Sussex Prairie Garden

Walking the prairie dog

Words & Pictures: Jill Anderson

Sussex Prairies is the sort of garden that catches your attention immediately, firstly there’s the sheer drama of the giant swathes of tall grasses and flowers, then there are the full-size bison sculptures peering through the plants, an altogether unexpected sight in this rural part of England.

It’s the work of Pauline and Paul McBride who spent the previous twelve years designing and working at a private garden in Luxembourg before making Sussex Prairies, from what was essentially a bare field.

They returned to the family farm in Sussex, where Pauline was brought up and began the garden in 2008. The experience of working with Piet Oudolf over a period of two years designing part of the garden in Luxembourg, was, as you might imagine, a major influence. As was the style of gardening in Belgium and Luxembourg, where structure and evergreen back-drops are the thing.

The McBrides’ design for the six acre garden uses large curved borders packed with grasses and perennials, this naturalistic planting style is also designed to attract and sustain birds, insects, butterflies, small and large mammals.

The borders radiate from a central vista, curving round each other with meandering paths right through them, inviting you to weave your way through the plants and enjoy the detail close-up. Late in the year, when everything is fully mature, you can experience that magical feeling of disappearing from view among the plants.

Mature oak trees surround and enclose the garden while hornbeam is used inside it to form curved hedges that divide the borders. An avenue of shapely hornbeam trees down the centre of the garden define the views like subtle blinkers, keeping your view within the garden. From the terrace outside the tea-room, where you can sit amongst tall potted plants, sip tea and eat cake, there’s a panoramic view down the whole length of the garden. It demonstrates how the garden is laid out and a good range of the colours, textures and shapes of the plants that have been used.

From the beginning, when forty friends and family arrived to help them plant up the garden over two and a half weeks, there has been a spirit of sharing the garden which continues today. French, Dutch and Italian landscape architect students regularly work at the garden on placements, along with WRAG scheme (Work and retrain as a gardener) trainees and regular volunteers.

Gardens nearby


Some of the small sculptures don’t have much impact, much better are the large rusted metal sheep and bison.

The Sussex Prairie Gardens re-open on 01.06.2016.