Jaqui's Daily Blog

Listening to the Flowers

We are standing in the middle of Paul and Pauline McBride’s beautiful garden at Sussex Prairies. All around us, a lovingly created naturalistic, prairie style piece of paradise.


“Just stand quietly and listen to the plants speaking to you,” Pauline advised us. Well I did try but mostly all I could hear was the chatter of my fellow Questers as they marvelled at the “free flowing generous groupings of plants.” In particular I could hear Mr B commenting “too big, too big” as he surveyed the scene, knowing, as he did, that after our trip round the garden I would be making straight for the “Plants for Sale” area.


One of the best things about our Questers trips (apart from the fact that we usually manage to find excellent places to eat – I am, as you know, always thinking about my stomach) is that we are always treated to “behind the scenes” talks about the different Places of Interest we visit. Today, Pauline tells us all about how the garden came into being, only five years ago in 2008, realising her dream and that of husband Paul to create a prairie garden in the heart of the Sussex Weald.   


How do you go about planting 30,000 plants of more than 600 varieties over a 6 acre site in just two weeks? You send out invitations to all your green-fingered friends and family, that’s what. And they come (presumably because they love you and what you are trying to achieve) from all over the world and set up camp in the fields around your house. They spend their days planting flowers and grasses, working to a carefully thought-out garden plan designed to give impact and structure plus a decidedly romantic feel. You keep your helpers well fed and provide lots of red wine and large gin and tonics for the evenings. And, behold, in just a fortnight, you have your garden! That’s the way Pauline tells it – and it’s easy to understand how her infectious enthusiasm would have bewitched everyone into helping her plant her prairie garden.


I wonder if this would work in our garden? I think about suggesting it to Mr B, then think again. We do have a few green-fingered friends but they are all well occupied in their own gardens at the moment. Nor do we have any fields around our house where they could camp out.  Though the sharing of gin and tonics and the red wine sounds good to me....


The Sussex Prairies garden is completely planted with perenniels. It’s a minimal maintenance garden, no continuous dead-heading of flowers for example, because the idea is to allow the garden plants to develop naturally, to go to seed, to die off in the winter cold. Every February, the McBrides set their garden ablaze and burn it to the ground. “Don’t try this at home!” Pauline warned us with a grin.  After the fire comes the mulching of the ground, ready for the plants to emerge in the spring, bigger, better and brighter than before. The phoenix which is the Prairie Garden rises, literally, from the ashes.


I love visiting gardens but usually you have to keep off the flower beds, don’t you? Not at the Sussex Prairies garden, where little paths lead you off the grass and right into the very middle of the flower beds, all the better to view the sculptures, fashioned from wood, from metal, from glass, which surprise you at every turn. Here is a garden of glass panels, here a tall giraffe. Alongside the tea room is a collection of flying saucers (plus flying cups and plates) – pretty pieces of crockery fastened onto metal stakes set into the ground.


We enjoy our home-made vegetable soup (mine) and Ploughman’s (Mr B’s). The delicious ham on Mr B’s plate came courtesy of home-grown pigs.  We had seen three of this season’s pigs on our way into the garden – I had a little conversation with them – I fear I won’t be able to order a ham sandwich when I come again, in case it’s one of them.


We buy three plants for the large flower bed in our front garden and I nurse them carefully on my lap all the way home.  This will double the number of plants in this flower bed. It will be, I tell Mr B, who is huffing and puffing as he wields our spade, the start of our own (tiny) Prairie Garden.


Even the inspirational McBrides had to start somewhere...

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Eve | Reply 31.07.2013 21:09

I've been going there for several years now and we have a group of The Girls going there on 1st September when they have their unusual plant sale.

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Latest comments

23.04 | 20:15

lovely and heartwarming - an inspiration to us all x

09.03 | 12:07

Love this story told as ever beautifully.x

10.11 | 21:31

What a super account of a special event. I loved meeting you last night and seeing your creation come together. I’m so pleased you got so much from the activity

07.09 | 13:17

I have broad shoulders x

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