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The late Beth Chatto was Cedric Morris' most famous horticultural protégé. Beth's friend and nursery manager David Ward discusses how Cedric and Beth's friendship endures through the plants still grown at Beth's famous garden and nursery in Elmstead Market to this day.

As the warmer weather takes hold resident head gardener Matt Collins fills us in on plant discoveries made over the spring months and Philip Mould discusses one of Cedric Morris' paintings once owned by Beth Chatto.

On Sunday 4th July with regretfully restricted numbers we welcomed Hadleigh residents, prospective patrons, and Trustees to Benton End. Christopher Woodward, Director of the Garden Museum, welcomed visitors to the house and garden which heralded the Trust's  partnership with the Garden Museum. This collaboration will strengthen our ability to bring about the revival of Benton End as a place for the teaching and learning of art and horticulture.


Benton End at
The Garden
Literary Festival

Hosted at Helmingham Hall Gardens in Suffolk, an esteemed panel of Benton End aficionados spoke on the subject at this years 7th Garden Museum Literary Festival.
Among them were art dealer Philip Mould, author Hugh St Clair, horticulturalist Sarah Cook and head gardener and writer Matt Collins.  The talk was chaired by the Museum's Director, Christopher Woodward.
The panel spoke on how they fell in love with Cedric Morris and Benton End.
This event highlighted the growing interest in Cedric and Lett, their art school and Cedric's plants as well as increasing support for the plans to revive Benton End to a place of study once more.  

Flowers in an interior, c. 1949 

Comment by Philip Mould Gallery

Cedric Morris, Artist Plantsman, is perhaps the most emotive flower painter of the modern era. As a horticulturalist, Morris’ close contact with flowers instilled a deep understanding of their design that enabled him to inject thoughtful personality into each painted bloom on canvas.

From the late-40s onwards – when this still-life was painted - during the winter months, Morris would disappear abroad hunting for new plant specimens. Each year Morris would return to Benton End with seeds and souvenirs, which would be duly planted at Benton End.

In his studies of flowers, Morris manages to capture not just an accurate likeness but also a sense of character and they are often likened to portraits, each with a personality and a story to tell. The present work is an interesting example of his stylistic developments which occurred during the late 1940s and early 1950s. During this time, Morris began to instigate brightness in tone which is notable in the light blues, pinks and whites present in this composition. These mid-century works also typically have a smoother surface with less impasto, imbuing many of them with a softer and lighter finish.

This painting once formed part of the impressive collection of horticulturist Beth Chatto OBE VMH, and her husband Andrew, who became part of the close group that congregated at Benton End, Cedric Morris and Arthur Lett-Haines’ home. Chatto found in Morris a confidant who was equally, if not more so, devoted to nature. She described her first visit to Benton End, and described the garden in glorious detail "… a bewildering, mind-stretching, eye-widening canvas of colour, textures and shapes, created primarily with bulbous and herbaceous plants. Later I came to realise it was possibly the finest collection of such plants in the country, but that first afternoon there were far too many unknown plants for me to see them, let alone recognise them."[1]

In this sense, Morris’ garden can be viewed as an extension of his painting. When painting his own plants and flowers Morris was evidently committed to compositional organisation as informed by the juxtaposition of contrasting organic forms and colours.

[1] B. Chatto quoted in Hugh St. Clair, A Lesson in Art & Life, The Colourful World of Cedric Morris & Arthur Lett-Haines (London: Pimpernel Press, 2019) p.150.

Watch a film about this painting
More of Morris's work can be found in the London Art Week 2021 exhibition
From Still-Lifes to Socialites:
British Art Through the Ages

Showcasing works from a broad selection of artists within the gallery collection.
From Still Lifes to Socialites - Online exhibition

Cedric & Beth

 A friendship bound in plants
by David Ward
Beth Chatto OBE 27th June 1923 - 13th May 2018
Image Courtesy of Beth Chatto's Plants and Gardens.


Although Cedric passed away in 1982, a year before I joined Beth Chatto at her gardens and nursery in Essex, his presence and influence around her garden soon became clear.

My good friend, Ian Stanton, had been working for Beth since we both left horticultural college in 1979, and various visits up to Essex introduced me to Beth and, by extension, to Cedric; regretfully, I never made it to Benton End to meet him in person.

Nigel Scott & Cedric Morris (top left)
Beth Chatto in Col de Sevi, Corsica, July 1951 (top right)
Andrew Chatto, Beth and Nigel Scott (bottom right) Beth with friends (bottom left)
Images from the Beth Chatto Archive, courtesy of the Garden Museum.
Ian eventually moved on and Beth asked if I would be interested in coming to join her “extended family”.
Working alongside Beth, be it in the garden or inside propagating and potting, gave me a wonderful opportunity to ask all kinds of questions, although I soon learned to choose my moment, as Beth was a very focused person when working!  “So, where did this plant come from Beth?" I would ask, “Cedric, of course” she would reply.  It soon dawned on me that a great many plants around the gardens came from Cedric, so much so that I convinced myself that Beth was just defaulting to Cedric so we could both get on with the task in hand!

Fritillaria acmopetala
Image courtesy of Beth Chatto's Plants and Gardens
Fritillaria pyreniaca
Image courtesy of Beth Chatto's Plants and Gardens
Of course, I came to realise that Beth was right. Beth pointed out choice gems, such as the delightful Christmas flowering narcissus, which bears his name. I recognised superior forms of plants I was quite familiar with, such as various forms of fritillary. Fritillaria pyrenaica, F. acmopetala and a lovely dark form of F. tuntasia. Only this week, in flaming June, have we cut the exploding seed heads of one of Beth’s favourite Cedric plants, Euphorbia characias subsp. wulfenii, a lime green form, which Beth recalled billowing from the base of Benton End's deep Suffolk-pink walls. 
Cedric Morris and Euphorbia characias susp. wulfenii at Benton End.
Photo courtesy of Frances Mount.
For certain plants, Cedric advised Beth to scatter seed, and it took many years of careful nurturing for the striking scarlet Tulipa sprengeri to establish around Beth’s house, in the original Mediterranean Garden, now it has the perfect home, self-seeding (with a little help from the gardeners) in our dry Gravel Garden.
Tulip sprengeri in the gravel garden at Beth Chatto Gardens.
Image courtesy of Beth Chatto's Plants and Gardens.
Andrew Chatto and Cedric Morris circa 1975.
Images from the Beth Chatto Archive, courtesy of the Garden Museum.

"Gardening is an artificial concept but needs to be guided by nature.  My own gardening is based on detailed consideration of the ecological conditions with which plants can best flourish.  Once, when Cedric and I were looking at my garden, I made the comment that we were none of us doing anything new, but Cedric replied, "We may have the same palette but we are all creating a different picture."  My husband's research has influenced my garden design but it was Cedric Morris who provided me with much of the colour, texture and form on my palette."

Beth Chatto, Benton End Remembered (2002), Compiled by Diana Grace and Gwynneth Reynolds, page 84.

Whilst Beth drew heavily on the research of her husband, Andrew Chatto, to understand where and how to place plants in the varying conditions around the garden, it was Cedric who provided her with the rich palette of colours, form, and texture to create her own unique picture and it has been a joy to have discovered Cedric through his influence here.
Geranium sanguineum 'Cedric Morris'
Iris 'Benton Olive'

Papaver 'Cedric Morris'
Over the years many plants have been named in honour of Cedric or Benton End; a rose or two, poppies, geranium, a snowdrop of course, and, thanks to Sarah Cook, many of Cedric’s Irises have been made available, which we are delighted to be able to now propagate and sell.
Shop for Cedric Morris plants
David Ward
Garden and Nursery Director at
Beth Chatto’s Plants and Gardens.
David worked alongside Beth in her garden at Elmstead Market for over 35 years.

Making Hay

Head gardener, Matt Collins, updates us on plant discoveries and tasks at hand
Hesperis matronalis in the walled garden at Benton End.
Image courtesy of Matt Collins.

Writing this, I am currently waiting out a hen pheasant incubating a clutch of eggs at the centre of the walled garden meadow. With the recent June warmth accelerating a more than well-irrigated sward, the meadow grass is now toppling over and in need of levelling. Barely two swings with the strimmer, however, and I was stopped short by a sudden flutter of wings: on the ground in front a nest of twelve golfball-size eggs. So I’ve taken my noise and destruction elsewhere, temporarily.

Meadow area in the walled garden.
Image courtesy of Matt Collins.
Pheasant eggs.
Image courtesy of Matt Collins.

Strimming, love or loathe it, is presently the principle task in the garden at Benton End. Besides the meadows — which all through spring revealed one captivating Cedric Morris plant after another, but have now completed their seasonal cycle — there are many areas of the garden to cut. A consequence of clearing sections of overgrown scrub during winter is the reawakened flora that swamps the openings: nettles, lamiums, foxgloves and plenty of greater celandine, which bleeds yellow-orange with each tug. All are wonderful for wildlife, but all spiral quickly out of hand, competing for light and water with shrubs we don’t want to lose.

Nectaroscordum siculum
Image courtesy of Matt Collins

Among the weeds is a similarly pervasive ornamental. I’d heard it said that, come summer, no garden possesses such an abundance of honey garlic, Nectaroscordum siculum, as Benton End. At the Friday market in Hadleigh, our local town, Colin Platt, who is currently propagating Morris irises and has visited Benton End in recent years, told me I wouldn’t believe the sight of them all up there in the top garden, drooping creamy-scarlet beneath the sycamores. Agreed: when their turn came, last month, they were truly something else, spread out in great drifts — the everberating echo of Benton’s departed plantsman . A charismatic, if pungent plant, nectaroscordum is as virile as thistle here, and where it isn’t wanted — such the walled garden, Sarah Cook informs me — seed heeds must be severed. So I’ve been plucking flowers this last week to deter yet another year’s self-seeding.


Cytisus battandieri
Papaver rupifragum


With late frosts now safely behind us, the bonfire pit has been blazing with large limb-prunings recently — buddleja, viburnum, field maple, bright yellow pineapple broom (Cytisus battandieri) and the brittle ends of dead elms felled and dragged from the top garden copse. Courgettes, tomatoes, potatoes and sweet peas gather pace in the vegetable beds, while Benton irises in the adjacent stock bed wind down an unexpected show of ivory-pink, yellow, pillow-white and purple. Unexpected, as these were divisions I lifted and moved into place last autumn, and had assumed were not going to flower in their first year. Meanwhile, Cedric’s rampant orange poppies (Papaver rupifragum) have once again been brightening the brickwork either side of the house, a sight that greeted our arrival last August, reminding me we’ve been here almost a year already; hard to believe. The odd papery seed head goes into an envelope as a souvenir, or a gift to gardening friends. Every bit as wilful as the poppies, pink and white hesperis currently line the garden walls, having followed on from sporadic clumps of violet honesty. Both a welcome sight, and more seeds to be saved.

Smyrnium perfoliatum
Image courtesy of Matt Collins
Fritillaria pontica
Image courtesy of Matt Collins
Fritillaria acmopetala
Image courtesy of Matt Collins

It’s been an unaccountably exciting process, not to mention a privilege, to observe this bewitching garden. Writing in this newsletter back in March, I mentioned some of the bulbous plants I’d spotted growing here — plants we assume to be survivors from (or the descendants of) Morris’s own. Many more have appeared these last three months. April, to begin with, was the month of fritillaries: first after the snakeheads and crown imperials were double-headed blooms of Fritillaria messanensis subsp. gracilis, followed by little blush-pink F. pontica, subtle under the hazel tree. Then followed glorious, arching F. acmopetala, which Morris considered his favourite fritillary, for its 'aloofness and elegance’. I noticed just a handful of these in what used to be Benton’s sunny border, running below a high wall facing South-West. Last to flower were scattered F. pyrenaica, earthy brown on the outside, flashes of gold within. Tall white asphodels bloomed in May, as did a riot of acid yellow-green Smyrnium perfoliatum all over the garden, top to bottom. And more recently there have been white and purple Muscari comosum — the tasselled muscari — a handful of deep red Tulipa sprengeri, and the wispy, pale-yellow spikes of Ornithogalum pyrenaicum that I so nearly missed for appearing, at a glance, so much like the tight buds of barley, loose and waving in the grass.

Muscari comosum white form.
Image courtesy of Matt Collins.
Asphodelus albus.
Image courtesy of Matt Collins.

The meadows have now come to an end, but the sweet aroma of Elaeagnus ‘Quicksilver’ hangs in the evening air, and a single teepee of Morris’s old sweet peas, grown from seed sent back to Benton End by plantsman Dan Pearson, adds its perfume to the walled garden also.

Elaeagnus ‘Quicksilver’
Image courtesy of Matt Collins
Recording memories -

 Films about Benton End
Commisioned by the Garden Museum a series of short films are being made recording the memories of those connected to  Benton End. 
These films aim to recognise and celebrate the huge influence that Benton End had on 20th century art and horticulture.
On completion, these films will be made available through the Garden Museum website.

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Frances Mount was first introduced to Cedric Morris by artist gardener, Primrose Roper.
Having previously worked in the Leister Galleries, Frances arrived at Benton End in 1970.
The understanding was that Frances would weed the garden in return for drawing lessons. This arrangement didn't quite work out and instead ignited a passion for plants which led Frances to eventually open her own nursery in Polstead.
One of a series of films, Frances  recalls her time in the garden, its people, plants and influence.

Dig into the Garden Museum film library archive of recorded talks and original productions about the world's great gardens and gardeners.

Pictured: Beth Chatto OBE VMH
Search Garden Museum films

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Benton End House & Garden Trust is a private limited company registered in England and Wales. Registration number: 11807625.

Registered office: Benton End House, Hadleigh, Ipswich, Suffolk, IP75JR.

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