The glorious prairie garden just 20 minutes from Brighton

In these straitened times, a visit to a National Trust property may seem a stretch too far. BOTI is on the look out for cheaper alternatives amid the cost-of-living crisis and one such option is the excellent Sussex Prairie Garden, just a 20-minute drive on winding country lanes from Brighton. Situated just outside the picturesque village of Henfield, the garden – featuring eight acres of stunning grounds and 35,000 plants – is only a tenner to enter and has oodles of free parking in a neighbouring field.

The brainchild of Paul and Pauline McBride, these quirky grounds showcase all the experience the couple have gained designing gardens over their 30-year career. It’s all a bit like going through the looking glass as you enter, greeted by a dash of colour from the pair’s time in Rajasthan with Hindu-style flags fluttering, Pauline on hand with a map from her station in a tumbledown kiosk and talking warmly of “total plant immersion”.

Following her directions past the grazing pigs, the wide, inviting vista of the garden opens up. The plants – which the two gardeners planted in the naturalistic style with the help of 40 friends – are herbaceous perennials, chosen for their colour. But in keeping with the offbeat nature of the place, they were “carefully picked to offer an interest in their afterlife, too… structurally and architecturally dramatic when the flower has gone”.

sussex prairie garden brighton

Along with the plants is the Expressions of Nature mixed-media sculpture trail around the garden, featuring spectacular stoneworks, ceramics and wooden and glass structures by artists from around the UK. Adding to the slightly ‘out there’ vibe, there’s currently (until 2nd September) a visiting Indian bazaar selling saris, scarves and designer jewellery and also serving tasty curries to the accompaniment of live sitar music.

sussex prairie garden brighton

Like all the best gardens, Sussex Prairie has a nursery with a selection of the featured plants on sale at reasonable prices. There’s also a fine array of outdoor bric-a-brac available, too, so not many excuses for leaving here empty-handed. Since walking around in these current warm temperatures is thirsty work, even better is the refreshment kiosk that offers tea and doorstep-sized slabs of homemade cake.

Picnics are encouraged, making this a great place to simply while away a late summer afternoon. However, there’s also a decent pub – The Wheatsheaf – on the approach to the garden should you fancy something a bit stronger than tea and more substantial than cake. We’ve heard good things about their Brazilian-inspired menu.

By Robin Newbold

The garden reopens on 1st June 2024; Wednesday – Sunday; 1pm to 5pm; £10; dogs and picnics welcome
Sussex Prairie Garden, Wheatsheaf Road, Morlands Farm BN5 9AT

Photo credits: Mark on Flickr (feature image and last image) and Robin Newbold