Dazzled and Enchanted by Sussex Prairies Garden

On a whim, and with absolutely no expectations, I recently visited the Sussex Prairies Garden near Henfield. My visit coincided with the last day of their Indian Bazaar which has run throughout the summer and I was met with an assortment of brightly coloured and fluttering, fabric flags, a shimmering elephant and a colourful array of little murals painted on a wooden shed. Sussex Prairies Garden is definitely somewhere rather special.

Sussex Prairie Garden

About the gardens

It’s hard to believe that this garden only opened in 2009, a year after it was planted. It was designed and created by Paul and Pauline McBride who have designed gardens as far afield as Scotland, Luxembourg and India! Described as a “naturalistic” garden, it covers eight acres and is home to some 35,000 plants.

Sussex Prairie Garden

The Sussex Prairies Garden website describes naturalistic as “The plantings consist of large groupings of each variety, planted in a free flowing style, which contrasts leaf forms, stems, stalks, flower shapes and textures. Colours are soft and muted, and complement the natural landscape.”

Sussex Prairies Garden

To the untrained eye like mine, the gardens are definitely about form, texture and structure but also about freedom and flow, and the experience is one of wave after wave of subtlety, sensuality, surprises and a sense of wellbeing. It is everything you might expect from a garden and quite a lot more.

Sussex Prairies Garden The Tropical Garden

I’ve long since yearned for my own banana plant (long story, don’t ask) so I couldn’t have been more delighted to start my visit in a tropical garden walking through an arch of banana palms.

Sussex Prairies Garden

If a parakeet had swooped down or a monkey had swung through the trees, I would not have been surprised as this tropical garden transports you to an exotic paradise. In amongst the giant bananas (compete with fruit), are ferns and palms, the huge red leaves of canna lilies, another elephant (made from chicken wire and bedecked in flags), sculptures, grasses and more.

Sussex Prairie Garden

Much like the rest of the garden, you almost can’t explore it quick enough because it’s so full of treasures and delights that you develop a terrible hunger for more.

The Cutting Garden

From the Tropical Garden, I made my way past the rare breed pigs to the Cutting Garden which has the impressive backdrop of a beautifully restored, matt black, corrugated barn along with a rusted iron silo, now converted into a private house.

Sussex Prairie Garden

The colours and textures of the buildings provide the perfect balance for the hedonistic clumps of flowers and a small Indian temple. Dahlias, Echinacea, Queen Anne’s Lace, flowering Tobacco plants, Rudbeckia, it’s all there and just when you think you’ve soaked it all up, you spot a sculpture, basking in a clump of some blooms or grasses.

Sussex Prairie Garden

The teashop, artists and bazaar

Having not researched the gardens in advance (quite deliberately), I was delighted that leading from the teashop was an art exhibition with artist in residence, Claire Fearon, who gave freely of her time to discuss her work. Inspired by the garden, she has now produced a book of poetry too.

Sussex Prairie Garden

And then it was on to the Indian Bazaar (it’s finished now but I dearly hope it will be back next summer). For anyone who has ever spent time in India, the smell of sandalwood and the bright silks and threads were instantly reminiscent, with gold, silver, pink and purple fabrics shimmering in the sunlight, as well as beads and embroidery, wall hangings and sumptuous marquees.

Sussex Prairie Garden

At this point, you just have to forget about the gardens for a while and embrace your inner Maharaja. The garden will wait.

Sussex Prairie Garden

The main garden

The main garden is laid out in a spiralling nautilus shell, which feels like a series of crescents. The borders are wide, but informal paths through the beds allow you to explore although it’s hard to know where to start because you don’t want to miss anything. There are lots of familiar plants here (Penstemon, Echinachea, red hot pokers, grasses) but also lots of the less familiar too.

Sussex Prairie Garden

Every plant has something to offer in its own right, and yet also offers something to its neighbour – perhaps it complements the colour, softens a spikey cluster or adds form to a cloud of white. The garden sways along feeling effortless (although you know a lot of effort goes into making a garden look this good), enchanting you as it does so, and periodically revealing yet more sculptures.

Sussex Prairie Garden

Once you’ve been all the way around a first time, you may want to go round again, or sit at the Monet-esque lily pond and soak up some more of the garden’s soothing effects.  I’ve said before that I’m prone to getting over-excited and despite its immensely calming effect, Sussex Prairies Garden left me over-excited at the prospect of having something quite so magical close at hand. It really is very special.

Sussex Prairie Garden

The gardens close for the winter on 10 October so you really need to hotfoot it over there if you want to visit this year. They also host a series of workshops and events in September and October including willow craft workshops, watercolours and lots more. You can find out more on their website.

Sussex Prairie Garden

 

 

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