic gardens at Knoll. Framed by stunning, specimen/unusual trees and shrubs and punctuated with seasonal bulbs, a plethora of striking ornamental grasses and tall perennials provide form, texture and vibrant hues throughout the year. As the natural rhythm of the seasons progress different plants provide new focus, reaching their peak as the trees and shrubs adopt their stunning autumn colours, creating a beautiful backdrop for the grasses – magically illuminated by the low season sun.
Low maintenance planting that thrives whatever the weather
Although subtly merging, a distinctive series of garden areas have been created, using plants suited to particular growing conditions, following the ‘right plant right place’ ethos. Putting to one side ideas of controlling nature and instead working in partnership with it, Knoll has tried to create a space which not only evokes a sense of wellbeing but also provides a home for wildlife. The different areas have been sustainably planted with the minimum of resources to achieve the maximum – and often quite spectacular – effect. The happy result of ‘low input, high impact’ naturalistic gardening.
Vitality and versatility
Used in informal groupings and meadow style plantings, the stunning ornamental grasses, for which Knoll is renowned, are seamlessly interwoven with complimentary perennials and bulbs, which celebrate the grasses versatility, durability and captivating rhythms.
Writing in his first book “Designing with Grasses” Neil Lucas notes “Understanding grasses’ origins and their contributions to the wider ecosystem inspires us to see our gardens differently. Grasses can offer us insight into a way of working – an approach to gardening that combines a focus on adaptability, ease of use and sheer simplicity with the most strikingly beautiful of effects”.
Framed by the unusual, mature trees and shrubs, grasses are perhaps the star performers at Knoll – which is also home to the National Plant Collection of hardy Pennisetum. The distinctive areas within the gardens, whether it be the Shady, Damp and Water Gardens, the Sunny, Sedge and Dry Meadows, or perhaps the Dragon Garden or Decennium Border, are the result of the best suited and most effective grasses having been planted in the appropriate conditions – the results speak for themselves.
We are delighted to welcome visitors to the garden and nursery during our opening hours. If you cannot make a visit or might just like to get a flavour of how the garden looks through the seasons, why not take a Virtual Garden Tour.
Habitats for wildlife
With the sympathetic naturalistic approach, and the creation of a range of different garden habitats, comes a fascinating variety of wildlife, some of which are depicted in our gradually expanding online wildlife galleries. Bees, moths, butterflies and a myriad of insects thrive, each drawn to their own corner of Knoll and homing in on favourite plants for nectar, food and shelter. In the summer months, Dragonflies and Damselflies are attracted by the garden’s ponds and delight visitors with splashes of iridescent colour and in the cooler seasons, many birds find their home among the garden’s trees, shrubs and seed-heads.
Diversity of habitat is key for both wildlife and the wider environment, and the positive effects of a naturalistic approach to gardening is becoming very clear. Our charity, the Knoll Gardens Foundation, was founded to further research and promote the benefits that Knoll’s gardening style brings to both gardeners and wildlife. With an inspired team of volunteers, and in partnership with several wildlife organisations, the charity is learning more about the relationship between Knoll’s planting styles and natural biodiversity. Wildlife surveys to date have shown just how crucial planting can be in terms of sustaining certain wildlife and there are exciting new plans to further develop this area of research.
Anyone wishing to support this valuable work please visit the Foundation website.
50 years and counting…
50 years ago…
In the nineteen seventies, Wimborne Botanic Garden – as Knoll was then known – first opened to the public. It was planted on a carrot field alongside an existing market garden and nursery called ‘The Knoll’, and among the new plantings, many hybrid Rhododendrons were raised including the first hybrid Phygelius (cape fuchsia), named Phygelius African Queen.
40 years ago…
In 1988 new owners changed the name to Knoll Gardens, mirroring the name of the original nursery. Additional water and formal garden areas were developed, with the gardens appearing on BBC TV’s Gardeners World for the first time – the beginning of a happy friendship.
30 years ago…
In 1994, Knoll Gardens came into the care of Neil Lucas and John and Janet Flude. They brought with them a range of unusual plants including ceanothus, itea, and the wonderful Viburnum cylindricum, which was planted in what has since become the Decennium border.
20 years ago…
Neil continued developing his naturalistic style of gardening, using the existing backdrop of rare and usual trees and shrubs as a foil, he planted many grasses and perennials in informal plantings intended to match the right plant with the right place.
In 2008 Neil started a charity, the Knoll Gardens Foundation. The charity is tasked with achieving a better understanding of the relationship between Knoll’s naturalistic style and the gardens wildlife; and to use that knowledge to help inspire others to adopt a similar, resource conscious, wildlife friendly, naturalistic approach to the design and care of our gardens and the built environment.
10 years ago…
Now the UK’s leading authority on ornamental grasses, Neil was spending much time developing the specialist nursery and expanding what had become a significant mail order service, that continues to be supported by a comprehensive and well respected website. Alongside the fast developing business he found time to continue and to refine his naturalistic style in the gardens. Nursery Manager, Ross Humphrey, was now overseeing the production of Knoll’s range of grasses and flowering perennials – and had joined Neil as joint Director of Knoll Gardens Ltd.
Back to the future…
The gardens continue to evolve today with innovative new projects such as the Dry Meadow and Rain Garden that are now establishing beautifully, while 2023 will see the completion of the Dragon Gardens replanting in the ‘Prairie’ style. Future projects include the redesign of the Bark Circle that is planned for winter 2023 and will include meadow style mixes of grasses and perennials for both sunny and shady areas.