Our arrival at Wimborne on 16th August for our final garden visit of the year began on a convivial note with a visit to The Old Thatch pub (just down the road from our main destination) for lunch and other refreshments.
Knoll Gardens has an enviable reputation for its award-winning collection of grasses. However, its previous incarnations, first as the private garden of a collector of rare trees and Australasian plants and then of a plantsman who specialised in the cultivation of rhododendrons, camellias and other shade loving shrubs, give the 4-acre site an added dimension. Many of these original plantings remain and provide a leafy backdrop to the swathes of grasses and perennials that now take centre stage.
There was an amazing array of different grasses. One huge specimen, its thick, ringed stems reminiscent of a bamboo wind chime, hardly resembled a grass at all. Others were more familiar and graceful with a wonderful variety of seed heads that moved in the slightest breeze, some reflecting the light in tones of copper and gold. More compact varieties with bright blades of yellow and variegated stripes of green and cream made handsome footnotes.
The grasses were complemented by succulents and flowering perennials. Especially notable at this time of year were dainty gaura with their racemes of soft pink flowers and pale yellow scabious beloved by butterflies. Here and there, providing extra contrast, were arching rosa glauca, scarlet hips glowing against blue-green foliage. Then suddenly, a group of aliens were spotted towering out of the grass! They resembled extremely large and colourful red hot pokers studded with shiny black fruits very similar to our native blackberry. Obviously part of the Australasian collection, they seemed happily at home here, despite their strange appearance.
There were other surprises too. The most memorable of these was an enormous eucalyptus which had been blown over in the storms in 2014, coming to rest on a high bank with half its roots exposed. The tree surgeons pronounced it safe, soil was mounded over the exposed roots and it continued to flourish in its new position, producing fresh leaves and shedding great ribbons of papery bark. It now forms a spectacular bridge across a pathway and ornamental ponds. In another part of the garden a giant monkey puzzle tree and an equally tall Kiftsgate rose are entwined in a prickly embrace into which no-one is prepared to intervene!
There is an unfussy, relaxed style to the garden that seems to allow nature to take its course wherever possible. A pool that once housed koi carp was cleared by marauding mink but was kept on as a wildlife pond, attracting newts and frogs and dragonflies.
Insects are well catered for with an insect hotel roofed with sedum and packed with fir cones, wood shavings and hollow stems of every size to provide cosy retreats for many different kinds of bugs. Nearby, separate provision has been made for solitary bees and other ground nesting insects.
The garden at Knoll holds many delights but, overall, there is a restful feel to the place with its winding paths and informal planting. We came across neat lawns like little green islands edged with gravel beaches and seas of waving grasses. Sunny glades give way to shady woodland with a variety of shrubs and many unusual and exotic trees including silver maple, gingko, canoe birch and a cork oak with its wonderfully whorled bark.
Our visit to Knoll Gardens proved to be feast for the senses and a great day out!