Sussex Prairies Garden Again – reviewed by Susan Wright

October 17, 2011

in Garden Reviews, Reviews

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 Prairie gardens copyright Susan Wright Sussex Prairies, prairie gardens, prairie garden, Sussex gardens, sussex prairie garden, Sussex prairie gardens,Thinkingardens, think gardens, think in gardens, South Wales Garden, Welsh garden, Anne Wareham, Veddw, garden review

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.

Sussex Prairie Garden 11 copyright Susan Wright Sussex Prairies, prairie gardens, prairie garden, Sussex gardens, sussex prairie garden, Sussex prairie gardens,Thinkingardens, think gardens, think in gardens, South Wales Garden, Welsh garden, Anne Wareham, Veddw, garden review

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.

Sussex Prairie Gardens 2 copyright Susan Wright Sussex Prairies, prairie gardens, prairie garden, Sussex gardens, sussex prairie garden, Sussex prairie gardens,Thinkingardens, think gardens, think in gardens, South Wales Garden, Welsh garden, Anne Wareham, Veddw, garden review

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.

Sussex Prairie Garden 5 copyright Susan Wright Sussex Prairies, prairie gardens, prairie garden, Sussex gardens, sussex prairie garden, Sussex prairie gardens,Thinkingardens, think gardens, think in gardens, South Wales Garden, Welsh garden, Anne Wareham, Veddw, garden review

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?

Sussex Prairie Garden 10 copyright Susan Wright Sussex Prairies, prairie gardens, prairie garden, Sussex gardens, sussex prairie garden, Sussex prairie gardens,Thinkingardens, think gardens, think in gardens, South Wales Garden, Welsh garden, Anne Wareham, Veddw, garden review

Sussex Prairie Garden 6 copyright Susan Wright Sussex Prairies, prairie gardens, prairie garden, Sussex gardens, sussex prairie garden, Sussex prairie gardens,Thinkingardens, think gardens, think in gardens, South Wales Garden, Welsh garden, Anne Wareham, Veddw, garden review

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.

Sussex Prairie Garden Muddy Pond copyright Susan Wright Sussex Prairies, prairie gardens, prairie garden, Sussex gardens, sussex prairie garden, Sussex prairie gardens,Thinkingardens, think gardens, think in gardens, South Wales Garden, Welsh garden, Anne Wareham, Veddw, garden review

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

Susan Wright portrait Sussex Prairies, prairie gardens, prairie garden, Sussex gardens, sussex prairie garden, Sussex prairie gardens,Thinkingardens, think gardens, think in gardens, South Wales Garden, Welsh garden, Anne Wareham, Veddw, garden review

 

 

 

 

See also the review by Kate Buxton

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{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

happily Heather October 21, 2011 at 11:45 am

This is a garden which I did go out of my way to visit this year and I agree that the flat site has a major influence over the atmosphere of the garden and yes, it did feel as though it had only recently been laid out – which indeed it had, in 2008. It will be interesting to see the garden again in another few years, when the hedging has grown: I suspect it’ll make this contemporary garden feel closer to the traditional English gardening style and therefore perhaps less alien to the visitor. Added height may change the mood of the garden altogether. Time will tell.
For me the large drifts of planting meant that I really was able to appreciate each ‘block’ in its own right rather than peering through a web of many species, so I came away with several ideas for both new plants and planting combinations to try at home. I’m not so sure that I would have been inspired in this way had the owners chosen to mix the plants more closely together. This is clearly a cultivated garden and not a meadow and whilst the planting is inspired by the prairies, I don’t think it seeks to be a prairie itself. The flat landscape allows the “prairie garden” to live up to its name.
This is a garden which challenges the visitor to question and to think – and I would highly recommend visiting in person and yes, there was a teashop, my children gave it the thumbs up!
One final note, I visited in June when many of the plants were small still, you might like to wait until the height of summer and into the autumn for their full impact.

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Lara Hurley October 18, 2011 at 12:16 pm

From the images shown, it seems to lack height and focal points. It reminds me of seventies island beds but on a really large scale. It misses the point of a prairie which should be a low-input, ecological matrix. The whole thing looks too contrived and will no doubt have a massive tea shop to generate revenue…

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Susan in the Pink Hat October 17, 2011 at 2:38 pm

I thought this about Kate Buxton’s review, and after Ms. Wright’s I’m still of the same mind that while this prairie garden may use plants associated with that community, it certainly does not give the feel of a natural planting. The plants appear too blocked together. I suspect the garden’s youth have prohibited any reseeding to relax the original plantings. Natural meadows and prairies aren’t composed of drifts of plants like this, and the plant matrix is much simpler. The impression of the garden above is that of a cultivated tall border without much background to anchor it. I don’t think I’ll put Sussex on my list of gardens I would go out of my way to see.

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