American Prairie

In the heart of Wakehurst stretches our vast American Prairie. Journey to the vibrant grasslands of North America, and discover the importance of this threatened habitat.

A wide angle shot of a field with yellow flowers and trees silhouetted against the sky

Walking down from the Mansion towards the Pinetum, you will be transported to a prairie-like grassland evoking the vast and iconic North American wild plant communities.

Your gaze will stretch out across Wakehurst, where stunning views of the Water Garden and Coronation Meadow will be revealed, having been hidden since the 1930s.

Find the American Prairie at marker 21 on our Map of Wakehurst

The story so far

The journey of our American Prairie began in 2019, when a group of Wakehurst horticulturalists travelled to North America. In collaboration with our US partners, the team hand-collected millions of wild seeds from native prairies, to be planted right here in Sussex.  

The seeds were then brought to the Millennium Seed Bank, where different species were mixed together to create the perfect blend, before being sown across the landscape in 2020.  

A selection of seeds were kept in the nursery, nurtured by our expert team to successfully germinate into 50,000 plug plants, each hand-planted a year later. 

We designed the landscape in collaboration with landscape architects LUC (Land Use Consultants) and Philadelphia-based Larry Weaner Landscape Associates. Larry joined us in person to share his expertise with our team. 

The prairie first came into flower in the summer of 2021, an unmissable blanket of yellow, home to pioneering plants Coreopsis and Rubeckia. It was then mowed in preparation for the remaining plants that were ready to be hand-planted into the landscape. 

Why the American Prairie?

As a botanic garden, we plant phytogeographically, meaning the plants are grouped according to where they grow in the world. 

Our climate and soil are particularly suited to the beautiful plant communities of the prairies, and we are excited to see how they thrive and develop in Wakehurst’s gardens. 

The Millennium Seed Bank collaborates closely with conservation partners in North America. Through this landscape, we have a unique opportunity to share our knowledge and resource through a pioneering conservation landscape and living collection. 

The American Prairie will be a floral complement to our dramatic North American woodland, Horsebridge Wood, as well as acting as a bridge between the more formal gardens and the wilder landscape beyond, radiating across Wakehurst’s 535 acres.

Sowing prairie seed by hand
Sowing prairie seed by hand, Jim Holden © RBG Kew

Science on site  

Our American Prairie also contributes to Wakehurst’s role as a living laboratory.  

As part of our Nature Unlocked research project, Kew Scientists are using this landscape to investigate the benefits of native and non-native plant species for pollinators.  

When faced with the challenges of climate change and biodiversity loss, these research projects help to outline how and why we can encourage biodiversity in the UK, for the benefit of plants and wildlife. 

What’s next for the prairie? 

We will continue to manage the American Prairie using ecological processes which encourage our plant community to establish and thrive. 

As prairies develop, they are maintained by processes such as climate, grazing and fire.  

In the future, we will recreate some of these at Wakehurst such as managed burning, to maintain plant and animal diversity and remove dead vegetation. 

This stunning landscape will continue to evolve, transforming into a true spectacle at Wakehurst. 

Come and discover our American Prairie for yourself! 

Read & watch

More to see at Wakehurst