There are varieties of iris for almost every day of the year. In February reticulatas,  little delicate things so welcome among the green-ness  and brown-ness, the dead leaves and twigs, the muddiness of winter.

And later, of course, the wonderful bearded irises to which I am devoted though they bloom for a comparatively short time and they DEMAND their own bit of the garden and if overgrown by any other sort of plant for a split second go into a deep sulk… and they have to have sun so they need a prime spot. As they are difficult to mulch because birds scratch it over the rhizomes and this also puts them off flowering one has to weed constantly with a sharp knife. I weeded my iris border minutely in October…a process as fiddly as drawn-thread work…something I spent hours leaning to do at school and a skill I haven’t needed in my life so far …and because of the mild weather in November and December all the weeds sprang up again ….see work in progress

So I’m wondering why I put up with irises at all. This is the pursuit of beauty akin to madness. But if I’m still doing this blog in May I shall put up photographs that may justify the terrible effort.

Just found a photograph of the same border,  taken last summer when the irises had finished. THE GARDEN TEAM.

And it grew wondrous cold. And ice, mast-high, came floating by,  As green as emerald’

Urn in canal garden.

I hope I’ve got that roughly right. It’ll be familiar to those of us over a certain age  who were made to learn chunks of The Rime of the Ancient Mariner at  primary school. I’ve always loved the poem despite the rhymes so often criticised by poetry pundits. Not me. Iused to shed tears for the poor albatross and felt the punishment meted out to the mariner was not nearly severe enough. (I’m talking about my 8 year old self. I no longer cry but my sentiments remain much the same). Well, the first two lines applied on Saturday though sadly NO EMERALD ICE. Chiz! (Tribute to recently deceased Ronald Searle)

Pyramid yews in south garden (a little wonky as trimmed last summer by husband)

Of course this is a pathetic dribble  by comparison with the deluge of white stuff you Canadian girls (women, guys, folks …I don’t want to offend anyone in these sensitive times) get each winter and I know we Limeys are a bit of a joke because England goes into profound shock at a faint dusting … airports and railway stations collapse, schools close and shoppers fight for the last packet of sugar. But some of us still feel a childlike excitement and revel in the beauty, the light, the silence.  My hens hate it.

VC on hen duty, necessary because foxes live in garden.

I hope a word or two about our roof might be of interest. It is tiled in Collyweston slates which is local to this part of Northamptonshire and considered to be of unsurpassed beauty (if you like that sort of thing!) because of its colour and texture, which increases in depth and variety as it ages.  The rock-slate layer lies at a depth of between 20 to 30 feet, and has to be quarried  by hand. Collyweston slates are unique because they are split by frost action. Blocks of limestone called ‘logs’ are dug in December and January, laid on the ground, kept wet and exposed to a succession of frosts and thaws. They must never dry out or they are ruined.  Winters in the latter part of the 20th century being generally mild it has been virtually impossible to quarry new supplies, so what there is in existence  has become  extremely precious.

When we moved here in 1998 the roof had several large concrete patches on it and a week after we arrived a storm brought down a section leaving a hole about six feet square. The decision was taken to  re-roof and insulate at the same time. The house was dark with scaffolding for months but the result was well worth it, I hope you’ll agree.

The old slates that were in a fit condition were of course re-used, fastened to wooden battens…oak because a stone roof is a tremendous weight … with copper pegs (in the old days they sometimes used small animal bones) and the shortfall was made up with reclaimed Collyweston.  You can see from the photograps that the large slates are laid at the bottom reducing in size to little ones at the ridge.

Now, twelve years later, the moss is growing back and every day I get pleasure from glancing up at it for to me the roof is a thing of beauty.