Visit Knowle Garden near Shere
PUBLISHED: 15:09 18 September 2013 | UPDATED: 17:37 17 March 2015
In her latest trip, Leigh Clapp revisits the impressive gardens of Knowle Grange near Shere, which is opening this month through the National Gardens Scheme, to see how they are continuing to mature
Set on a hillside of some 80 acres, the gardens at Knowle Grange have glorious views across the Surrey countryside that are embraced by an amphitheatre design of terraces at the front of the house. It makes for a spectacular scene, though it’s not been without some hard work on the part of the owners.
Designed from scratch by Marie-Elisabeth and Philip Wood, the couple have been developing the flamboyant seven-acre gardens since 1990. “My aim has always been to blend a free, romantic style with a strong architectural frame of the classical tradition,” explains French-born Marie-Elisabeth.
Opening through the National Gardens Scheme (NGS) this month, Knowle Grange is always popular with visitors who clearly enjoy walking around the gardens, taking in the large scale of the design. After admiring the views and wandering the terraced lawns and paths, allow time to explore the formally laid out garden rooms that stretch out from the house. There are expansive lawns, including a rose lawn complete with a classical temple, a knot garden, shaped yew and hornbeam hedging, inspired by the topiary gardens at Eyrignac in the Dordogne, an Italianate garden, a woodland circle and a Japanese garden. If time allows, there is also a one-mile meandering Unicursal Path of Life, with viewing and pausing spots, as well as a secret allegory to discover.
Last but not least, the strong structural design of the formal gardens is also infilled with well-considered colourful planting, providing a source of inspiration for many. “I would love to do a cottage garden area but know I am too orderly and structural to do that,” laughs Marie-Elisabeth.
Gardening on the site has involved some trial and error, not just from exposure to wind, but also due to the sandy soil, which needs constant improving. Some plants failed, including lily-of-the-valley and many roses, before Marie-Elisabeth found a reliable palette. Spring sees massed blocks of mauve irises in the herbaceous borders by the house, while in September the colour palette is carried on with vibrant asters, nepeta and the last of the deep blue agapanthus.
Late season splendour
Not afraid of bold colour contrasts, Marie-Elisabeth uses golden rudbeckias and fiery kniphofia, with crimson penstemons to create impact late in the season. “I like quite bright colours, and love yellow and oranges, while the blues and purples are particularly luminous when it is overcast or just before sunset,” she says. Anchoring the effect are grey-foliaged plants as well as splashes of white, from the second flush of Iceberg roses and the wafting sight of stately Japanese anemones. “You can’t have a classical garden without roses and apart from the reliable Iceberg, I have found that Bonica and Lutea also do well in our conditions,” she adds.
Most days, Marie-Elisabeth is out in the garden, often accompanied by her dogs, checking the plants, taking time to enjoy the vistas and decide any changes that may be needed. September is the final crescendo in the borders and after the NGS opening, many of the plants will be cut back, leaving some for seed heads in the winter. “As I have designed with structure and hard shapes, even in winter, the garden still has a mood and is nice to walk around,” adds Marie-Elisabeth.
For now, though, don’t miss the chance to see these spectacular gardens at their best in all their late season splendour.
Need to know:
Knowle Grange, Hound House Road, Shere GU5 9JH