Tuesday is the first glorious spring sunshine day of the year. And then everything turns topsy-turvy and we have a mixture of damp and windy weather again. But that one day of sunshine makes it all worthwhile.
The woodland area is awash with snowdrops. One has to admire their tenacity in poking their heads above ground in this weather. Their history is often debated in horticultural circles: some say they were a gift from the Romans or perhaps brought back from the Crusades or possibly introduced in the sixteenth century by Benedictine nuns or maybe they are a native wild flower, who can tell, but we gardeners like to argue with each other as much as the next man. Certainly they have religious connotations and their white flowers are a symbol of purity and innocence, being gathered for Candlemas on the second of February.
The Duke loves gadgets and reads from cover to cover those booklets that fall out of the television guides that contain hundreds of labour-saving essentials for the modern life. He’s pacing the terrace with his latest acquisition: a pair of binoculars that fit into the palm of your hand complete with a built-in compass and a whistle in case one should get lost. No doubt this gadget will be extremely useful on his next outing. They have finally decided to head off to Rajasthan in north-western India.
The house is in pandemonium with the Duchess running around packing suitcases and shouting orders and profanities at the domestics, and Cook in the kitchen preparing enough sandwiches to last the entire journey and back again. A taxi turns up at the front and the countless number of suitcases is piled in the back.
There is a moment of panic when it is realised that the Duke is nowhere to be seen but eventually he is found and led to the waiting taxi with the Duchess holding the door open and glowering threateningly. Finally they are gone and everyone gives a sigh of relief and word goes round that its teas all-round in the kitchen to celebrate.
Whilst the Duke and the Duchess are away on their tropical cruise the staff are more relaxed than usual and no-one is in any hurry to get back to work so we have another cup and a slice of cake and sit around the large kitchen table nattering.
Cook Jenny, more charming than usual, asks me how I first started gardening and I begin to reminisce of the first postcard I put up in a post-office window offering my services, and the first job I undertook, with a pair of secateurs in one hand and a pruning text-book in the other. I’m afraid that I learnt the hard way, by making mistakes and hopefully learning from them.
Eventually I found work with a large established estate. The head-gardener, a gentle and quietly spoken gentleman in his seventies, came from the old school of gardening where tools were not considered expendable but cherished and well looked after. He insisted that twenty minutes before the end of day we would bring the tools we had been using to the potting shed where the mud would be brushed off in an old water trough and then dipped in a barrel of sand soaked in old tractor oil. The tools themselves were hung gleaming on the wall, many were so old that Cain had fashioned them himself!
I look back sometimes and wonder if maybe I should have done this or done that – sadly I’m too much of a dreamer, some gardening friends of mine have been far more ambitious and have gone on to greater things – but what I chose is what I chose and sometimes I go to work and wonder for the first half an hour how I can endure the wet and the cold but then I warm up and begin to remember that it really is the very best way of making a few pennies in the whole wide world.