"It was a privilege to be in Japan for the cherry blossom festival," said Monty Don. "It goes back to the third century, and April 1st is a magic day, when the blossom is at its peak. Everyone goes outside to celebrate and have picnics while the petals fall. There is an intimacy, happiness and joy that winter is over."

The TV gardener was there with photographer Derry Moore (right) to research and make the book and TV series, Japanese Gardens, and described the visit as a cultural challenge "in many good ways".

"It was one of the greatest experiences of my life," said Don. "One garden we visited was on the roof of a tower block and consisted mainly of rocks, symbolically placed. As they were heavy, they were hollowed out, which in itself is significant in Zen terms. You need to create an empty space in your mind so that enlightenment can enter in."

They were shown round the rock garden by the designer, a Buddhist monk. When Don asked him how he knew where the rocks should go, the monk replied, "The rocks speak to me", and added that it was harder than placing plants.

Picture by Paul Musso