When you come to think of it, gardening is a strange hobby. What makes people want to spend hours of their time, let alone their hard-earned cash, toiling away in the hope that something might grow? Why get wet or too cold or too hot and far too tired just to watch your favoured plant being ravaged by pests and diseases or, just when you think all is going swimmingly, to see it being struck down by an unforeseen frost? On bad days it hardly seems worthwhile.
Of course, the answer is because gardeners are eternal optimists. Just because something has failed this time means, surely, that it will be a great success the next. And, generally speaking, the good results far outnumber the bad. What can give more joy than eating, say, a juicy, full-of-flavour pear that you have nurtured knowing that it is free from pollutants and raised by your own hand? Or, plunging your snout into the centre of a rose bush knowing that it will come out, as the saying goes, smelling of roses?
And so it is with my 'oldest' garden: one I have worked in for twenty years, first as Head Gardener and, after I moved miles away to the secret valley, on an occasional basis doing more specialist tasks.
One of the last jobs I carried out was to plant that most celebrated and notorious of ornamental trees Davidia invoulcrata, the Handkerchief Tree, to announce the arrival of the new millennium. Celebrated because of its wonderful flowers resembling a pocket handkerchief; notorious because it can take twenty years before they appear.