On a sweltering hot day in September, I headed to Sussex Prairies Garden in the picture-perfect West Sussex countryside. I have visited plenty of stunning formal gardens in England, and was intrigued to find out what a ‘Prairie Garden’ would look like, and I’m pleased to say its natural free-flowing design exceeded my expectations.
Sussex Prairies is a unique naturalistic garden, started in 2008 by international garden designers Paul and Pauline McBride. The garden features planting designed in the shape of a nautilus shell allowing visitors to walk within its spiralling borders to fully appreciate the height and beauty of the prairie plants.
Other features of Sussex Prairies is a tea-shop, plant-shop, cutting garden, pigs and sheep and a small art gallery.
Frequently Asked Questions
How to Get to Sussex Prairies Garden
By train – Victoria to Hassocks Station (Brighton Line) takes 75 minutes and then by taxi to the garden.
By car – postcode/sat nav BN5 9AT Henfield
Entry Prices and Opening Times
Adults £10 / Children £5
Open from Wednesday to Sunday (closed Monday and Tuesday)
Events at Sussex Prairies
In summer, coincide a visit to the garden with the annual Indian Summer Bazaar. It showcases art and crafts from India. For other events and courses at Sussex Prairies, check here.
Naturalistic Borders at Sussex Prairies
There are no formal borders or even a stately home at Sussex Prairies; instead, soft informal borders and wood-chip pathways lead into densely planted areas full of height, colour and form.
Pops of pink, yellow and red flowers are at every turning and tall pastel-coloured grasses sway in the gentle breeze. I would recommend getting up close and personal with the plants by meandering through the borders.
Tall plants at eye level allow you to view their structure and natural beauty close-up.
Prairie plants have been positioned in groups, whether for their appearance or origins, creating a delicate but impactive landscape.
Lawn Areas at Sussex Prairies
Well-kept lawn areas separate the dense borders and guide you around the garden. A long expanse of lawn, bordered by sculpted hedges and modern sculptures, leads you from the tea shop and through the centre of the garden.
Bison sculptures and shapes feature throughout the garden as a nod to the North American prairies where these majestic animals roam freely.
Not many people realise that Bison also roamed the English plains over 1000 years ago. In 2022 they will be reintroduced to England to help restore the local ecosystem of one of the largest areas of surviving ancient woodland in England at Wild Wood in Kent.
Creativity at Sussex Prairies
Keep an eye out for the fabulous sculptures and garden ornaments scattered throughout the planting areas. Some are on prominent display, while others peep out at you from the flower beds and many of them are for sale.
Look out for the mosaic butterfly, metal sunflower and driftwood bird that stand out against their vibrant surroundings.
Seating is provided within the flower borders enabling you to be completely surrounded by plants, and a small lily-pad pond offers a tranquil place to sit and watch dragonflies zig-zag across the water.
A Wildlife Haven at Sussex Prairies
Visitors will love that Sussex Prairies Garden are not only visually appealing but is helping wildlife to thrive. You can’t help but notice how many bees are busy collecting pollen as you wander around the garden.
Other wildlife to spot are butterflies, grasshoppers and toads, as well as birds of prey. I was lucky enough to spot a buzzard soaring high on my visit.
Green-fingered visitors can also buy cuttings of plants from the perennial borders from the Sussex Prairies plant shop. Most plants in the borders have an identity sign showing their botanical name to make purchasing easier.
Time for Tea at Sussex Prairies
If you are ready for refreshments, don’t miss the tea shop – their homemade cakes are delicious. If you want to bring your own snacks, there is a dedicated picnic area in the garden and adjoining field.
Before you leave, please take a look in the cutting garden, I was amazed at the height of the Canna Lilies (I have one at home that is a dwarf in comparison).
And don’t forget to say hello to the resident pigs in the nearby pen.
I am familiar with the formal gardens normally attached to a castle or stately home, and so Sussex Prairies was somewhere totally different for me to explore.
I spent around an hour and a half in the garden, which was right for me but, of course, you could spend much longer. Why not bring your favourite nibbles and enjoy an alfresco picnic or sit within the brightly coloured flowers and free-flowing grasses and enjoy the charming surroundings.
My visit to Sussex Prairies Garden was by invite; however, all opinions are my own.
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