Unlocking the Garden Gates… Knoll Gardens

We are all too painfully aware that we’re in the midst of unprecedented times. The COVID-19 pandemic has us ‘locked down’ at home, with no contact with family and friends who don’t live with us in our own homes.

Many of us have the joy of a garden (some large, some small, and most somewhere in-between); and some might have a balcony or a window-box. But for others, no garden of their own might have meant frequent forays to any number of gardens previously opened to the public.

Over the past two weeks I have ‘unlocked’ the garden gates of Stockton Bury Gardens and Borde Hill Gardens, where the curators/owners/head gardeners have sent me exclusive pictures of their beautiful ‘locked’ gardens right now, in spring.

This week, once again, I unlock the gates of a personal favourite local garden; Knoll Gardens.

Knoll Gardens first opened to the public in the 1970s, when it was known as Wimborne Botanic Garden. In 1994, the garden became the charge of Neil Lucas and John & Janet Flude. Under Neil’s particularly green-fingers, Knoll Gardens quickly became internationally recognised for its stunning collection of ornamental grasses. The essence of Knoll Gardens is the naturalistic planting of the grasses, woven in a pattern seemingly handed to Neil by Mother Nature herself. A regular visitor to the garden, I cherish the totally immersive experience of wandering around this incredible space. Thriving plant communities demonstrating first-hand the importance of ‘right plant, right place’.

Knoll Gardens

Location: Knoll Gardens, Stapehill Road, Hampreston, Wimborne BH21 7ND

Website: https://www.knollgardens.co.uk

Size of garden:

About 4 acres.

Who looks after the garden:

Luke Al’Thor and a small team of volunteers.

What is the garden known for?

Knoll Gardens has an undisputed, international reputation for its stunning collection of ornamental grasses, which are planted in a manner which mimics nature. The garden itself is a striking, living catalogue for the award-winning nursery.

How would you sum up your garden in spring?

Knoll Gardens might be best known for its wonderful, modern collection of grasses and flowering perennials, especially in late summer and autumn when displayed amidst a kaleidoscope of stunningly coloured trees and shrubs. There is, however, a lot of interest at this time of year. Spring bulbs especially and some of the glorious spring flowering, woody plants such as Magnolia ‘Jane’ bring so much to the gardens. Neil tells me “Magnolia ‘Jane’ is a lovely selection which produces dark pink-purple, tulip shaped flowers that are delicately, lemon scented. Like so many of its kind its flowers come before the leaves on bare stems, which only adds to the wow factor of the display.”

Magnolia ‘Jane’
Spring garden

Favourite spring plants in the garden?

Neil tries to have something in flower every day of the year. Partly because it’s great to see flowers every day and partly to supply food for early-season pollinators; the garden is already seeing many bees, more than a few of which are nesting in cracks or crevices or indeed in the bee hotel!

Different, but still fabulous is Acacia pravissima, which whilst not really hardy needs siting away from cold winds and frosts, but in a sheltered spot rewards with a most enthusiastic display a bright yellow, pom-pom flowers.

Acacia pravissima

A favourite of Neil’s is Melianthus major, which in a mild winter retains its stems and leaves pretty much intact. Neil says “This then allows it to produce quite stunning flowers that I never fail to tire of. Like many flowers, possibly, it is at its most seductive when just on the point of opening; the promise of good things to come!”

Neil’s favourite, Melianthus major

Specialist Plants:

Neil says “Being Knoll there are a good few grasses! There are several experimental ‘meadows’ composed of sometimes native sedges, such as Carex remota which provide an informal, loose meadow feel, and at this time of year are alive with spring bulbs such as Anemone nemorosa and the purple checkerboard flower of Fritillaria meleagris. In the very difficult conditions of the gravel garden in full sun Ipheions have been in flower for some weeks and seem set to continue to do so.”

Fritillaria meleagris
Incredible Ipheons in the gravel garden

What’s new in the garden for spring?

The significant new project is the new ‘dry’ meadow complete with rain gardens. While still empty soil at the moment, the many grasses and perennials intended for here are lined up waiting for their chance to get planted.

Primula ‘Minicombe’, a native selection found in Devon
The shady meadow

The beautiful shady meadow

Fritillaria meleagris in the shady meadow
Leucojum aestivum

Spring garden

With special thanks to Neil Lucas for his time and for allowing me to use these exclusive photographs.

I will be unlocking the garden gates of another garden next week.

When life throws us thorns, look for roses

After years of being beaten around my shell-likes with ‘Brexit’ and wishing I hadn’t ever heard the word, I, like many of you will probably be thinking what a joy it would be to have the ‘B’ word back, loud and proud instead of this new, dreaded ‘C’ word, Coronavirus. The Coronavirus global pandemic has thrown our world into a melting pot of fear, uncertainty and anxiety.

And, lurking under the belly of Coronavirus, a creeping anxiety has quietly taken many of us hostage. Nagging doubts, worries and a fear of the unknown haunt us in the early hours and well beyond.

Everybody’s talking about ‘social distancing’, ‘self-isolation’ and ‘lockdown’ with a scarily practiced ease. Three weeks ago these phrases weren’t even in our vocabulary.

Much has been written about the many benefits of gardening for those living with anxiety, depression and other mental health issues. And so now, in the midst of this perturbing pandemic, more so than ever before, we may all acquire a slightly better understanding of how life consuming these problems can be for many people. So many of us have already admitted to feeling the anxieties of this situation.

Gardening isn’t for everyone, I understand that. A significant percentage of people I have gardened or created gardens for have reaffirmed that belief, ‘I don’t like gardening, but I want a nice garden to spend time in’. I’ve heard these words so many times. But gardening doesn’t have to be the fully immersive, all consuming pastime some make it.

Mowing and edging the lawn, a spot of light weeding or deadheading the daffs is a great way to start. Little and often, gently reconnecting with nature. It’s incredible how just ten minutes of pottering around a garden can mollify a muddled mind or soothe the stresses and strains of day-to-day life. The combination of breathing in fresh air and listening to the birds twittering, happily in neighbouring trees. The frothy pinks, creams and whites of blossom are just beginning to sparkle on the bare boughs of flowering cherries, butter yellow primroses nestled down in our borders, pots or verges. Dazzling daffs nodding their heads to welcome in another long awaited spring. You’ll be quickly transported to ‘another place’. Somewhere calmer, quieter and altogether more tranquil than the worrying ‘here and now’ of our hectic, pressure-laden lives.

For the (ever so slightly) more adventurous, sowing seeds for flowers in our gardens or produce for the veg patch with the kiddies (or without!) is so rewarding. It’s educational and so easy.

Don’t be afraid of your garden. The worst you can probably do is cut off this years flowers, which in the overall scheme of things, at present, is small fry! However, the internet and social media is full to bursting with eager gardeners (like me) with helpful ‘how to’ videos and illustrated guides taking you through all manner of gardening jobs.

But, if gardening is still not your thing then try a wander up the garden path, broom in hand, a much-needed lick of paint on the garden fences or just sitting there with a cuppa, or a chilled Pinot Grigio. You will feel so much better for it.

Things will eventually return to ‘normal’; a new normal, admittedly. Hopefully, some things will change for the better after this. Already a heart-warming sense of community is beginning to emerge.

And we will get back out into our gardens with friends and family. We will go out to restaurants and eat good food, and drink, and laugh. But we will always remember this time.

“Sometimes when things are falling apart, they may actually be falling into place”