Garden Visit: Sussex Prairie Garden September 2017

Garden Visit: Sussex Prairie Garden September 2017. Prairie, prairies, prairie planting, perennial, grass, grasses, piet oudolf, american prairie, echinacea, rudbeckia, herbaceous, autumn, autumnal colour, late summer garden design, garden, gardening, west sussex, RHS, RHS partner garden, RHS membership, RHS membership benefits.

Making the most of my RHS Membership with a visit to the partner garden – The Sussex Prairie Garden

I remember seeing the Sussex Prairie Garden on Gardeners’ World in 2015 but had managed to forget it was on my ‘to visit list’. We had a spare afternoon when visiting family in Surrey so made the short trip to West Sussex.

This eight-acre garden focuses on prairie-style plants planted in large drifts through sweeping borders. The site is flat and it has wide grass paths for wheelchair accessible viewing. They have a cafe and terrace on site.

How to find the garden

Garden Visit: Sussex Prairie Garden September 2017. Prairie, prairies, prairie planting, perennial, grass, grasses, piet oudolf, american prairie, echinacea, rudbeckia, herbaceous, autumn, autumnal colour, late summer garden design, garden, gardening, west sussex, RHS, RHS partner garden, RHS membership, RHS membership benefits.
Where to find the garden

We took the A24 south from Horsham and onto the A272 where the brown tourist signs start. There’s free parking in a field adjacent to the site.

Useful information

Website: www.sussexprairies.co.uk

Entry Fee: Free for RHS members. £7 for adults with some concessions.

Opening Days and Times: Open 6 afternoons a week (closed Tuesday) 1pm -5pm

Garden Visit: Sussex Prairie Garden September 2017. Prairie, prairies, prairie planting, perennial, grass, grasses, piet oudolf, american prairie, echinacea, rudbeckia, herbaceous, autumn, autumnal colour, late summer garden design, garden, gardening, west sussex, RHS, RHS partner garden, RHS membership, RHS membership benefits.
Bendy straws of sanguisorba species

Main Features

  • Main garden with large borders
  • Cutting Garden
  • Tea Shop
  • Terrace
  • House Garden
  • Art Installations
  • Pigs!

Main Garden

The large open site at Sussex Prairie Garden is really impressive. We visited in the late afternoon in September which must be a peak for the garden. The sun was low and lit the borders beautifully. Most of the plants were in full display and the tapestry of colour and texture was a masterclass in prairie planting.

I like this style of planting due to its naturalistic feel and benefit to wildlife. It was popularised in the late 90s by Piet Oudolf and has since become mainstream.

Garden Visit: Sussex Prairie Garden September 2017. Prairie, prairies, prairie planting, perennial, grass, grasses, piet oudolf, american prairie, echinacea, rudbeckia, herbaceous, autumn, autumnal colour, late summer garden design, garden, gardening, west sussex, RHS, RHS partner garden, RHS membership, RHS membership benefits.

Looking back towards the cafe terraceWhilst the borders are wide and generously planted, there are narrower bark paths traversing them so you can get right inside the planting. This makes you feel enclosed and part of the garden. A very neat trick as it’s easy to feel that some gardens are tableaux to be simply observed and not experienced.

Garden Visit: Sussex Prairie Garden September 2017. Prairie, prairies, prairie planting, perennial, grass, grasses, piet oudolf, american prairie, echinacea, rudbeckia, herbaceous, autumn, autumnal colour, late summer garden design, garden, gardening, west sussex, RHS, RHS partner garden, RHS membership, RHS membership benefits.
Narrow bark paths take you into the wide borders

Garden Structure

Any loose style of planting can appear lacking without a good structure to contain it. I loved the structural elements of the garden for the formality they brought but also as great examples of planting and maintenance. These three Betula trees provide a steady rhythm to the scene and this tree was also repeated throughout the garden.

Garden Visit: Sussex Prairie Garden September 2017. Prairie, prairies, prairie planting, perennial, grass, grasses, piet oudolf, american prairie, echinacea, rudbeckia, herbaceous, autumn, autumnal colour, late summer garden design, garden, gardening, west sussex, RHS, RHS partner garden, RHS membership, RHS membership benefits.
Betula trees planted for structure

The hedges could have been left as rectangular boxes but the heights varied as you went down the central axis. This made them function as backdrop, concealer and framer all at the same time.

Garden Visit: Sussex Prairie Garden September 2017. Prairie, prairies, prairie planting, perennial, grass, grasses, piet oudolf, american prairie, echinacea, rudbeckia, herbaceous, autumn, autumnal colour, late summer garden design, garden, gardening, west sussex, RHS, RHS partner garden, RHS membership, RHS membership benefits.
Tapering hedges form structure in the garden
Garden Visit: Sussex Prairie Garden September 2017. Prairie, prairies, prairie planting, perennial, grass, grasses, piet oudolf, american prairie, echinacea, rudbeckia, herbaceous, autumn, autumnal colour, late summer garden design, garden, gardening, west sussex, RHS, RHS partner garden, RHS membership, RHS membership benefits.
Ornamental grasses mimic the line of the hedges.

Key Plant Highlights

There’s always a few new plants to discover when visiting gardens. This time my eye was caught by Sidalca for the first time. This tall and airy plant provided contrast to some of the other, denser, specimens.

Garden Visit: Sussex Prairie Garden September 2017. Prairie, prairies, prairie planting, perennial, grass, grasses, piet oudolf, american prairie, echinacea, rudbeckia, herbaceous, autumn, autumnal colour, late summer garden design, garden, gardening, west sussex, RHS, RHS partner garden, RHS membership, RHS membership benefits.
Sidalcia ‘My love’

I was amazed to find that this startlingly bright plant was herbaceous. I had assumed it was a semi-tender tree. Apparently, it’s native to America, as are so many of the prairie plants.

Garden Visit: Sussex Prairie Garden September 2017. Prairie, prairies, prairie planting, perennial, grass, grasses, piet oudolf, american prairie, echinacea, rudbeckia, herbaceous, autumn, autumnal colour, late summer garden design, garden, gardening, west sussex, RHS, RHS partner garden, RHS membership, RHS membership benefits.
Phytolacca americana
American pokeweed

I have a similar Eryngium in my garden but this species has a more upright basal cluster and smaller, more numerous, flowering clusters.

Garden Visit: Sussex Prairie Garden September 2017. Prairie, prairies, prairie planting, perennial, grass, grasses, piet oudolf, american prairie, echinacea, rudbeckia, herbaceous, autumn, autumnal colour, late summer garden design, garden, gardening, west sussex, RHS, RHS partner garden, RHS membership, RHS membership benefits.
Eryngium pandanifolium forming strong silhouettes

Another bright pink shock amongst the planting was this Meadowsweet relative.

Garden Visit: Sussex Prairie Garden September 2017. Prairie, prairies, prairie planting, perennial, grass, grasses, piet oudolf, american prairie, echinacea, rudbeckia, herbaceous, autumn, autumnal colour, late summer garden design, garden, gardening, west sussex, RHS, RHS partner garden, RHS membership, RHS membership benefits.
Filipendula rubra, a pink relative of our native Meadowsweet.

I like Rudbeckia, not being one for the common aversion to yellow and orange in a garden, but I have become tired of reading about Goldsturm. My eyes almost glaze over when I see it listed as a recommended plant. Having seen it in this context and planted en masse I might have been converted. I’ve recently sown some Rudbeckia maxima for the garden but if I need a lower growing type it will have to be Goldsturm.

Garden Visit: Sussex Prairie Garden September 2017. Prairie, prairies, prairie planting, perennial, grass, grasses, piet oudolf, american prairie, echinacea, rudbeckia, herbaceous, autumn, autumnal colour, late summer garden design, garden, gardening, west sussex, RHS, RHS partner garden, RHS membership, RHS membership benefits.
Rudbeckia fulgida var. sullivantii ‘Goldsturm’

Art in the garden

Art installations in gardens don’t often catch my interest much, there are plants to be seen after all, and the garden hosts a variety of classes and exhibitions that were placed amongst the borders.

Garden Visit: Sussex Prairie Garden September 2017. Prairie, prairies, prairie planting, perennial, grass, grasses, piet oudolf, american prairie, echinacea, rudbeckia, herbaceous, autumn, autumnal colour, late summer garden design, garden, gardening, west sussex, RHS, RHS partner garden, RHS membership, RHS membership benefits.
The late sun lights the borders

 

I’ll be sure to make the trip to Sussex Prairie Garden again in the future, now I know where it is, but it would be good to see it at another time of year to assess how well the planting holds interest in other months.

Other Garden Visit Posts

RHS Wisley

Melbourne Botanic Garden

Le Manoir aux Quat’saisons

Gardens by the bay, Singapore

 

Echinacea: RHS Wisley Plant Trials 2017

Echinacea: RHS Wisley Plant Trials 2017. Coneflower, prairie planting, prairie plants, american native, american native plants, perennial, perennial plants, drought tolerant, daisy, daisy flower, pollinator plants, good for bees, good for butterflies, wisley, rhs, plant trial, echinacea varieties, plant comparison,

Picking my favourite varieties in the 2017 Echinacea Plant Trial

As part of my recent visit to RHS Wisley, I made a point of visiting the Plant Trial Beds. These are where the Award of Garden Merit (AGM) plants are trialled and awarded the highest horticultural accolade. This year I was pleased to see the Zinnia and Echinacea trials in full bloom.

The trial is in its second year of three and, for me, there were some clear winners in the patch. I didn’t have any Echinacea in my garden when I visited Wisley but I soon corrected that by buying ‘Magnus Superb’.

If you want to find out more about the current plant trials happening at Wisley then follow this link to the PDF.

RHS Plant Trials 2017-2019 list PDF

Echinacea: RHS Wisley Plant Trials 2017. Coneflower, prairie planting, prairie plants, american native, american native plants, perennial, perennial plants, drought tolerant, daisy, daisy flower, pollinator plants, good for bees, good for butterflies, wisley, rhs, plant trial, echinacea varieties, plant comparison,
Echinacea trial beds

Traditional pink Echinacea

When I think of Echinacea the first thing that comes to mind is tall, pinky purple, daisy-like flowers held high amongst a mixed grass border. Their rich, deep pinks are complemented by the central cone that often has burnt-orange tints.

For this reason, my favourite selection has to be ‘Fatal Attraction’ – apparently bred by Piet Oudolf – and has a real quality of colour with strong dark stems. The Sombrero Baja Burgundy (possibly a breeding label rather than its eventual commercial name) had petals that were much closer to a cherry-red. ‘Pink Shimmer’ seemed to glow and really stood out amongst the rest.

White Echinacea varieties

I like the white versions too. They can bring a lighter feel to a border and are a little more restful to look at.

‘Green Jewel’ was white/acid green on the petals and stood tall. ‘White Meditation was a much more compact bush and would suit the front of a border or a pot. The species variant ‘alba’ has relaxed¬†reflexed petals.

Double Echinacea varieties

I’ve never grown the double echinacea varieties and at first glance, they’re a little off-putting. The more you stare the better they get and I think I could get used to them.

‘Catharina Red’ and ‘Elegance’ were the least fussy of the varieties on offer.

For something different

Echinacea: RHS Wisley Plant Trials 2017. Coneflower, prairie planting, prairie plants, american native, american native plants, perennial, perennial plants, drought tolerant, daisy, daisy flower, pollinator plants, good for bees, good for butterflies, wisley, rhs, plant trial, echinacea varieties, plant comparison,
Echinacea ‘Tiki Torch’

I really liked ‘Tiki Torch’ and it is my second favourite variety on trial. The orange is rich and could easily be mixed in a border with yellows and purples and the plants looked healthy.

In summary

These nine varieties are my favourite of all the types on trial. Some of the plants don’t have commercial names yet so are very new. It’s hard to know how well they will perform in a garden setting and how much hardiness and longevity they can muster. A lot of the varieties, particularly those most often flaunted in catalogues as being a colour break, were a disappointing, almost muddy, set of colours. Many had few blooming stems or had flopped untidily.