Landscape Design - Stunningly Beautiful Prairie Gardens

Oct 6, 2017 - POSTED BY Anna Halloran - Gardeners Choice

This 8 acre garden is like a huge Impressionist painting that invites you to walk in and around it.  In fact Home and Garden Magazine described the Sussex Prairie Gardens as “A living tableau of plants – a vast, moving sea of densely planted perennials and grasses on a scale that has to be seen to be believed.” I went to Sussex to see Petworth Park and to look out from the windows of Petworth House to drink in the beautiful views that Turner so famously painted. Little did I realise that it would be the Sussex Prairie Gardens that was the garden that evoked the feeling of walking into a living landscape painting. 

The size of the garden has allowed the owners to plant huge drifts of perennials, so that the impact of each type of plant is multiplied tenfold.  You don’t see groupings of five, ten or fifteen plants, rather your eyes take in swathes of colour that seem endless.  Look at Photo 2 and you will get a feel of what we saw.  Then as you walk around the meandering paths within these heavily planted borders, you suddenly come eye to eye with a sculpture, like this graceful giraffe planted in amongst the grasses. 

There are many styles of sculpture lurking in the borders, some of them really unexpected.  Take this interesting wooden sculpture rising out of a sea of Rudbekias.  It almost looks like it is part of the landscape, perhaps the remains of an old tree, but it is just too beautiful to be that. Or there are several wooden sculptures like the one in Photo 5, which to me looks a bit scary, but which is nevertheless incredibly powerful and well executed.

The colours of this living painting are another reason why the Sussex Prairie Gardens are so memorable. From seas of bright sunshine to drifts of misty clouds of frothy pink, the variation is brilliant. The use of multiple grasses also adds to both the texture and the movement in the borders, and they provide a strong contrast to many of the timber sculptures. The last photo shows one of my favourite grasses - Miscanthus ‘Kleine Silberspinne’. This is quite a neat and compact grass, up to 1.2 m high, with beautiful, feathery, reddish flowers that flower throughout the Autumn. Sussex Prairie Gardens opened in 2009 and they were designed by Paul and Pauline McBride - to my mind they are definitely well worth a visit!