A Stunning Prairie Garden in the Heart of Sussex

The Sussex Prairie Garden
The Sussex Prairie Garden

There is a joy in catching up with those we have missed as things continue to open up. I am delighted to find Pauline McBride in good spirits as she welcomes us to the beautiful, expansive gardens which she and her husband Paul have designed and created at Morlands Farm, Henfield It is a stunning prairie garden in the heart of Sussex.

I never cease to be delighted by the way that the garden invites you into itself. Wherever you are your eye is met by stunningly conceived views with layered perspective created by the big spiral design. Pathways lead you from the mown grass promenades through the borders. The Deschampsia cespitosa ‘Goldtau’ grasses with their gossamer like flower plumes have matured into a warm golden colour which contrast with the Echinaecea and the strong vertical of the Verbena Bonariensis. As you brush against the plants, the fragrance, touch and colours are a sensory experience. You have a real sense of inhabiting. As the garden enfolds you it takes on a life of its own.

Your eye is captured not only by the scale but also by the beautifully conceived vignettes – compositions formed of plants – which reveal themselves as you process around the garden.

The naturalistic planting belies the underpinning of the generous discipline of their design. Pauline and Paul’s lifetimes work as international designers is distilled into the poetry and rhythm of the planting.

Indian hand-crafted clothes and objects for sale in the Indian market bazaar at Sussex Prairie Garden.

As I walk through the gardens I come across a series of marquees being filled with exotic clothes in cottons and vintage sari silk, semi-precious designer jewellery, scarves, home furnishings and gifts – all ethically traded from India and for sale. This bazaar is at the heart of a month long festival supported by dance, food and talks. It runs until Saturday 4th September
Paul and Pauline first opened the Sussex Prairie Garden to the public back in 2009 and ever since they have worked to provide a platform to bridge garden enthusiasts to leading specialists

Preparations are underway for the Unusual Plant and Garden Fair. 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, it’s a real day out!” This plant fair will be held on Sunday 5th September 2021, 10am to 5pm.

The Sussex Prairie Garden is the perfect place to meet and catch up with friends. This beautiful garden is open most days and you can take your dog. To find out more about Sussex Prairie Garden, Morlands Farm, Wheatsheaf Road, Henfield, West Sussex, BN5 9AT, opening times, these and other events visit www.sussexprairies.co.uk.

Festival of Plants at Sussex Prairie Garden

I arrive at the Sussex Prairie Garden to find the international garden designers Paul and Pauline McBride and their team preparing for this weekend’s Specialist Plant Fair with the Plant Fair Roadshow which takes place on Sunday 9th June between 12noon and 5pm.

They first opened the Sussex Prairie Garden to the public back in 2009 and ever since Paul and Pauline have worked to provide a platform to bridge garden enthusiasts to leading specialists. Pauline says “The Specialist Plant Weekend is a wonderful opportunity to find top nursery men and women from across the South East of England gathered in one place. It’s rare to be able to speak to experts in their fields about their plants and ask their advice about which plants might be best for you.”

Paul and Pauline’s winter has been spent travelling in Central America seeking fresh inspiration, tending the garden and re-planting the North Mound.

As we sit drinking tea and sampling the café’s wonderful food and cake on the terrace we look out over the emerging swathes of planting in this remarkable garden. Pauline remarks “It’s so wonderful to see it re-emerging again – a hundred shades of green.” Paul adds “And there’s lots of blues at the moment – Alliums and Baptisia from Australia. The garden comes on very quickly at this time of year. We have just enjoyed hosting a number of students from the School of Landscape Architecture at Blois in France. When they arrived a few weeks ago there was almost nothing here and look at it now.”

I comment on the poetry and rhythm of the planting in the garden. Pauline agrees and comments “We do like to repeat the same plants in a border to invite you into the sinuous pathways so you can inhabit the colour, texture and shapes in the planting. The garden is planted in the shape of an Ammonite – a form from nature where there is no beginning and no end – there is some kind of harmony in that.”

It brings to my mind these lines from T.S. Elliot’s poem ‘Little Gidding’ which resonate with Pauline:

‘We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.
Through the unknown, unremembered gate…’

She responds “There is a circular sort of thing to the garden. We’re referencing the Sussex landscape that surrounds us – Chanctonbury ring over there in the distance and the sensuous undulations of the Downs.”

Sussex Prairie Garden designers and owners Paul and Pauline McBride

Alongside the specialist nurseries you must not miss out on Paul’s Pick of the Prairie with all the plants you might need to create your own prairie borders.

An afternoon of plant shopping and cake against the background of the beautiful Sussex Prairie Garden – what could be better – you must treat yourselves, I hope to see you there!

This festival of plants will be held this coming Sunday 9th June, 12noon 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.