Five things from Sussex Prairie Gardens

Pauline and Paul McBride know how to do summer perennials, and I’ve been keen for several weeks now to get down to Sussex Prairie Gardens to see how the plants have been coping in the heat. We chose a sweltering day for it, and though Bill might not have been impressed by the temperature, he was glad of the shade under the trees, and there are always plenty of water bowls in this dog-friendly garden. There may also have been cake.
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I know it’s not a popular sentiment to express, but I’m not a huge fan of summer – the heat, the sun’s glare, the sight of everything going brown and crispy. Of course it makes the arrival of autumnal mists, ripening fruits and rich colours all the more sweet, but the one thing that’s always salvaged high summer for me are the late flowering perennials; big grasses, big daisies, tall Joe Pye weed and bees buzzing around the veronicastrum spires. The stalwarts of the new perennial movement are as reliable a summer fixture as the English cricket team isn’t, and the glorious show they put on often lasts well into October before petals drop, seeds swell and the gardener must decide whether to trim the flowered stems to the ground or leave the structure for winter interest and avian eats.

But this summer continues to be ferociously warm, and plants I’d imagined would relish the heat and scoff at the lack of rainfall have been hurrying to seed, as if to put 2018 behind them at the earliest opportunity. I’ve been watching this happen in the gardens I look after, and was keen to see what effect the heat wave was having on the eight acres of perennial planting laid out at Sussex Prairie Gardens in Henfield, near Brighton.

The newly beds at the entrance to the garden have a lush, tropical feel

“We’ve been watering constantly”, Pauline told me, as I paid for the fantastic cake I’d failed to resist (courgette cake for me, something equally delicious-looking and vegan for Em). There’s a full programme of courses and events  before the gardens close for the season in October, and irrigation will be necessary if the display is to be maintained for the Bazaar Indian Summer later in the month, and the splendid Unusual Plant & Garden Fair on the first Sunday of September. It seems to be working – though of course there’s the odd crispy edge, and certain plants, like Phytolacca americana are, if not stunted, not quite the towering presences they have been in more typical UK summers here.

And, as always there’s something here to surprise and delight at every turn. Here are five of my highlights from yesterday’s visit.

Panicum 'Frosted Explosion' creating a diaphanous veil

I’m a huge fan of plants which create a partial veil in the garden, and was completely captivated by the effect created at the front of this scene by flowers of the small panic grass Panicum elegans ‘Frosted Explosion’ – as if fine, golden rain had been frozen in place as it fell, and hung there, defying gravity (stop singing).

Red hot pokers on a scorching day

It’s a long way from South Africa to Brighton, but on a scorching August afternoon, these orange knifophia conjured images of the fynbos landscape.

Fluffy Sanguisorba 'Lilac Squirrel'

I’ve never seen a sanguisorba that thought it was a pink pennisetum – these fluffy, pink flowers on  Sanguisorba hakusanensis ‘Lilac Squirrel’ are fabulous!

Monarda, looking wonderfully dishevelled

I know the subject of labels in gardens is contentious (Christopher Lloyed hated them), but I always appreciate them, and many of the plants are helpfully identified here. I had a scout around near this pink bee balm and couldn’t find a clue, but Pauline was able to let me know that it’s Monarda ‘Oudolf’s Charm’.

Sculpture by David Price

Where do you stand on sculpture in the garden? I love it, and there’s always something interesting, and often beautiful, in the beds at Sussex Prairies. Some of the work by Brighten artist David Price wasn’t quite to my taste, but this woman with a hare, hiding among Erngium yuccifolium, was serene.

Sussex Prairies is open from 1pm until 5pm six afternoons a week until 14th October 2018, closed on Tuesdays. See www.sussexprairies.co.uk for more information. 


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Hello! I’m Andrew, gardener, writer, photographer, and owner of a too-loud laugh, and I’m so pleased you’ve found your way to Gardens, weeds & words. You can read a more in-depth profile of me on the About page, or by clicking this image.

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