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As the programme for Benton End moves forward, we would like to welcome those new to the project and express our heartfelt thanks to you and to our long-standing friends alike for your enthusiastic support and interest.

On Sunday, May 31st, it was publicly announced in an article in the Sunday Telegraph written by Christopher Woodward, that we are to enter into partnership with the Garden Museum. This collaboration will strengthen our ability to bring about the revival of the spirit of Benton End as a place for the teaching and learning of art and horticulture.

The aim of our newsletter is to keep you informed of updates on Benton End,  but also to tempt you with titbits from the stories behind the house and its garden. With this in mind we have included artwork by Cedric with comment from Philip Mould Gallery, recollections from Hugh St. Clair of the Red Cross Teas held at Benton End, reflections from Sarah Cook, holder of the National Collection of Irises bred by Cedric Morris, as well as updates and observations from the garden.

Read Garden Museum article

May Flowering Irises No.2

Comment by Philip Mould Gallery
May Flowering Irises No.2

This striking and important work was painted by Cedric Morris in 1935 and depicts his favourite subject, irises. Painted in bold, saturated colours, Morris presents his subject in a highly original and distinctive manner, and when it was exhibited in 1935 it was described by one critic as one of his most successful flower pieces.[1] 

By 1935, when this work was painted, Morris’s fascination with irises had firmly taken hold. He established a studio in the garden where he would sit and paint his flower subjects for days on end, and one ex-student, Joan Warburton, poignantly reminisced how ‘to go in there quietly when Cedric was painting the favourite of all his flowers, irises, was a revelation.’[2] Morris’ thorough understanding of the iris is evident in the present work which explores each flower individually, using colour and texture to give them mood and personality. 

[1] Art Exhibitions: Mr Cedric Morris, The Times, 10 October 1935, p.12 
[2] Quoted in R. Morphet, Cedric Morris (London, 1984), p.48 

View 'The Call to The Country' Exhibition

The Iris Parties at Benton End

By Hugh St. Clair
TV Iris beds BE

After the war Cedric Morris gave over much of the lower garden at Benton End for iris breeding. By the early 1950s, he was hand pollinating up to a thousand new bearded irises a year, sifting and assessing them for vigour and form and using his artistic eye to produce delicate plants in soft pink, muted yellow and milky coffee colours in the upper garden. Economy of growth and modesty of form was his aim.

Long path irises BE
During those years, Cedric was given many awards by the British Iris Society and was becoming a bit of a celebrity in the garden world. Two important British nurseries of the time, Wallace and Orpington were gladly accepting and promoting the Benton End bearded irises which brought in a modest income. Cedric was spending less time painting and more time in the garden, so gallery exhibition and sales were less frequent.
A friend of Beth Chatto’s, named Nigel Scott, appeared at just the right time to try and increase plant sales. An experienced nurseryman, he was described by artist John Nash as, “ a propagator of plants with almost a wizard’s tooth”. Scott was a great admirer of Cedric and longed to work at Benton End. Despite Cedric’s mild protestations that a job might not live up to his expectations, he started working there in the spring of 1952.
In his first summer at Benton End, Nigel suggested they open the garden for the National Gardens Scheme for two days in May and one in June. On the first day a party was given for friends; the following year, on the open day in May, the garden attracted 316 visitors.
The East Anglian author, Ronald Blythe, although not a gardener himself, came with his friend John Nash to observe the occasion. He recalled how Cedric led a tour round the garden, intermittently dragging on his pipe, as he vividly described in detail the needs of the irises and how to tend them to produce a perfect bloom. With a twinkle in his eye and a giggle, Cedric was not averse to making bawdy double entendres.  

At four o clock, the artist Lucy Harwood, formerly a pupil at the East Anglian School of Painting and Drawing and now living nearby, would serve cups of dark tea accompanied by rock cakes and early strawberries in egg cups.

These garden openings, in aid of the Red Cross and National Gardens Scheme, continued for many years and were a popular event for locals and enthusiasts from afar. At the end of the open days, Cedric would auction off seedlings - those he had duplicates of and ones that were of good stock for the garden, but not quite good enough to register and name. As Sarah Cook, holder of the National Collection of Morris irises, continues her search for the irises and plants known to have been grown at Benton End, it is hoped that before long some of those irises will once more be on show in Cedric’s legendary garden.

Book Jacket

Hugh St Clair's new book, 'A Lesson in Art and Life, The Colourful World of Cedric Morris and Arthur Lett Haines', Published 25th June 2019 is available on Amazon and in bookshops.
Buy Now

Sarah Cook 

Reflects on collecting irises bred by Cedric Morris

I have virtually no memory of my first visit to Benton End, which is a great pity.  The house is less than a mile from my childhood home and I am told that I went with my grandmother as my own mother was helping the Red Cross serve teas at the annual opening there during the iris season. Gardening was in my genes, but my interest in Morris was only reawakened some years later.  In 1984, when working at Sissinghurst Castle Garden, I noticed Iris ‘Benton Nigel’ growing there.  Vita Sackville -West was one of Morris’ many gardening friends, so the presence of an iris from Hadleigh immediately made me feel at home in a new job.

Iris Benton Nigel

Over the years I was given pieces of ‘B. Nigel’ and ‘Crathie’ for my mother’s garden in Hadleigh   (‘Crathie’ is one of about 15 Morris irises without the Benton prefix) but it was not until I retired in 2004, with a new garden to develop and a husband with a National Plant Collection of Malmaison Carnations, that I remembered Morris and decided to make a collection of his irises.  

Iris Crathie
Since then all things Morris - his life, his art and particularly his gardening and irises - have become an obsession.  Beth Chatto has always credited Morris as being the major influence on her garden style, citing his use of natural species plants in his garden.  Like the best gardeners, he studied plants in the wild, knew the conditions they grew in, and how to grow them at home; his garden was packed full of ‘rare and delicious’ plants. 

His iris breeding was in complete contrast to the rest of his garden. He knew exactly what characteristics he was looking for in a ‘Tall Bearded Iris’, and which parents were likely to give the results he wanted.  He was not just crossing two named irises, but repeatedly crossing and back crossing often using those seedlings which were, he considered, moving in the right direction, but not quite good enough as parent plants.  Of the 1,000 seedlings he was growing every year, only about five were deemed good enough to name – perfection indeed. 

Iris Benton Rubeo
In her search, Sarah is hoping she may have found 'Benton Rubeo' (1946)
Cedric & macaw Rubeo
Cedric Morris with his macaw 'Rubeo'
In 1943 Morris wrote an article in the British Iris Society Yearbook, outlining the ‘blood lines’ he was using in his breeding and the characteristics given to each. The article ends: 

“…these notes are dictated by the exigencies of that painter business – the aesthetic qualities of form, poise, colour, texture and general design which, after all, combine with the physical ones of health and strength…”

Irises in Sarah's garden
Cedric Morris Irises growing at Sarah's home in Suffolk

Spring at Benton End

The garden at Benton End continues to thrive, constantly surprising us with new discoveries.
Fritillaria pontica
Yurbaraj & Will BE
Yubaraj Bastola and Will Smithson
Earlier this Spring, we were lucky enough to be joined for some weeks by Will Smithson and to benefit from his time and expertise. Will was, until recently, head gardener at the Arne Maynard – designed garden, South Wood, in Devon. Prior to taking up his new post in Tuscany, Will was able to help with the ongoing maintenance of the grounds, as well as registering and photographing some of the emerging plant specimens. 
While there, Will focused his work on some of the older trees and shrubs that have seen years of neglect, carrying out some judicious pruning and clearing. This mindful pruning will ensure the longevity of the characterful, veteran specimens, legacies of Cedric's inspiring garden that have been emerging. 
The continued and thoughtful management of the extensive grassed areas by Yubaraj, Benton End’s resident assistant and caretaker, has already revealed a greater number of bulbs than seen previously. These have included Fritillaria pontica and pyrenaica, the jewel-like flowers of Anemone pavonina and Tulipa sprengeri, a favourite of Cedric's that he planted in great numbers amongst his border irises.
John Cunningham BE
John Cunningham carrying out wall repairs at Benton End
As well as energetic horticultural work, we have been enjoying the company of local resident, John Cunningham, and would like to say a huge thank you for his unwavering help in repairing the garden walls. John has given his time and skills freely and has done a marvellous job, for which we are very grateful. Thankfully, due to the spacious surroundings at Benton End, everyone has been able to work diligently, admirably completing their tasks, whilst still observing strict social distancing rules.

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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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