A Life at the Barricades
A garden can grow a lot in ten years and so it is the case with Sussex Prairie Garden created by Paul and Pauline McBride in 2008. These two upstart gardeners have set about making a small dent in a big gardening world with their naturalistically planted landscape on the edge of the village of Henfield. But is was not without a small revolution!
A Burning Question
It’s probably not your average way of looking after a garden but Pauline and her husband Paul McBride have had fire in their souls since they started burning down their prairie gardens 15 years ago. A circle of revolution and renewal begins again! Their revolutionary way of tackling their garden’s cyclical demise has both wowed and horrified the official gardening world and sets the two of them apart from the traditional gardening fraternity.
A Call to Revolution
Revolution begets Revolution. In 1989 on the 200th anniversary of the French Revolution we stood on our first date in the Champs Elysee in Paris, amongst crowds numbered in the hundred thousands, with the French Air Force streaming overhead with thrilling smoking flares and we vowed that together we would start a garden which would burn down the barricades – literally! Pauline met Paul in France whilst working for the Commonwealth War Graves Commission and can honestly admit that her life changed forever from that point forward. “Instead of being one passionate person I had found my perfect visionary mate to start a whirlwind of revolution in the garden world”. The power of two had made a dream possible. With their unorthodox guerilla gardening style, Pauline and Paul designed their Sussex Prairie garden in 2007 and planted it in 2008. Ably assisted by a motley and fabulously enthusiastic crew of friends and family, they planted over 30,000 plants in what was a grazed field on Pauline’s family farm. Surrounded by a framework of splendid mature oak trees and settled neatly into the heart of the Sussex Weald this was always going to be a dynamic and very visually beautiful landscape garden.
Two Men in my Life
Pauline says that they were very inspired by their time working with the famous Dutch landscape designer Piet Oudolf during a spell abroad in Luxembourg. It takes one person like him to provide the spark for what was to be a ride of a lifetime for both of us. There is no getting off the helter-skelter of creation once you are on it. I couldn’t have made this garden without my soul mate Paul and the garden is so intrinsically linked by the combination of our creative forces that it has become greater than the sum of itself. It is more than just a simple beautiful garden. You can feel it in your soul and senses now it really has taken on a life of its own and the impact it has on those who visit it has been a revelation to us both.
Their Sussex Prairie garden reaches its zenith in summer and autumn with vast swathes of colour and texture being provided by the generous swathes of flowering perennials and the bolder blocks of ornamental grasses but everything heads towards the dramatic finale in winter. Pauline describes vividly the excitement that builds palpably in the garden as winter progresses.
Having stood all winter long the garden is in a state of exciting desiccation. Stalks and stems have been burnished by the winter winds and frosts and Winter’s hand grips my soul. The garden stands firm and tall with architectural and dramatic poise. The arching stems and stalks of grasses criss cross and tumble across the beds and leaves curl and crisp against the desiccated seed heads. Paul and I are on tenterhooks waiting for the right weather window to arrive. We are looking for a week of dry weather before we start the burning. We need the plants to be at a point where the merest spark can start a firestorm. Strong winds from the southwest hail the start of a perfect fire, which will rip through the dry plant material with fervor consuming all in its wake. With Embers in my hair, singed eyebrows, and a pyromaniacs fever in my soul I can feel alive again! And so starts the circle of new plant life and new plant energy again. The thrill of the first shoots poking their heads through the charred ashes hails the new phoenix rising!
Sussex Prairies is open for a short window of wonder from 1st June until 14th October 2018, six days a week 1pm -5pm , closed Tuesdays .
www.sussexprairies.co.uk tel 01273 495902
Photos © Barry Chaston