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Sussex Prairie Garden – a prairie garden in Sussex

This is a garden I have been reading about and admiring in photographs for several years and I have enjoyed watching it develop. Imagine our surprise when we were on a mid-week break in September and discovered that we were staying in a hotel not too far from the Sussex Prairie Garden. We couldn’t miss this opportunity so it soon found a slot in our schedule. The big question was “Can it really be as good as we are expecting?” and this stayed in my mind as we drove out to visit it. Surely we wouldn’t be disappointed!

We weren’t and we knew immediately that we wouldn’t be by the welcoming entrance, an unusual, quirky and humorous way in, coupled with a distinctive and beautifully designed garden sign.

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We also loved the simple stylized plan of the garden and the welcome notes on the back.


The leaflet described the garden as an “extraordinary garden features huge borders of sumptuous planting combinations that inspire and immerse you in an ever changing wave of texture, colour and form.”

To get to the main garden and tea shop we diverted to follow a path through the cutting garden. This area was to prepare us for the wonderful main garden we would explore after our tea and cakes.

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There are 8 acres of naturalistically planted prairie garden containing over 50 ooo plants of over 1000 varieties and these are a magnet for wildlife. The only way to share such an exciting garden with you is to create a gallery for you to follow. As usual please click on the first photo and then navigate with the arrows.

We love sculpture in the garden and here at the Sussex Prairie Garden it was used very well, integrated beautifully into the planting areas and on open areas of mown grass.

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As we reached the furthest point in the garden from the entrance we were in for a colourful surprise before we continued on our wanderings, beautiful fabric hangings on the fence.

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So the Sussex Prairie was as good as we had hoped, the planting and design was remarkable. We must return again perhaps in the autumn season.





autumn autumn colours climbing plants colours garden design garden designers garden photography gardening gardens gardens open to the public grasses hardy perennials Italian style gardens light light quality ornamental grasses ornamental trees and shrubs outdoor sculpture Piet Oudolf sculpture Staffordshire Tom Stuart-Smith trees

A Garden in October/November – Trentham

We have now reached the penultimate posting in this series where we have been looking at how Trentham Gardens in Staffordshire have changed through the months during 2014. Since our last visit in September Autumn has taken a strong grip on the gardens. Many leaves have taken on their auutmn hues and many have fallen. But it is amazing how much colour there still is to enjoy, colours in late flowers, dried stems and seed heads.

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We always cross over the gently arching suspension footbridge over the River Trent full of anticipation. On our visit in early November we were presented with a sea of yellows, where Piet Oudolf’s River of Grasses had been transformed by the passage of time into a river of liquid gold.

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We wandered along the gravel path as it cut through the line of River Birch, Betula nigra in search of Oudolf’s prairie borders. These beautiful trees had already shed all their leaves but still drew our eyes as their bark was peeling and curling decoratively away from their trunks.

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Once in amongst the prairie planting we immediately noticed that seed heads in every hue of brown and beige and bright patches of late colour had joined the lemons, mustards and golds of the grasses. Pale purples glowed in the dull light of autumn. This glow is their secret weapon to attract moths and other night flying pollinators.

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The gardening team were hard at working replanting a section of one of the borders. It must be a never ending task. I suppose it gives them the chance to keep improving things as well as keeping the gardens in top condition.

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Deep pinks and cerise of the Persicarias and the Knautias catch the eye of every visitor. They look so good against the neutral shades that dominate gardens in the autumn.

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This lovely old Tulip Tree caught our attention. It is the oldest of its kind we have ever seen and a notice close by warned of the danger of falling branches. It must be susceptible to winter storms but should it fall it would make a wonderful natural bridge over the Trent. The dome of Hornbeam over a bench is now a golden dome.

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We made our way towards the formally planted Italian Parterre Garden, passing through an archway of Hornbeams on the way. Sunlight penetrated the coniferous plantings casting long shadows and creating bright patches. It lit up the little low box hedges of the  knot garden.

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The summer bedding in the parterre has been consigned to the compost heaps and winter/spring plants has taken their place, primulas and a deep red Bellis perennis.

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We always enjoy our first look out over the Tom Stuart-Smith gardens. We were not to be disappointed today.

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The autumn light emphasised the texture on this bronze sculpture and on the much newer tunnel archway which marks the way into the display gardens. It gave an all new look to the low slate walls around one of these gardens too. It again emphasised the texture but brought out extra colours too. The light similarly added colour to the plants and to the glass panels featured in another of the display gardens.

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A wander back through the Stuart-Smith gardens gave us the chance to see the planting in a different light. As the afternoon had progressed the sun dropped down lower and was back-lighting the plants, giving a very different perspective.



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The Rose Walk was still remarkably colourful with Roses, Cleomes and Verbena bonariensis still putting on strong performances. Butterflies and bees were still busy here too, the blooms having attracted them as they emerged hunting for sustenance as the temperatures rose slightly in the afternoon sunlight. You can see our long shadows cast across the border.

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From the long metal pergola we looked back over the Oudolf gardens and at the shrubs nearby and the butter yellow leaves of the Wisteria climbing over the framework.

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Now we can look forward to our final visit to Trentham for this year in readiness to publish the final episode in this series of posts. So far we have determined that gardens at Trentham are worthy of a visit any month of the year. Let us hope our December visit confirms it.


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Post 500 – Tom Stuart-Smith at Serge Hill 2

As promised we return to Serge Hill for the final part of my Post 500 series, where we will discover the garden Tom Stuart-Smith designed for his sister and also take a look at his own meadow and prairie garden. (apologies for the poor quality of the photos but I was trying out a new camera for the first time)

His sister’s garden is designed to reflect her particular needs and interests, but it is easy to see his favourite plants and planting combinations throughout.

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I could’t resist taking the shot below. It looks as if he gardener was caught out by the arrival of all those visitors, so made a hasty retreat.

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The prairie garden was very popular, which made taking photos pretty difficult. In fact it was so busy when we arrived that we went off to explore the paths cut through the acres and acres of native wildflower meadows

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When we found a quieter moment in the Prairie we returned for a wander. It was a lovely contrast to the native meadows. I shall start with one of the favourite garden plants of both Jude the Undergardener and myself, Dianthus carthusianorum. We have a clump of three at home but here they were planted by the hundred. Incredible delicate looking wiry plant that moves in the slightest breeze.



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I had the pleasure of a quick talk with Tom Stuart-Smith himself and I proudly left his garden with a signed copy of his book under my arm, a book all about making his Barn Garden.

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Post 500 – Tom Stuart-Smith at Serge Hill

As promised for the third in my week’s posts celebrating my 500th post we go down to Hertfordshire to explore Tom Stuart-Smith’s garden designs at his own home and the home of his sister. The family home at Serge Hill is surrounded by mature planting. The new gardens  designed by T S-S are within its grounds. When these gardens open they are very popular with thousands of visitors making an appearance. It looks very busy and taking photos is difficult as the gardens are only open for one day each year as part of the National Garden Scheme, so people find it in the famous Yellow Book. The friendly herd of Guernsey calves greeted every visitor. We wandered through the gardens around the house which had been there a long time but the influence of T S-S can be seen.

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In the gardens at Tom’s and his sister’s, both designed to suit their particular needs, we felt we had found the nearest to perfection in meadow planting, prairie planting and courtyard planting. Come with us and see what you think.

Firstly I shall share my photos of the courtyard at The Barn. It has an atmosphere of such calm. Those loungers must provide a wonderful place in which to relax and be content with the world. The rectangular corton steel pools with their sheets of water dyed black for extra reflection mirror so clearly the moving clouds and any overhanging plants. Looking into them it appears as if they are bottomless.

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The planting is so simple but effective. Every plant has its place and complements its partners perfectly. Chartreuse and purple flowers and bracts work together so well against their background of grasses and coloured foliage.

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Reaching the prairie we found fellow garden fellow visitors exploring every pathway that were winding throughout.

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Close by a huge area had been planted as a native wildflower meadow which provided a wonderful contrast to the more vibrant prairie. We shall look in greater detail at the prairie and meadow as well as Tom Stuart-Smith’s sister’s garden in the next post.



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Post 500 – Part Two – a further visit to the “Oudolf Field”

As promised I am returning to the beautiful county of Somerset where Jude and I spent a day exploring the exciting new “Oudolf Field” and the gallery buildings at the Hauser and Wirth’s Durslade Farm.

We left off as we were looking at the pool and giant clock. This is the first time we have seen any water designed into an Oudolf designed garden and indeed the first one to include a giant clock. The pool afforded clear reflections of the trees surrounding the site and was only planted around the margin closest to the buildings to give the maximum area of reflecting water.

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The tall clock towers over the pool and its white face stands out against the brightness of the blue sky. I would imagine it would look great against black clouds too! It casts a beautiful lollipop shadow across the golden gravel. Its face looks like a big circular disc but it is in reality asymmetric in design, which causes the minute hand to move out into clear air as it moves into the narrow side.

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Although the planting is lower than in his previous gardens Piet Oudolf still uses many of his favourite plants such as Sanguisorbas, Echinaceas, Verbenas and Heleniums.

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We had a break for coffee and to look around the galleries before wandering the gardens again as the sun dropped slowly in the sky and the light gave the meadows a fresh look.

We were enthralled by a gallery where a display of Oudolf’s garden designs helps reveal how this garden designer’s mind works. We loved the designs and working drawings and “idea jottings” of this garden here in Somerset as well as those from the New York High Line and the Wisley Garden.

Moving from gallery to gallery each courtyard space is softened by more of Oudolf’s plantings, featuring trees underplanted with grasses and perennials. The sculptural pieces sit comfortably among the old farm buildings with their richly textured surfaces.

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Enjoy the gallery of photos taken in the sparkling late afternoon light. It is amazing how different plantings can look as the light changes within just a few hours at this time of year.

The next post in my 500 Celebration series will find us over in Hertfordshire where Tom Stuart-Smith lives. We had the privilege of visiting his own garden and the one he designed for his sister.






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Post 500! A look at two garden designers.

To celebrate reaching 500 posts in my Greenbenchramblings adventures I thought I would create a week of posts about my favourite garden designers, Piet Oudolf and Tom Stuart-Smith. I have featured examples of their gardens several times already but these are special gardens. The Piet Oudolf garden here is his latest creation in Somerset and the Tom Stuart-Smith gardens are his own garden and the one he designed for his sister who lives just yards away.

The garden, called the Oudolf Field sits within the grounds of the Hauser and Wirth Gallery in the Somerset village of Bruton. This 1.5 acre garden was only planted this year so we visited in its very early stages. The garden is better described as a perennial meadow than his usual tall prairie. The plants are generally shorter so that more of each border and the garden as a whole can be seen at one go. The meadow is designed to feel soft and loose and the style is reflected in smaller gardens all around the farm buildings. Unusually for his gardens he has included a pool here.

So let’s start on our tour beginning as we leave the restaurant in the old renovated farm buildings. A grassed area with widely spaced trees contains unusual seats in which to relax and view the garden, sit and enjoy a coffee or read a book. These “Eye Benches” are made from black Zimbabwe granite.

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The meadow style borders themselves contain over 26 000 plants and winding paths invite the visitor to view each border from all different angles. Unusually for Oudolf he has designed most of the planting to be low enough to look over it and view most of the garden. Jude the Undergardener is unconvinced by this as it all seemed so low and I have to agree to an extent. I much prefer his taller plantings but time will tell. After all this garden is just a few months old.

Come for a wander and see the “field” through the lens of my camera. Just click on a shot and follow the arrows to navigate.

A giant clock is visible from every part of the garden. It towers over the pool. I shall continue my tour of Oudolf’s new garden and the buildings that it adorns in the next part of this 500 post celebration week.

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The Gardens of the RHS Part 3 – Prairies and Meadows at Wisley.


When we first visited Wisley a few decades ago the grass was cut short and neatly edged. There certainly were no wildflowers allowed to grow amongst the neat blades of grass, and there certainly were no meadows.

But now differential grass cutting is favoured with some areas cut short, others allowed to grow longer and wildflowers are establishing as they enjoy this new habitat of longer grasses. The trend towards planted meadows and prairie-style plantings are well represented, which is good for us because these styles are a real favourite with us both.

Piet Oudolf has designed and planted magnificent double borders – very different to traditional English double herbaceous borders such as those at Arley House.

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Carefully chosen herbaceous plants are planted in large groups to create swathes of colour and texture. In early autumn, when we looked at Piet Oudolf’s borders, grasses featured strongly alongside drying stalks and seed heads of herbaceous perennials. There were still flowers to be seen and they were enhanced by the background of stems.

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To enjoy a look at the plants of Piet Oudolf’s Wisley Borders click a photo in the gallery below and follow the arrow.

But Oudolf is not the only garden designer to create meadows at Wisley, as a newer and equally beautiful planting area has been created by Professor James Hitchmough. It is described as a steppe-prairie meadow. See the next post ………..