Over fifteen years ago my sisters and I each planted a pair of walnut trees in the Wood of Goodwill. This was a name more of hope than actuality because, at the time, it was just a rather muddy, slightly desolate area in the middle of winter as that, of course, is the the best time for planting trees. Everything, however, has to start somewhere. The muddy area was, and still is, not perfectly flat but, like other gardeners, we were impatient to begin.

Fast forward and the wood is now thriving. The walnut trees form an avenue leading from the autumn planted area of the wood towards the Rose Arbour which I created and planted in memory of our mother. The ground can be something of a frost pocket and as a result we had to replant a couple of them but these sapling are now growing in girth and height. Walnut trees are the last to green up and the first to lose their leaves but the nuts are delicious and they have a lovely serene atmosphere.

Walnuts have a long history. Traces of walnut shells have been found in Neolithic sites in France which are at least 8000 years old. Four thousand years ago in Persia, walnuts and their oil were so revered that they were reserved only for royalty. They were bought to Britain by the Romans who grew them not only for their oil and nuts but also for the nutty flour that could be made from them. They are quite amazingly good for you, full of protein, good fats and vitamins. They have a myriad of health benefits across a range of issues, are anti-inflammatory and apparently can even help memory function. It seemed particularly appropriate therefore that they would stand as a permanent representation of my sisters and act as the link to our mother’s rose garden.

The Rose Arbour too has seen some changes and developments. There is now a new circular garden within it planted with lavender for healing and rosemary for remembrance. It is very peaceful which was one of my mother’s best qualities. She was a lovely, patient and diplomatic person and each of us has inherited some parts of all that we loved her for. She always made time for each of us and was always there for us.

Amongst her myriad qualities and amazing organisational abilities however, it does have to be admitted that she preferred someone else to cook. She died too young and as sisters, we had to find a way of coping together and being there for each other. I think this is where my interest in eating well really started which is a part of what I have written about in “Seasons at Highclere”. I increasingly believe that there is a great deal of truth in the old adage that we are what we eat and, whilst modern medicine has made the most enormous strides forward, we owe it to ourselves to support it by eating as healthily as possible with plenty of immune boosting foods.

So, in honour of the walnut walk and my sisters, I have my Celery, Grape and Walnut Salad. Very healthy with a bit of illicit sweetness supplied by the grapes and the most delicious dressing made out of a combination of live yoghurt, Dijon mustard, lemon and seasoning.