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
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.
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
- Main garden with large borders
- Cutting Garden
- Tea Shop
- House Garden
- Art Installations
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
I have a similar Eryngium in my garden but this species has a more upright basal cluster and smaller, more numerous, flowering clusters.
Another bright pink shock amongst the planting was this Meadowsweet relative.
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.
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.
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.
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