Cedric Morris famously bred tall bearded irises, naming 90 cultivars, many of which carry the ‘Benton’ prefix. He was a vice chairman of the British Iris Society, won the Foster Plaque for Iris breeding in 1949 and gained the highest accolade, the Dykes Medal for his Iris ‘Benton Cordelia’. The garden at Benton End was influential for its naturalistic style and its collection of rare and unusual plants, many of which were brought back by Cedric on his winter sojourns aboard.
His best known protégé was Beth Chatto who credited Benton End with opening her eyes to what a garden could be; she became the most famous plantswoman of her generation.
These irises have enjoyed a revival in recent years not least through the dedication of one particular individual – the former head gardener of Sissinghurst Castle, Sarah Cook. She has tracked down over 36 cultivars and holds the National Collection. A Chelsea Gold for her display in 2015 catapulted these historic irises to the fore of the gardening world, becoming widely available in nurseries and a must for any enthusiast.
Morris made a garden as influential in its day as Sissinghurst; it became one of the first modern gardens of naturalistic design, revered by botanists and gardeners alike, developed as it was for the study of the unusual plants he found, chosen with a keen artist’s eye. An avid plant hunter, Morris collected many specimens whilst visiting the continent on his winter painting retreats.
Benton End appointed James Horner as Head Gardener in 2023…..Prior to his arrival Head Gardener of the Garden Museum, Matt Collins tended to the garden at Benton End and recording ‘Cedric’s Ghost’, a term coined by Sarah Cook to describe the plants that remain in the garden – relics from Morris’ reign.
Photo: Kurt Hutton (Hübschmann)
Text courtesy of Lucy Skellorn