Benton Irises: It’s all in a name

By Lucy Skellorn

Artist plantsman Cedric Morris will be celebrated on the main avenue at The RHS Chelsea Flower Show this year in an exciting collaboration between Nurture Landscapes and garden designer Sarah Price. A distinguished painter, Morris experimented with the cross-pollination of irises to produce new colour combinations. Famous for their off-beat shades, Cedric named many varieties after friends, lovers, pets and places.

Ahead of the show, we take a look at the stories behind the names:

Iris ‘Benton Menace’ (pictured above)

Morris had a deep fondness and empathy for animals resulting in quite a menagerie at Benton End. This included Rubeo, the scarlet macaw who would nip the legs of anyone wearing shorts and swore liberally. There were also a host of cats that roamed the property, many of them predominantly cream-coloured, locally known as Suffolk creams. Among them the one-eyed ‘Mrs Pearce’, ‘Baggage’ (on account of her having had so many litters of kittens) and ‘ Menace’- a particularly troublesome Tom.

Both cats have been immortalised in Iris ‘Benton Baggage’ and ‘Benton Menace’, but it is ‘Benton Menace’, with its fabulous iris with rich purple falls and ruffled, plum-coloured standards, which has been chosen for the Chelsea garden…

Keep reading

Visit the Garden Museum during
the Chelsea Flower Show

Heading to London for The RHS Chelsea Flower Show this week? Why not pop across the river to the Garden Museum while you’re in town to see our Dan Pearson-designed courtyard garden just coming into its summer glory. Plus visit our current exhibition Private & Public: Finding the Modern British Garden, and stop by our award-winning Garden Cafe to enjoy a daily changing menu of modern-British and European, light, fresh and seasonal dishes.

Limited tables are available in the lushly-planted courtyard for the ultimate blissful Garden Museum experience: book a table.

Plan your visit

Talk this week | Sarah Price on building a sustainable Chelsea Flower Show garden

We are delighted to host an evening with garden designer Sarah Price joined in conversation by co-founders of Local Works Studio, Ben and Loretta Boscence.

Sarah, Ben and Loretta will discuss how they transformed waste materials into garden features for The Nurture Landscapes Garden using accessible processes and craftsFeatures have been designed to be carefully deconstructed for reuse at their permanent home, at Benton End.

Weds 24 May, 7pm
£20 Standard, £15 Friends / Young Fronds
£10 Livestream

Book tickets

British Flowers Week 2023:
Three weeks to go!

Our annual British Flowers Week exhibition is back this summer, championing British-grown flowers, sustainable floristry and the immense talent in floral design found across the country. Five florists hand-picked by the Garden Museum will build immersive floral installations around the museum, transforming the space for five days.

The floral designers – Botanical Tales, Lucy Vail Floristry, Mahal Kita Flowers, SAGE and Yinari – will use only seasonal, sustainably-sourced, British-grown flowers, arranged with environmentally friendly materials and methods.

This year’s theme is ‘New Beginnings’, inspired by fresh starts, budding new growth, changing seasons and an optimistic step forward for the floral industry.

The week will also include a panel talkand a Friday Late.

8-12 June

Book your visit

Plant of the Week: Cedric’s Sweet Pea

By Matt Collins, Head Gardener

Generosity abounds among gardeners, and the gift of seeds is a marvellous thing: that the transference of so small an entity can express such joy, promise, discernment and encouragement. As we approach Chelsea Flower Show week, with all its beauty, buzz and bustle, it feels a good moment to celebrate this most grounding aspect of horticulture – the sharing of plants between all gardeners, potterers and professionals alike.

The sweet peas now in flower and perfuming the Garden Museum entrance are among my most treasured of gardening gifts, sown from seed that has been passed from gardener to gardener over many decades, tracing back to plantsman Sir Cedric Morris and to his garden at Benton End. Morris and Benton are the inspiration for Sarah Price’s show garden at Chelsea this coming week, where his sweet peas will, alongside an intoxicating array of plants (including the irises Morris once bred in that garden), evoke Benton in its unbridled, colour-brimming 1950s heyday.

Collected as a wild variety of Lathyrus odoratus he had spotted growing in Sicily, Morris cultivated this sweet pea at Benton End and later shared seed with the garden writer Tony Venison. From Venison seeds travelled via a mutual acquaintance to landscape designer Dan Pearson, who in turn sent me a handful in the post during my time in the garden at Benton End in the early months of the pandemic. Last autumn I sowed it earlier than usual and, hardy as they are, the plants persevered through the difficult winter: they were planted out on a hazel wigwam in March and the first of the flowers appeared a few weeks ago. The scent is pervasive, addictive and evocative of an enchanting garden that was an inspiration to so many influential gardeners. Be sure to stick your nose in as you pass through the museum doors…

As part of our new ‘Branch Out’ series of free activities and events held in the museum nave, we are holding a seed swapon Thursday 1 June, 11am-2pm. Drop in, drop off and pick up some seeds — flower, vegetable, herb, mystery plant(!), all welcome.

Branch Out Seed Swap

Elsewhere… we recommend Tom Stuart-Smith talk at Sir John Soane’s Museum

By Design, a talk series at Sir John Soane’s Museum, in partnership with Luke Irwin, is back for its fourth season.  Internationally renowned designers are invited to discuss their practice through a single object from the Museum. In this talk, Alice Rawsthorn talks to landscape architect Tom Stuart-Smith.

Mon 5 Jun, 6pm – 8.30pm

Find out more
Images: Benton Menace (c) Alison Sargeant; Cat at Benton End (c) Estate of Elvic Steele; British Flowers Week 2022 (c) Graham Lacdao; Cedric’s sweet pea (c) Matt Collins; Tom Stuart-Smith garden at Hepworth Wakefield (c) Jason Ingram
Garden Museum
5 Lambeth Palace Road, London SE1 7LB

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Garden Museum · Lambeth Palace Road · London, London SE1 7LB · United Kingdom