I first encountered the Benton irises about crosses from a pair of tall, bearded iris parents, growing ten years ago when visiting the iris fields of Woottens of Wenhaston in Suffolk. At the time I had just moved to Somerset and had a south-facing, free-draining slope to experiment with so, in the spirit of getting- to-know, I chose 56 of the hundreds of bearded iris that fluttered in the fields and lined them out to trial. As I whittled the numbers down over the next three years, it was the Benton irises, with their very particular colour palette and form, that repeatedly spoke to me. In the words of the man who had selected them, it was their ‘elegance, pride and delicacy’ that set them apart, but also their mutable colouring, with ‘breaks’ as delicate as the speckling on a bird’s egg, that drew me in to wanting to know more.
That man was Cedric Morris, a painter in Cornwall and Paris before founding the East Anglian School of Painting in 1937 with his partner, Arthur Lett-Haines – the young Lucian Freud and Maggi Hambling were among their pupils. But Morris was also a plantsman and gardener of considerable note. He had an impeccable eye for a good plant and his artist’s eye lives on in a number of species that he spent time refining. And in recent years his range of bearded iris has seen something of a revival.