“We’re at our peak in au­tumn”

Knoll Gar­dens’ owner Neil Lu­cas ex­plains what goes on be­hind the scenes

Garden Answers (UK) - - Beautiful Gardens -

Neil Lu­cas has been the owner of Dorset-based Knoll Gar­dens and its award-win­ning nurs­ery since 1994. His pas­sion for the nat­u­ral­is­tic plant­ing style and knowl­edge of or­na­men­tal grasses has led to him re­ceive mul­ti­ple gold medals at the RHS Chelsea Flower Show

How did you come to be at Knoll? I was work­ing and liv­ing down in Devon, and saw an ad­vert that said the gar­dens were for sale. So we – my mum, dad and my­self – de­cided to buy it. Hor­ti­cul­ture has al­ways been im­por­tant in the fam­ily. My grand­fa­ther, in par­tic­u­lar, was very much into plants and es­pe­cially his del­phini­ums. Some of my ear­li­est mem­o­ries come from sum­mer hol­i­days with him in his gar­den and watch­ing him ex­hibit at the RHS Halls in Lon­don.

How big is the team? We have one full-time gar­dener, so we prac­tise what we preach with low main­te­nance. We also have half a dozen or so vol­un­teers who come and help us on a Fri­day morn­ing.

What are the main sea­sonal jobs? We’re a late-sea­son gar­den, so we peak in in­ter­est in the sec­ond half of the year. This means we cut down in early to mid-spring and do a spring clean pre­par­ing the borders, do­ing main­te­nance and mulching. We weed in sum­mer and then carry out the struc­tural projects later in the year.

In Novem­ber what are you work­ing on? Novem­ber is still our peak time in the gar­den, so we won’t be do­ing a lot to the borders. But be­fore Christ­mas we do try and com­plete one or two plant­ing jobs. If things haven’t worked so well, there’s a gap in a bor­der or we’ve de­cided to do some­thing in a dif­fer­ent way, we’ll take up the plants, move them around and re­plant.

Do you have a favourite part of the gar­den? This year I do rather love the Dragon Gar­den. We took out a hedge about a year or so ago and did a lot of new plant­ing, so it’s much more ex­pan­sive now. It’s a bit rem­i­nis­cent of a prairie.

What’s the most chal­leng­ing as­pect of your job? Run­ning a small busi­ness is al­ways highly de­mand­ing of per­sonal time. Ac­tu­ally find­ing time to do all the nec­es­sary jobs – but also leave a lit­tle bit for the one or two jobs we re­ally like to do, such as plant­ing new ar­eas – is al­ways tricky.

What’s the best part of your job? Play­ing with plants, see­ing new com­bi­na­tions and watch­ing them grow and de­velop. It’s a real thrill to see a plant that’s happy and suc­cess­ful and set­tled into the gar­den.

Do you have any fu­ture projects that you’re plan­ning to carry out? Our eu­ca­lyp­tus lawn is rel­a­tively old, the trees have got too big and are cast­ing a lot of shade, so we’re go­ing to re­de­velop that over the next few years, which will be quite a big project for us.

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