2020 June eNewsletter

June 01, 2020

I hope you have been enjoying this unexpectedly warm late spring weather just as we have here in Northamptonshire?

Since last in touch I have spent a lot of time in our garden. The picture above is of Clematis x durandii (Integrifolia group), peeking out from a mass of Erysimum ‘Monet’s Moment’ flowers. This is an all time great clematis (we have about half a dozen dotted round) which is at its best if trained up some canes, or an obelisk in the midst of a mixed border. However it should not be too tightly disciplined as it likes to wander off amongst the surrounding plants, exploring solo – a bit like some members of our tours!

Back in the office we have now cancelled all remaining tours up to August, including very sadly our annual visit to Glyndebourne. Emma has been in touch with all those affected to offer participants a range of options concerning their bookings. Tours scheduled for September onwards are not cancelled as we, like you, do not know to what extent the various ‘lockdown’ and quarantine arrangements will be for each country from September onwards. As and when we have further information with regard to each tour, we will be in touch.

Image 2 Castletown


As you can imagine, I have been following how the situation is developing at home in Ireland. Luckily family and friends have, so far, all avoided the virus. While we have had to cancel our July tour to Cork, our tour The Harp & Crown: The Irish Country House & Garden, 27 September - 2 October, is due to go ahead - if local conditions allow. Based at the very comfortable and rural Barberstown Castle Hotel in Co Kildare, it will be gently paced with a marvellous range of visits to major buildings and collections in Dublin, and country houses such as Russborough and Castletown (seen above). The gardens will include those created by the Blake siblings, June and Jimi in Co Wicklow and Helen Dillon’s wonderful new garden in Monkstown. While the Dublin tour is already fully booked, it is possible that places will come available in the coming weeks.

Ballymaloe HouseShanagarry, Co. Cork, Ireland · www.ballymaloe.ie · +353 (0)21 4652 531Photo Joleen Cronin 2013


In addition, we have decided to offer a shortened version of Ballymaloe: Houses & Gardens of Cork, 23 - 27 September, with a revised itinerary which we will put on our website in a few weeks' time. The hotel, seen above, will reopen in early July and once Ireland lifts its ‘quarantine’ arrangements for visitors from abroad (including those from the UK) from 10 August, Stephen and I plan to visit both Cork and Dublin to see for ourselves how the hotels, bus companies, restaurants and other ‘suppliers’ we use will cope with group tours. So, if a short holiday in Cork or Dublin might be of interest this September, do get in touch.

Image 4 p21 Camellia Japonica


We continue to develop our schedule of tours for next year and I thought I would give you some advance details of three, all themed round spring gardens in Galicia, Ireland and Sicily. Spring is THE time for flowering trees and shrubs, none more so than magnolias, rhododendrons, azaleas and camellias. Camellias & Caminos: Spring in Galicia, 18 – 24 March 2021 will take us to north-west Spain which has the ideal environment for these impressive specimens. We have operated this tour for several years and each time it does not disappoint – most of the visits are private, guided by the owners and/or head gardeners with some exemplary hospitality. Based for four nights in the Parador of the coastal town of Cambados and two nights in the quite stunning Parador in Santiago de Compostela, I will lead this tour with our local expert guide, Manuel Ruzo, exploring not only the horticultural wealth of the area, but also the world famous pilgrimage associated with Santiago and its cathedral.

Image 5 p23 Rhododendrons at Killmacurragh


Much of Ireland shares similar conditions with Galicia, above all a moist and gentle climate. So it is no surprise that Irish gardens, particularly those in coastal counties, have an equally strong presence in spring. When we originally offered this tour in 2019 it sold out almost immediately and those who participated had a remarkable experience. So, I am delighted that we can offer it again next year when I will lead Celtic Blossoms: Spring Gardens in Ireland, 18 – 29 April, 2021. Four truly world-class gardens – Mount Congreve in Co Waterford, Birr Castle Demesne in Co Offaly, Kilmacurragh in Co Wicklow (pictured above) and Mount Stewart in Co Down will all be explored on day-long visits when we will be guided by either the owner or head gardener. Based for five nights at Ballymaloe, four nights at Barberstown Castle and two nights at The Culloden Hotel near Belfast; a wonderful range of other gardens, large and small, will also be included.

Image 6 Taormina Greek Theater 1000x500


One of the recent tours which sadly we had to cancel this spring will be offered again next year, Earth, Fire, Air & Water: Private Gardens of Eastern Sicily, 16 – 21 April, 2021. Sicily is truly the ‘crossroads’ of the Mediterranean and waves of settlers have left a significant impression on the landscape, not least its flora and fauna. A succession of governing ‘elites’ from the Muslim conquerors of North Africa to the later Habsburgs and Bourbons have all gardened using the island’s resources, not least the rich volcanic soil close to Mount Etna, seen above. So, a tour based around the gardens of the island’s eastern coastline is a particularly rewarding experience. Based for five nights in gorgeous Taormina, we are thrilled that local gardener and expert, Rachel Lamb, will again lead this tour for us as we visit a series of mostly privately owned gardens which are not open to the public. Rachel has been the subject of highly complimentary articles in magazines such as Country Life and she was the subject of one of Robin Lane Fox’s influential Saturday columns in the Financial Times.

Image 7 Roses

When Stephen filmed me in our garden a few weeks ago, we then included a link to the brief overview of what was in bloom at the time. I did not expect the positive reaction it created. As a result, we are investigating making a few short films over the coming months while we remain ‘grounded’. We will let you know via email when we are ready to release the first in the series, hopefully later this month. In the meantime, the rose pictured above is 'Jacqueline du Pré', now blooming in happy abundance.

I have also moved snail-like into the modern age by opening an Instagram account. To date, most of my ‘posts’ have been devoted to our garden so if you would like to see more photos as it develops over the summer months, the relevant username is @tomduncan333.

Image 8 Geoege IV

We have also decided to offer members of our mailing list the opportunity to join me for a series of lectures which we will make available for viewing over the web. The first of these hour-long presentations will be on the recent exhibition at The Queen’s Gallery on George IV as a Collector & Patron of the Arts. It will take place on Wednesday, 17 June at 11.00 am, BST, thus allowing our friends in Australia to join us too! If you would like to register for this lecture, please click here.  iIf you are not able to join me live and still register you will be sent a recording of the lecture to watch. The first will be free, although we may charge a small fee for future lectures.

Image 9 Bernii Elephant

Finally, pictured above is the detail chosen for our second photo competition, for which we received over fifty correct entries, a much better ‘result’ than our inaugural competition. One web-savvy friend has cynically suggested that some of you may have discovered that details can be fed into a ‘search engine’ for images, which would have given you the necessary identification? I doubt it... In any case, the detail was taken from a sculpture designed by Bernini which stands in the piazza in front of S Maria sopra Minerva in Rome – perhaps too easy given so many of you have seen this sculpture on your visits to Rome? The lucky winner is Nigel Wisden who will receive a voucher redeemable against one of our future London exhibition-based Study Days.

Image 10 Detail CH

This month’s competition marks another change of medium with a detail taken from a building. As last time, I need to know the name of the building and its location, together with the identity of the architect. Entries should be submitted to tomduncan@ciceroni.co.uk or by post to 2 The Square, Aynho, Banbury, OX17 3BL by 5.00 pm on Friday, 26 June. Good luck to you all!

With all best wishes from everyone at ‘Team CICERONI’ dispersed ‘here, there and everywhere’.

Tom Duncan




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