|The central aisle at Sussex Prairies, with Pauline's metal bison on the horizon|
There's no other garden anywhere like Sussex Prairies. This is the largest prairie-planted garden in England and, if you haven't visited before, definitely one to see this summer. This unique six-acre plot will enchant you, as will the home-baked cakes you can enjoy in the tea shop during or after your visit. Paul and Pauline McBride (who you're highly likely to encounter during your visit) are the brains behind this landscape, which they created from a field at the rear of their home near Brighton in Sussex.
|As you cross the wooden entrance bridge, you realise Sussex Prairies is a unique garden phenomenon|
This unique naturalistic garden offers vistas you will see nowhere else, planting that will lift your spirits and plenty of alternative entertainment throughout the summer months including workshops, theatre and music events and, at the end of the summer, a Rare and Unusual Plant Fair (September 6, 2015) that attracts some of the best plantsmen in the country, showing their wares.
The McBrides planted this garden just seven years ago, but you'd never guess this when you see the acres of plants stretching before your eyes. The planting is naturalistic, in Piet Oudolf style, and there are more than 30,000 plants here, grouped together in swathes of unusual colour schemes and a density that makes you want to wander through the various beds and be close to the flowers stretching out before your eyes (you are encouraged to follow the paths through the beds here ... no signs saying "Keep off the grass" or more importantly, "Don't walk on the beds"). You can even take your "well-behaved dog" with you.
Paul and Pauline met many years ago when they were both working for the Commonwealth War Graves Commission in France, and later went to work for a wealthy landowner in Luxembourg, who commissioned Piet Oudolf, doyenne of naturalistic planting, to design a new border for his garden. It was their time in Europe that ignited their interest in prairie planting and when they later returned home to Pauline's parents small-holding in Sussex, they decided to create their own garden in one of the fields at the rear of the property.
Another unusual feature here is the wide range of sculpture on display throughout the gardens. Pauline is very committed to supporting local artists and every year approaches different sculptors and invites them to exhibit at Sussex Prairies. The result is a constantly changing exhibition and everything you see is for sale. This year, there are also artists in residence at the garden, with a new exhibition in the tea barn.
The gardens open at the beginning of June and remain open daily (except Tuesdays) until the end of October. And although the public don't have the opportunity to see the way the prairie looks in winter, it retains a huge amount of structural interest (particularly on frosty mornings) throughout the depths of winter. And then, weather and wind permitting, Paul and a team of helpers burn it to the ground in preparation for spring. (Click link here to see pictures of Sussex Prairies burning).
Part of the charm of this little stretch of rainbow heaven is the wonderful freedom it gives the visitor. You can wander around the plants and through them, marvelling at the colour combinations and astoundingly abundant planting . Every cultivar seems happily placed and it's the sheer volume of flower heads that are guaranteed to amaze you. There is colour and a strong sense of optimism here. Watch out for all the grasses and rare perennials.
Sussex Prairies is open from June 1st until October 11th this year, every day except Tuesday, from 13.00-17.00. Admission is £6.00 for adults and £3.00 for children (RHS members go free throughout the season). There is ample parking in a field next door to the garden, a tea shop on site and the gardens are easily accessible to wheelchair users. Other notable gardens nearby include Borde Hill and Nymans.