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Neil Lucas, owner of the acclaimed Knoll Gardens and nursery in Dorset talks to Alan Lewis about his long term aims of helping others create sustainable, wildlife friendly, beautiful gardens

Above: Knoll Gardens is, says Neil, a true working garden, a ‘garden in progress’

A natural born gardener!

Neil Lucas raises his hand about three feet from the ground and admits:”I wanted to be a gardener since I was this high.”

“It was the only thing for me and I never changed my mind."

The childhood ambition has turned into a remarkable horticultural success story.

Neil is now Britain’s leading authority on ornamental grasses and owns Knoll Gardens in Dorset, a four acre ‘showcase’ for his gardening philosophy, built on using beautiful plants, especially grasses, set against a backdrop of rare and unusual trees.

His formal horticultural CV now includes his roles as plantsman, nursery and garden owner, veteran of Chelsea Flower Shows, RHS council member, author, lecturer , horticultural advisor and part time ‘plant hunter ‘.

“It’s a lot but I don’t see myself retiring .There’s always new things which I become enthusiastic and passionate about”.

Projects which fall under this category currently include running Knoll Garden’s charitable arm – the Knoll Gardens Foundation - which will promote the environmental benefits of his style of gardening.

“It’s very, very early days but I want it be able to make wider use of what we do here at Knoll to create sustainable, wildlife friendly and beautiful gardens.”

The impact that Knoll Gardens, based just off the A31 out of Wimborne, makes on its 20,000 visitors a year is that it’s a garden which demonstrates the drama and versatility which grasses can bring with them.

“They create movement, because stems and leaves sway in the slightest wind. They are durable, tough, and hardy. They are easy to use, and they are easy to please.

28 Country Gardener

“They are constantly moving, beautiful and provide interest all summer while needing no looking after other than an annual spring cut back,” he enthuses.

He talks about Knoll Gardens as being a true working garden, a ‘garden in progress’ and he admits to constantly exploring ways of growing and combining plants for maximum effect throughout the year.

There’s no doubt he has turned it into a plant lover’s paradise. The gardens also now hold the National Plant Collection of Pennisetum.

“It’s about attention to detail. We try and grow high quality plants but the key for gardeners I believe, is to see how these plants work for instance in a border, seeing them in their natural habitat and how they grow.”

The nursery which is run alongside the naturalistic gardens has given him the perfect opportunity to experiment and there’s an ongoing selection programme as new plants are released chosen for their ability to ‘perform’ well for gardeners in the UK climate. Every year his small team of five grows thousands of grasses and perennials including many native species. Many of the plants they sell are growing in the garden.

He has been promoting grasses for 10 years now and, though design trends can dictate that certain groups go out of fashion, he is certain grasses are here to stay.

"Grasses are the most successful group of plants on the planet. They are a diverse group that can cope with a variety of conditions. They were pretty good garden plants before the issue of climate change was talked about but they have brought to the fore what we should have known - that we should be more sustainable and choose the right plant for the right place."

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