I make no apology for a new and different perspective on the Sussex Prairies Garden. I’m fed up with the ‘isn’t it lovely’ single viewpoint on gardens. Critical comment may also be easily dismissed – but perhaps not so easily when it is clearly not simply an eccentric, single person perspective.
Every year, one garden, by either luck or skilful management, will appear everywhere to universal applause. Then get forgotten just as inevitably.
This has been the year of the Sussex Prairies – and I am waiting for another review too… (you know who you are!)
Anne Wareham. editor
Sussex Prairies is a modern garden full of brio and joy, relying on confident planting and enormous scale for its appeal. Devoid of artifice, it is a paradigm of modern style as exemplified by Piet Oudolf and others; a dictionary of prairie plants, intelligent use of scale, colour and good garden practice.
Situated on an open site of 6 acres of farmer’s field, the beautifully planted prairies were a magnificent sight with its tall grasses and herbaceous perennials at their very peak in brilliant September sunshine. Despite its astonishing youth, the already huge island beds (pleasingly broken up with meandering bark paths) encourage you to wander off the central avenue. Colour is largely red, pink and purple with yellows mainly confined to beds of their own. In the absence of conventional focal points, these are cleverly placed to draw the eye to the sometimes sombre colours of the main planting.
There are a few problems. It is a totally flat site. Raised banks do provide viewpoints but they are not quite high enough. Any higher and they might risk setting the garden at odds with its surrounding landscape. Nevertheless and to my shame, I totally missed the double helix.
For a garden with a clean, modern style it is too cluttered with stuff. No matter that the multi coloured flock of sheep standing amongst beautiful feather grass made me laugh out loud, who needs rusted buffalo, resin pigs or itty-bitty statuary in the glorious Sussex countryside?
There are a couple of muddy ponds which might benefit from black dye to make them reflect the wonderful planting. Knowing whether to turn right or left at the garden’s entrance is curiously unsettling.
But the trump card is as yet unplayed. The large front garden of the attractive, modern farmhouse and its important role as the approach to the prairie has still to be fully developed. Once that’s done, both areas will have the presence, weight and balance they deserve. Only then will Sussex Prairies free itself of its show garden feel and become the mature grown-up it deserves to be.
By Susan Wright
See also the review by Kate Buxton