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Garden Diary: Benton Irises

While the weather has been anything but consistent, we’ve spent the last few weeks seeing that all is mulched, cut back and summer-ready. In St. Mary’s garden planting rows are being re-established and new seeds are being sown, and in the front garden we’ve set up new planters to accompany the museum’s current Cedric Morris exhibition (running until 22nd July). The planters were generously funded by The Stanley Smith Horticultural Trust and feature a cottage garden planting scheme inspired by paintings included in the exhibition.

As a keen botanist, Morris cultivated a great many striking forms of bearded iris, naming 90 varieties which he bred from seed at his home Benton End in Suffolk. Though many of these plants sadly disappeared over subsequent years, former Sissinghurst head gardener Sarah Cook succeeded in tracing 25 of Morris’s vintage ‘Benton’ collection, exhibiting them to huge admiration in the Great Pavilion at the 2015 Chelsea Flower Show. A handful of these precious varieties form the focus of the new planters, including Benton ‘Duff‘, Benton ‘Caramel‘, Benton ‘Lorna‘ and Benton ‘Nigel’. During the late summer last year I had the pleasure of visiting Dan Pearson’s beautiful garden in Somerset to split Benton irises from his own collection, bringing them back to London where they were propagated ahead of the exhibition. Though bearded irises won’t always flower in their first year following division, we hope that a few of the Bentons will bloom in the coming weeks as there are some promising signs of new shoots, watch that space…


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