For many years an annual highlight for me has been the spring phone call I would receive from Charles Gee, the farmer from Medley Manor Pick Your Own in Binsey. He would ring to tell me he had just picked the first bunch of asparagus. Regardless of what I was doing, I would leap into my car and drive up that narrow country lane towards his farm, where a couple of bunches of freshly-harvested asparagus were awaiting me. Those first bunches of green spears that had finally pushed their way through the cold earth were always the most succulent. Something to celebrate. They heralded the beginning of summer growth, signifying everything Oxfordshire farmers produce for us throughout the year.

Sadly, I will not get that call this year. This kindly, gentle man, beloved by everyone who knew him, has died aged 89, leaving behind two sons, Charlie and Nick, their wives, Rachel and Katherine, and five grandchildren, Chloe, Charlie, Adam, Rosie and Harry.

I have many photographs of Charles Gee and his Border collie Millie in my collection. The one that means much to me, however, and one I have used a multitude of times, is a close-up (see above left) of his gnarled hands, which had worked the soil for years, holding out a bunch of asparagus — a gift he had drawn from the earth and was offering to all who know the joys of the fresh spears bound together in that little bundle.

His beloved Millie, who was born the same year as my Border collie Pythius, died just three weeks before him. Although he tried to be stoic about her death, those who knew him well understood just how that loss affected him. My dog and Millie were the greatest of friends, enthusiastically running to greet each other when they met.

I once asked him what he loved about farming, which took him out in all weathers and called for him to be working from dawn to dusk during the summer months. He answered by stooping down and scooping up a handful of the rich soil at his feet. He looked at it for a moment, smiled then said: “It’s simple. I just love growing things, seeing those tiny seeds burst into life.”

I understood exactly what he meant and what his family farm meant to him. He was a farmer through and through.

He was also a very dear friend, not just to me but to the many members of the pubic who made a pilgrimage to Medley Manor Farm each summer. He had a smile for all of us and time to chat, regardless of how busy he was. No one was overlooked, and when he smiled it was as if the sun had come out — yes, he was that special.

Fortunately, it’s a family farm, and his son Charlie, who loves the soil as much as he did, will continue to manage it.

Charles Gee’s ability to cope with all adversities will be remembered too.

An example were the summer floods of 2007, which devastated his crops. He faced this disaster without complaint, although the water, which sat on his land for several weeks in the height of the summer, meant his cattle had to be moved to higher ground.

Ripe strawberries, ready to picked, rotted, remaining a constant reminder of the devastation for some considerable time. Lesser mortals would have been bitter and angry as they watched all their work gradually decay — he wasn’t.

And personal injuries that would have left most of us feeling sorry for ourselves were shrugged off with a smile. He didn’t have time to worry about wounds when there was work to be done. Any pain the injury was causing was not spoken about.

The asparagus season will be slightly later this year. In 2011, it was harvested several weeks earlier than usual because of the warm spring. This year it will probably not be ready until the second week of May.

Sadly, we won’t see Charles Gee pedalling his old Post Office bike down Binsey Lane again, its tray piled high with asparagus destined for local restaurants. And we won’t see him standing in his little shed waiting for customers to have their baskets of fruit weighed.

Medley Manor Farm is a magical place, filled with birdsong and wildlife. Standing in the strawberry fields surrounded by nature and picking fruits warmed by the summer sun is a wonderful experience and one that makes life worthwhile. My sadness this year is that when I visit, I will not be greeted by a very special farmer and his dog.