“We’re at our peak in autumn”
Knoll Gardens’ owner Neil Lucas explains what goes on behind the scenes
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.