In between the rain, the dogs and I treasure the moments we can be outside looking for the promise of spring. Even with the lowering clouds, the air and light of spring is somehow different to other times; everywhere are distant pinpricks of colour whether on the ground or higher up against brown twigged stems.

Entering the Secret Garden through the wrought iron gate in the old faded wall, I have a decision to make: do I turn right or left? Either view is punctuated by white cherry blossoms dipping their branches at shoulder height. Underneath, the long-veined tulip leaves are still standing straight up, pale green and just waiting for a little sunshine to set them blooming through the curving borders.

The dogs have chosen “right” and are already running past the garden bench used in a scene with Maggie Smith and Penelope Wilton. The path narrows and leads us all out past the thick blue green juniper into the beginning of the main avenue in the Wood of Goodwill.

Leaving by a weighted wooden gate toward the sparse tufted expanse of meadow, the Labradors race off tumbling each other over, reluctant to relinquish any tennis ball they find hidden in the grass. Over the coming months, these acres will develop into the densest mass of wildflowers but just now only the softest coloured primroses can be seen whilst the tiny gathered lampshades of the cowslips are still wondering whether to make an appearance.

Following the waggling tails of the spaniels along the bottom edge in and out of the hazel and the young cherry trees, the birdsong increases.

During Covid the Japanese Embassy in London kindly offered us 21 cherry trees and some of them line this path. They are still slim and willowy but full of delicate blossom and the hope of warmer weather to come.

Flowering cherry trees are part of Japan’s history, culture and identity. For centuries in Japan spring has been marked by the practice of “Hanami”, of holding feasts, picnics and parties underneath the blooming Sakura (cherry) trees. Some of these sacred trees are over 1,000 years old yet the fleeting joy of the beauty of the blossom symbolizes the ephemeral nature of life. The delicate layered flowers are usually pink or white with single, double and semi-double forms and can have anything from a few petals to well over one hundred.

Cherry trees blooming – fleetingly – en masse were traditionally used to define the year’s harvest and they came to embody wabi-sabi philosophy and Shinto ideals of impermanence, hope and renewal. More prosaically, cherry trees are also an important source of food for birds, insects and mammals.

Standing and looking at any of these trees with the ground so wet, they are beguiling in their brightness dream and a breath of spring, a reminder of that Japanese proverb:

“Like cherry blossoms, we too shall bloom in adversity.”