Sussex Prairie Garden

The play of Echinacea, Helenium, Deschampsia and Sanguisorba at the Sussex Prairie garden, Henfield

This week I am excited to be visiting the Sussex Prairie garden at Morlands Farm, Henfield, created and designed by Pauline and Paul McBride.

I pass some happy pigs beneath the canopy of oaks as I walk towards the garden. As the path opens into bright daylight your senses are immediately captured by the scale, colour, light, texture and movement expressed in the planting and design – it is really beautiful.

In the first border I come to the swathes of raspberry pink and white Echinacea play against the Helenium’s flash of orange and red. Beyond, the Deschampsia cespitosa ‘Goldtau’ grasses with their gossamer like flower plumes have matured into a warm golden colour which contrast with the strong vertical of the white Sanguisorba canadensis.

I catch up with Pauline and Paul McBride on the farm terrace amongst the nursery plants for sale outside their splendid tearooms. The terrace overlooks the gardens.

They are delighted as I explain that their garden is food for my heart. Pauline says “It is a beautiful thing – people are moved by it.”

Sussex Prairie garden designers Pauline and Paul McBride
Sussex Prairie garden designers Pauline and Paul McBride

I comment on the exquisite synergy of the plants in the border I have just encountered. Pauline responds “The plants are like our friends we knew how they would behave and how to put them together from the gardens we have worked on.” From the wilds of Rajasthan, to the quiet beech wood valleys of Luxembourg Paul and Pauline McBride have been creating gardens for over 30 years.

I am fascinated by the way that the garden invites you into itself. Wherever you are your eye is met by stunningly conceived views with layered perspective. Pauline explains “It’s to do with the big spiral design. We drew up huge plans for the gardens – each designed in minute detail – we had to think how it would work together, the structure, plants and use of grasses. The gardens readily invite you in with their pathways through the borders in a very calming and seductive way. We want people to engage with the garden – be close to the bees and insects, brush against the plants, engage with them, touch them and experience the fragrance and a freedom as the garden takes on a life of its own and becomes something extraordinary.”

The naturalistic planting belies the underpinning of the generous discipline of their design. Pauline and Paul’s lifetimes work and experience is distilled into their Prairie garden.

Pauline continues “The garden is still evolving as we add new plants to the mix. The garden itself is changing as it seeds and cross-pollinates…the plants have done it themselves it is very exciting.”

Preparations are underway for the Unusual Plant and Garden Fair this coming Sunday. Pauline explains “We invite a great selection of specialist nurseries with their wonderful plants – it’s rare to find so many specialist plants men and women in one place. There’s Jazz and great food too, it’s a real day out!”

This festival of plants will be held this coming Sunday 2nd September 2018, 11am to 5pm at Sussex Prairies, Morlands Farm, Wheatsheaf Road, Henfield, West Sussex, BN5 9AT. To find out more about the gardens and this event visit www.sussexprairies.co.uk or telephone 01273 495902.

By Rupert Toovey, a senior director of Toovey’s, the leading fine art auction house in West Sussex, based on the A24 at Washington. Originally published in the West Sussex Gazette.

Nation’s Passion for Gardening Celebrated at Parham

A garden view at Parham
A garden view at Parham

Parham’s Garden Weekend is celebrating its 25th anniversary this coming weekend.

For me this quintessential celebration of our passion for gardening is one of the highlights of the Sussex summer calendar, thanks to Parham’s long gardening tradition and the national reputation of Head Gardener, Tom Brown.

Over the course of the weekend there will be garden tours, talks and demonstrations from leading experts. The Secrets of Head Gardeners session will be a particular highlight with the South’s most celebrated Head Gardeners including Fergus Garrett from Great Dixter, Troy Scott Smith from Sissinghurst, Sarah Wain from West Dean and Parham’s Tom Brown in conversation.

It’s a measure of Tom Brown’s reputation that many of the country’s leading horticulturalists, gardeners and designers choose to congregate at Parham for the Garden Weekend year after year.

Alongside all these events visitors will discover some of our leading nurseries.
It is the relational quality of this festival of gardening which never fails to delight me – passionate and knowledgeable people coming together at Parham to share their experiences and love of gardening.

Tom Brown, his garden team and volunteers, will once again be out in force to offer advice and to interpret the garden for visitors. It is rare for the public to have such unmediated, direct access to horticulturalists of this calibre.

The gardens themselves are exquisite. The swathes of summer flowers seem to dance in the gentle breeze framing the garden’s paths. I love the stillness that gathers you in the walled gardens at Parham. It transports you, separating you from the busyness of life. To create a garden of this subtlety, depth and beauty requires a sensitivity to place, light, the elements and the seasons.

A dog’s eye view of Parham’s celebration of gardening

Sheltered by the warm hues of the old brick garden walls covered in lichen these gardens have a remarkable ability to gather and engage people. Families find a gentle place to wander in conversation, their time in the garden informed by the beauty around them. Keen horticulturists will pause to explore the subtleties and effects of the planting, colour and compositions before them. But whatever your approach you cannot fail to walk in this beautiful place without being moved by it.

This generous and outward facing spirit pervades all that Parham does and at the heart of it are Lady Emma Barnard and her husband James who, together with their sons, bring such life and vitality to this timeless place. Their patronage and stewardship blesses us all.

I am looking forward to Parham House and Garden’s ‘25th Anniversary Garden Weekend’ this coming Saturday and Sunday, 7th and 8th July 2017, 10.30am to 5.00pm. For more information go to www.parhaminsussex.co.uk or telephone 01903 742021. I look forward to seeing you there!

By Rupert Toovey, a senior director of Toovey’s, the leading fine art auction house in West Sussex, based on the A24 at Washington. Originally published in the West Sussex Gazette.

 

Parham’s Garden Weekend

Parham’s Head Gardener, Tom Brown, in the greenhouses at Parham
Parham’s Head Gardener, Tom Brown, in the greenhouses at Parham

Parham’s Garden Weekend is becoming Chelsea by the Sussex Downs thanks to its long gardening tradition and the growing national reputation of Head Gardener, Tom Brown. For me this quintessential celebration of our passion for gardening is one of the highlights of the Sussex summer calendar.

I come across Tom Brown preparing for the weekend in the greenhouse. The light, perspective and abundance of flowers in the greenhouse is reminiscent of Eric Ravilious’ famous watercolours of greenhouses painted in Sussex in the 1930s.

It’s a measure of Tom Brown’s growing stature that many of the country’s leading horticulturalists, gardeners and designers choose to congregate at Parham for the Garden Weekend year after year.

The new White Border against the ancient walls of Parham’s gardens
The new White Border against the ancient walls of Parham’s gardens

Amongst those coming to celebrate gardening at Parham is former Chelsea Physic Head Gardener and BBC Gardener’s World presenter, Nick Bailey, who will be holding a book signing event. Society garden designer, author and Chelsea Flower Show Gold Medallist, Jinny Blom, leading plants woman, Marina Christopher, and doyen of cut flowers and designer of one of BBC Radio 2’s 2017 Chelsea sensory gardens, Sarah Raven, all have Parham’s Garden Weekend on their calendars.

In between the talks and workshops Tom Brown, his garden team and volunteers, will be out in force to offer advice and to interpret the garden for visitors. It is rare for the public to have such unmediated, direct access to horticulturalists like Tom and his team.

This generous and outward facing spirit pervades all that Parham does which allows Tom to put a spot light on the best that Sussex has to offer. Many of our county’s most talented plants men and women, growers, specialist nurseries and local talent will be exhibiting at Parham, giving the discerning gardening public access to top quality plants and advice. It is this authenticity which makes Parham’s Garden Weekend so unique. This and Tom’s vision and integrity is attracting increasing attention from across the country.

The upward trajectory of Tom Brown and the gardens at Parham is set to continue. There is a sense of long-term patronage at Parham. Tom is quick to celebrate Lady Emma Barnard’s role in this. Her love of Parham and her patronage continues to bless this place with such life and creativity.

The restored Blue Border at Parham
The restored Blue Border at Parham

In recent years there has been significant investment in the borders with experimental trials in planting. The palette of plants is very important to the opulent, artistic borders at Parham. The restored Blue Border and the new White Border give expression to the natural informality of the ‘Parham Way’ and delight the senses. There is much in the old and the new to enchant the visitor.

I am looking forward to Parham House and Garden’s ‘Garden Weekend’ this coming Saturday and Sunday, 8th and 9th July 2017, 10.30am to 5.00pm. For more information go to www.parhaminsussex.co.uk or telephone 01903 742021. I look forward to seeing you there!

By Rupert Toovey, a senior director of Toovey’s, the leading fine art auction house in West Sussex, based on the A24 at Washington. Originally published in the West Sussex Gazette.

Celebrating our Quintessential Affair with the Garden

Sweet peas in the cut flower beds at Parham
Sweet peas in the cut flower beds at Parham

This week I am visiting Parham House in West Sussex as preparations for their 22nd annual Garden Weekend are in full swing. For me this quintessential celebration of our passion for gardening is one of the highlights of the Sussex summer calendar. This year’s event will be opened by the celebrity gardener and broadcaster, Rachel de Thame.

Head Gardener, Tom Brown, at Parham House

As I arrive at Parham the scene is one of great activity. An enormous cherry picker fills the courtyard, they have been tending the ancient roses on the walls of the house. Lady Emma Barnard greets me with a wave from the far side of the fountain as Head Gardener, Tom Brown, welcomes me. Tom and I walk through an ancient wooden archway and door, its russet paint complimenting the silver grey of the stone buildings. On the other side the stillness which gathers you at Parham is immediately apparent.

As we walk towards the walled garden Tom begins to talk about the gardens and his role as Parham’s Head Gardener. His face is alive with enthusiasm as he says “The garden is bigger than all of us. It’s humbling to look at how this garden behaves and its needs.” I remark on how I have always loved the naturalistic planting at Parham. Its swathes of colour and textures interact with the movement of light and a gentle breeze in the walled gardens. Tom responds “The palette of the plants is very important to the ‘Parham way’, as are the big opulent artistic borders. But this is underpinned by a rigour in the way we approach our work in the garden.” It quickly becomes apparent that I am in the company of an accomplished and sensitive horticulturist who has the rare gift of observing well. He describes how he is attentive to the way that plants respond to the garden and also people’s reactions to it. There is a quality of the relational, a deep sense of stewardship, in Tom’s approach. It is also clear that he has an awareness of his place in the ongoing story of this ancient house and garden and an understanding of the responsibilities of his position.

The Greenhouse at Parham being tended by Peta and Henry
The Greenhouse at Parham being tended by Peta and Henry

Our conversation turns to Tom’s team and the creativity it embodies. He talks with obvious respect and pride as he describes how Peta, Henry, Max, Jake and Sam bring different gifts and experience. He remarks “There is a sense of ownership for all of us with belonging to a team.” This is a team defined by respectful dialogue. There is respect both for the members of the team and the garden.

As we talk a visitor approaches us. She expresses her pleasure in the garden and Tom is clearly delighted. He stands and listens carefully to her question about planting in the shade of her garden. He responds generously and with expert advice.

Tom is clearly grateful for the time he spent at Wisley but his pleasure in the ‘canvas’ of these gardens, that Lady Emma’s patronage has given him to work on, is unmistakeable. Tom brings his generosity of spirit and depth of expertise to his role as he facilitates and leads the ongoing vision for these gardens. He loves the domestic qualities of his position too. He always ensures that there is a basket of fresh vegetables for Emma and her family when they return home and wonderful cut flowers for the house. That the gardens bless the family is very important to him. His generous care for the gardens, his team, the visitors, Lady Emma and her family is underpinned by the relational in all that he does. Tom is richly deserving of our thanks.

Parham House and Garden’s ‘Garden Weekend’ is on this coming Saturday and Sunday, 11th and 12th July 2015, 10.30am to 5.00pm. For more information go to www.parhaminsussex.co.uk or telephone 01903 742021. Tickets include the wonderful gardens and entry to the house and its superb collections. There will be a number of specialist nurseries and the opportunity to be inspired and take home some wonderful stock for your gardens. Don’t miss out on the marvellous cut summer flower arrangements in the house and the flower festival in St Peter’s church. I hope to see you there!

By Revd. Rupert Toovey. Originally published on 8th July 2015 in the West Sussex Gazette.

Parham House and Gardens’ Annual Garden Weekend

Parham House and Garden
Gardener and patron, Peta Ashton and Lady Emma Barnard, in conversation in the Tudor herb garden at Parham House and Gardens

This week I am visiting the walled gardens in the lead up to one of the highlights of the Sussex summer calendar: Parham House and Gardens’ famous ‘Garden Weekend’. This year’s celebration of gardening at Parham will be opened on Saturday by the BBC Gardeners’ World presenter Joe Swift.

I love the stillness that gathers you in the walled gardens at Parham. It transports you, separating you from the business of life. To create a garden of this subtlety, depth and beauty requires a sensitivity to place, light, the elements and the seasons.

Tom Brown, Head Gardener at Parham, leads a team of gifted people, whose creativity allows this sublime garden to honour the past while remaining forward-looking. I am excited to be meeting Peta Ashton, a gardener and member of this team, whose individuality and talent is apparent in her work in the Parham gardens.

Lady Emma Barnard and I walk from her wonderful house to the gardens and she leaves me in the path between the long borders as she goes off to find Peta. If you have ever dared to still yourself and stand in a landscape, you will know that out of the silence your senses become heightened. You become more alive. Sounds, colours and movement reveal themselves to you. As I stand between these borders with the warmth of the sun upon my face, the wind and shadows cause the soft planting to dance. I become aware of the swathes of colour and their relationships to one another, which, together with the textures of flowers and foliage, form complex compositions. The gentle breeze plays upon the leaves. There is a rhythm and wholeness, born out of this rich canvas. Lady Emma appears with Peta, the sound of their voices and feet on the gravel paths marking their approach.

Borders at Parham House and Gardens
Peta Ashton’s sublime borders at Parham

The borders which have just captured my imagination and gathered me are the work and inspiration of Peta Ashton. I remark on my experience of this particular part of the garden. She listens thoughtfully. Her face breaks into a gentle smile beneath her broad-brimmed hat, evidently pleased by my unexpected response to her work. I ask her what has influenced the garden layout. She replies, “The gardens are laid out in the ‘Old Parham Way’ with secret and open spaces.” There is much talk today of garden rooms but it would seem that this is nothing new at Parham.

Together the three of us walk towards another of Peta’s creations, the restored herb garden, which is bordered by a tall yew hedge of dark green hue. Entering through an arch cut into the hedge, we find ourselves in a secret, sunny garden. A circular stone pond with a lead putto is framed by tall herbs. Excitedly Peta leads Emma and me around the herb garden, delighting in the names, the foliage and the characters of each individual plant. It is apparent that we are in the company of a generous and passionate plantswoman, who expresses her hopes and fears for each of them in turn.

In Tudor times, when Parham was built, herbs were used for their culinary, medicinal and strewing properties. Herbs would be strewn on the floors and surfaces of homes to deter insects and to disinfect, as well as for their fragrant qualities. In this enclosed garden, I am reminded that herbs were associated with the monastic tradition in medicine. It is these influences which are expressed in the disciplined, balanced planting. Peta explains that this would be defeated if it was too ornamental. There is a sense of working with nature and history.

The Gardens at Parham House
A view from the gardens looking towards the house and Sussex Downs

I ask Peta how she comes to imagine and create these remarkable borders and gardens. She pauses for a moment, considering her reply, and then says, “The borders come out of being in this space in silence. It is the combination of this inner criterion and influences from outside which I try to work with.” Being attentive to nature, colour, form and movement requires a particular quality of engagement and a generous discipline – a combination of relationship with our environment and an attempt to shut out the white noise of our lives and be truly present, undistracted in the given moment. It is a form of meditation, of prayer. Peta clearly understands this and it gifts her creativity and remarkable vision with depth and subtlety. She is both artist and gardener.

Calling and vocation can be expressed in infinite ways. Peta Ashton’s sense of vocation towards her work, like her gardens, is inspiring. It is bound up with her very personhood. Like so much at Parham House and Gardens, Peta’s tremendously personal expression of creativity is possible thanks to the patronage and involvement of Lady Emma.

Sheltered by the warm hues of the old brick garden walls covered in lichen, these gardens have a remarkable ability to gather and engage people. Families find a gentle place to wander in conversation, their time in the garden informed by the beauty around them. Keen horticulturists will pause to explore the subtleties and effects of the planting and compositions before them. Whatever your approach, though, you cannot fail to wander in this beautiful place without being moved by it.

I am looking forward to the Parham House and Gardens’ ‘Garden Weekend’ this Saturday and Sunday, 12th and 13th July 2014, 10.30am to 5.00pm. For more information go to www.parhaminsussex.co.uk or telephone 01903 742021. Tickets include the wonderful gardens and entry to the house and its superb collections. There are Parham plants for sale too – wonderful stock – so don’t forget to treat yourselves!

By Revd. Rupert Toovey. Originally published on 9th July 2014 in the West Sussex Gazette.