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Horticultural News - July 2015 eNewsletter

Friday 17th July 2015

Regular clients who have received our Christmas Cards in recent years will have realised that they always feature a view of our garden here in Aynho. Some weeks ago, the whole nature of the garden changed when our only tree came to the end of its life. A venerable apple, it succumbed to a combination of age plus the intolerable burden of keeping aloft a particularly vigorous and handsome rose, Paul’s Himalayan Musk. Much of the tree collapsed under the weight of the rose and there was no option other than to take it out. The accompanying photos chart its recent history from full magnificence a few years ago to its sad end in May.(If you would like us to forward you a copy of this eNewsletter, with all the images, please let us know and we will happily do so!) However, “every cloud …” That part of the garden which sat under its shade has burst into life and we have a lot of plants which require dry shade now wondering what has happened to them. We have decided not to plant another tree. I have led quite a few tours in recent months with a strong horticultural theme and I also went on a particularly interesting research visit to Galicia in northern Spain to see the famous Camellias which grow so luxuriantly in that part of Europe. I mentioned in an earlier newsletter that we would offer a tour to visit Galicia next March and it precipitated a huge level of interest. We alerted via email all those who had expressed an interest in joining the tour and to our astonishment it sold out in less than a day! I am sorry if you were not quick enough to secure a place but we will certainly run it again in March 2017, the dates of which we should be able to confirm this Autumn. The 2016 tour itinerary is now on our website and it will give you details of the likely 2017 itinerary as gardens which specialise in Camellias are usually not subject to a quick “makeover”! Italy will feature strongly in next year’s programme and we have three tours which have a horticultural theme: Villas and Gardens around Florence, The Italian Lakes and Villas and Gardens around Rome. OTIUM! THE RENAISSANCE VILLAS & GARDENS OF FLORENCE, 19-23 April 2016 is a new tour for us. It will look at the manner in which the Medici family revived the ancient idea of escaping to the countryside to enjoy some rest and relaxation, what the Romans called otium. We shall visit a number of renaissance gardens around Florence associated with the family – Poggio a Caiano, Artimino, La Petraia and Castello. In the late nineteenth century a small group of cultured expatriates from Great Britain and the United States such as Bernard Berenson and Harold Acton bought and restored some of the villas in and around Fiesole such as La Pietra and these will be the other focus of our tour. Many of them employed the peerless Cecil Pinsent and we shall encounter his work at, for example Le Balze and Villa Capponi. No visit to these gardens could be considered “complete” without including Villa Gamberaia. Not only shall we visit this remarkable place but we shall also be entertained to lunch in the villa’s garden. It is sure to be a memorable week and I much look forward to leading it. Our most popular garden themed tour remains HORTICULTURAL HEAVEN: GARDEN & VILLAS OF THE ITALIAN LAKES, 30 April - 6 May 2016 and we shall offer it again next Spring. Lakes Como and Maggiore are garlanded with some of northern Italy’s most atmospheric villa gardens. Who could resist the combination of historic villas surrounded by wonderful gardens set against the backdrop of these famous lakes with the Alps close to hand? With three nights spent on each lake it means there is ample time to enjoy the gardens in an unhurried fashion, guided by Sylvia Richards who has an encyclopaedic knowledge of the horticulture of Lombardy and Piedmont. The villas to be included encompass a wide range of dates and styles, formal and informal, none more so than the two Borromeo gardens on Lake Maggiore and their near neighbour, Villa Taranto at Pallanza. Our base on Lake Como will be the delightful Bellagio from where we visit Villa Melzi, Villa Carlotta and for some the most beautiful of all, Villa Balbianello – as close to paradise as one could wish. As always on these visits we shall be entertained privately to lunch by the owning families at some of the villas. We have organised many tours in past years to Lazio and after a few years break we return there next May when I will lead a new tour of this interesting area. POPES AND PRINCES AT REST: THE VILLAS & GARDENS OF LAZIO Popes & Princes at Rest, 11-16 May 2016, will take up the theme which our earlier tour of Florentine Gardens introduced. The countryside around Rome was full of villas in antiquity, particularly in the hills to the south at Tusculum, very close to Frascati where we shall be based for five nights. During renaissance times the revival of interest in the “villa lifestyle” pioneered around Florence by the Medici family came to Rome. Popes, Cardinals and Princely families vied with each other to create lavish retreats, not too far from Rome. We shall visit some ancient villas such as Hadrian’s Imperial complex near Tivoli and also all the most important from the renaissance later periods. These will include the famous fountains of Villa d’Este, the splendid Villa Farnese at Caprarola, Villa Aldobrandini at Frascati and Villa Lante at Bagnaia. A special treat will be Castel Gandolfo, the Pope’s summer retreat on Lake Albano which has only just been made available for visits. Contemporary gardening is flourishing in this part of Italy and we shall visit five remarkable modern gardens, including the celebrated Ninfa. Arabella Lennox Boyd will need no introduction to gardeners and we shall visit her childhood home, still used by her and her family where we see the gardens she has recently created and where we shall also be entertained to lunch – one of several unusual private visits to be included in the itinerary. Moving closer to home I am delighted to announce that after many years of planning, next July we shall introduce a visit to Ireland devoted exclusively to gardens. FORTY SHADES OF GREEN: THE GARDENS OF IRELAND Forty, 24 - 29 July 2016, should be a memorable six days full of amazing gardens. Some of these reflect the philosophy of William Robinson (who was Irish!) as they work with nature – Mount Usher and Dargle Glen in Co Wicklow are two superb examples. Ireland’s most influential twentieth century garden is without doubt Mount Stewart in Co Down, where Edith, Marchioness of Londonderry created an extraordinary oasis, full of invention, indeed genius. We shall spend a day there with the present head gardener, Neil Porteous. Contemporary Irish gardening can be summed up in one name – Helen Dillon. No one else in Ireland gardens with such skill and style, two qualities not often united with total success. Helen has influenced many of the best younger generation now coming along, not least the brother and sister gardeners, Jimi and June Blake. We shall visit all three of these exciting and creative horticulturalists, BUT, lucky us because both Helen Dillon and Jimi Blake have agreed to join me in the course of this visit as we explore Ireland. Their participation will enhance our itinerary and their knowledge and insights are sure to make it a truly memorable few days. Finally, if you have wondered to whom we send Christmas Cards, we send cards to all those who have travelled with us on a tour in that year and also for the previous year. So, this December we shall send cards to all those who have travelled with us in 2015 and 2014. We do not normally send cards to those who have been on a Study Day, unless you have also been on a recent tour. I hope this clarifies a query we sometimes receive? Happy gardening and remember that a gardener who looks only at her or his garden is someone who has ceased to be curious! With every good wish, Tom

The Ancient World Explored - June 2015 eNewsletter

Thursday 4th June 2015

“The Greek custom is to represent the gods by the most beautiful things on earth – pure material, human form, consummate art.” Maximus of Tyre, writing in the 2nd century AD Welcome to the second in our new series of monthly newsletters, this time devoted to Antiquity! Connoisseurs of the visual arts, not to mention those with an interest in the ancient world, have a remarkable opportunity just now to see some truly stunning works of art in contexts probably never to be repeated for decades to come. These are on show in two exhibitions, one in Florence, the second in London. Both exhibitions explore the human body within the context of the Greek and Roman worlds and they include works of art never before brought together in the same spaces – the conversations and confrontations created will long live in this writer’s visual memory! London’s BRITISH MUSEUM is currently hosting Defining Beauty – The Body in Ancient Greek Art which closes on 5 July. It is an ambitious exhibition which takes as its theme the manner in which the human form is used to convey not just the figure depicted, be it idealised or realistic, but also other meanings conveyed across social and sexual activity. The majority of the exhibits are sculptures, both in marble and bronze, supported by objects in pottery and other media. The exhibition is divided into a number of themed spaces which succeed (some brilliantly!) in conveying what is not always easily understood subject matter. Thus the first room, entitled Encounters, offers an initial series of juxtapositions where a few statues associated with some of the most famous sculptors of ancient Greece – Pheidias, Myron, Polykleitos – range from the restless fluidity of Ilissos, one of the marble pediment figures from the Parthenon in Athens to the poised beauty of an Apoxyomenos, a young athlete in bronze recently recovered from the Adriatic off the coast of Croatia. The Museum has managed to secure some spectacular loans, none more so than persuading the Vatican to allow one of its greatest treasures to travel to London. The final room is entitled The Shock of the New, offering a spectacular juxtaposition between the BM’s recumbent Dionysos from the east pediment of the Parthenon and the Vatican’s Belvedere Torso, never before seen in Britain. Indeed, I know of no other occasion when two of the very greatest sculptors, Pheidias and Michelangelo, have been seen in such proximity. It is an encounter you should not miss – hurry along before it is too late. Even greater speed or enthusiasm for travel may be needed if you are to catch my second star exhibition: PALAZZO STROZZI in Florence is hosting Power and Pathos – Bronze Sculpture of the Hellenistic Period until 21 June, when it transfers to Los Angeles where it will go on show at the J PAUL GETTY MUSUEM from 28 July – 1 November. This exhibition is less ambitious in terms of its theme, has fewer works of art, BUT, it is stunning - a knockout, in fact! Ancient Greek bronze sculptures are much rarer than their marble cousins, given that most of them have been melted down. In recent years a remarkable series of these rarities have come to light, mostly found in the Mediterranean and Adriatic Seas. Given that the world’s two leading centres of technical investigation and conservation are in Florence and Los Angeles, this joint expertise has been harnessed to provide us with an amazing feast for the eye and the mind. “Less is more” may have been in the minds of the exhibition curators when making their selections of objects to display (would that the BM team had taken note of this advice!) and in the high rooms of Palazzo Strozzi, the exhibits have space in which to breath, allowing visitors to view the pieces from multiple angles. This is particularly well done for the poignant image of the bruised and exhausted Seated Boxer, a third century BC bronze found on the Quirinal Hill in Rome in 1885. Some of you who have been to Rome with us in the past may recall that it is normally on display in Rome’s Palazzo Termini Antiquities Museum where it is placed against a wall, not well lit and impossible to view “in the round”. In Florence (and in Los Angeles too, hopefully?) the full power of this amazing piece is fully revealed as never before. I could instance exhibit after exhibit in terms of rarity, beauty, power to impress and many other categories. However, it is the cumulative effect of seeing so many of these remarkable survivals brought together in one place which remains in the mind’s eye. On a practical note, the explanation panels in both Italian and English (the English is particularly well translated, or perhaps it may be the other way round, given the Getty’s involvement?!) are a model of intelligent introduction not overwhelmed with professional jargon. Finally, both of these exhibitions are supported by excellent catalogues, in English. The Strozzi catalogue wins by a short head. Should the above outbreak of enthusiasm for all things antique have whetted your appetite, you may remember that we have planned a number of group visits in the next few months which will explore some of the themes mentioned above: Professor Christopher Smith, the Director of The British School at Rome, will lead Antiquity Explored – The Golden Age of Ancient Rome, from 12 – 16 November later this year. The early second century AD saw Rome’s empire grow to its full splendour under the Emperors Trajan and Hadrian, whose patronage and collecting will form a major focus of this visit. This is particularly apposite given that Hadrian was particularly addicted to all things Greek, particularly Greek sculptures. We shall see some of the exhibits from both London and Florence as by then they will have been returned to the Roman museums from which borrowed. Read More> Professor Smith is also one of our most distinguished ancient historians and he has recently published The Etruscans, in the Oxford University Press “Very Short Introductions” series. At £7.99 it is the ideal introduction at 143 pages to this most sophisticated, if at times mysterious, people (ISBN 978 0 954791 3). By amazing luck, Christopher will lead a tour for us next year titled From Bronze to Gold - The Etruscans. Based in and around two places long associated with the Etruscans, Tarquinia and Cortona, it is sure to be an exciting visit. Taking place from 5 – 10 April 2016. Further details will be published shortly. However, if you would like details to be sent to you prior to the brochure in September, please email the office. The collapse of the Roman Empire in Western Europe forms a spectacular conclusion to a remarkable sequence of developments over several millennia. Who better to introduce you to his not much explored chapter of European history than Charles Freeman, author of the seminal Egypt, Greece & Rome – Civilisations of the Ancient Mediterranean, now in its third edition and published in paperback by OUP (ISBN 978 0 19 965192 4). Charles will lead Imperial Splendour – The Mosaics of Ravenna, from 15 – 18 October 2015 later this year. Ravenna is truly where east and west met in the late antique period and the visit will offer participants a thrilling insight into this amazing world from one of the world’s leading experts. Full details of the visit can be found on our website. I hope you have enjoyed my thoughts on the exhibitions featured and that you might be able to fit in a visit to one or both of them in the coming weeks? Equally, I hope you might also be tempted to discover more about the cultures and objects displayed, at first hand, by joining one of the visits just mentioned? In any case, may I wish you a pleasant few weeks to come and I shall return early next month with a newsletter full of horticultural revelations! With every good wish, Tom

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