OK, so those of you who have visted us, will know that our garden isn’t very secret at the moment. Although not overlooked, and quite spacious, we have no boundary walls (but shhh…don’t mention the *b* word in case our obsessive neighbour overhears!) and so it’s all quite open at the moment. There doesn’t appear to be anything secretive – or anything holding secrets – in the garden. But there is. We know that our garden, and its surroundings are the keepers of lots of Istrian secrets, and this excites us.
Our house is sturdy and luckily for us, very structurally sound. She is a beauty and is beginning to look more and more majestic as we work on her.
But, the very best thing about the house, is that we are surrounded by these utterly beautiful abandonded stone houses. Now, some people might take one look and run for the hills. They might look with horror at the crumbling stonework, the windows exposed to the elements with no frames and definitely no glass, the roof which has half (or sometimes fully) collapsed in onto itself and wonder who could live next door, or adjoined, to such dereliction. But we think these houses are amazing.
They are littered across the Istrian countryside, linking the past to the present. Once occupied by families and livestock, they are now silent, people having fled after the war. Or, in many cases, forcibly evicted and the houses requisitioned by the Italians and later the Communists. Some are huge villas, often with now faded slogans painted in red, demonstrating that they had been taken over by the Republic or Tito, with ornate shutters, elaborate balconies, huge windows, ornate pillars and colums. Some are more rural, suggesting less wealth and privilege and grandeur. But all are beautiful in their own crumbling, derelict, neglected way.
So, our garden is currently quite exposed. The big project next spring involves the garden, and building structures (not necessarily walls), which will afford us more privacy. Running alongside our house is a little known right of way – but sometimes we are surprised by people out strolling, who suddenly appear, and so some kind of a demarcation is quite necessary! However, we are also adjoined to one of these amazing abandoned houses. We know it is owned by about 17 people – we don’t know if they are all still alive, or where they all are, but this pleases us, because if it is ever to be sold, until property laws change, all parties (or whoever has inherited) have to agree to the sale. And things move VERY slowly here, so even if a buyer came forward, I don’t think we’d borrowing a cup of sugar any time soon.
Only one wall of the house is visible in our garden, but as it being reclaimed, slowly but surely by nature, it is an incredible backdrop, especially when shafts of sunlight stream through the windows. This is definitely a house which holds secrets…
But, there’s another house. It’s a tiny little thing – it probably wouldn’t have been much more than a one up, one down, if even that. There’s a old stone trough just outside so it could even have been a stone barn for animals with the feed stored above. We will eventually find out what its purpose was, but in the meantime we are making plans for this little abandoned house, because we are in the process of purchasing it, and the land which comes with it, from one of our neighbours. This what the Little House looks like now…
Because ownership of this house is clear, in that it’s owned by one person (our neighbour), the purchase should be *relatively* straightforward. Although, we are about six months in, and the actual boundaries we have all agreed, are still in the process of being rubber-stamped. So, we’re planning a Spring (possibly early Summer project), which is now fine by us, as we’d definitely like this winter to involve a whole lot less renovation/building work than last year.
We’ve toyed with a number of ideas for this house. Initially, we thought to renovate it and create a bijou little annexe to our house, but we’re a bit jaded with renovations and building work! Then we thought to have it demolished completely and use the stone work to build the wall we want around the back of the house. But, we’ve been advised that if the whole house is demolished (ie its footprint removed), we could not sell the house on, with permission to build on this piece of land. It seems a no-brainer that any future purchaser of our house may want to build on this piece of land, and we don’t want to complicate things unnecessarily, so again, having taken advice, the outer wall of the house (the one covered in foliage in the first photograph above) will remain standing. We hope to retain as much of the ivy as possible because the bees absolutely love this, especially in late summer, and it will provide a natural part of the wall which will be built around the land we buy. This wall will be made from the stones from the rest of the house, so even though the dwelling itself will no longer exist, it will still be part of our house. Access to the garden, if we can make it happen, will be via the cellar (which is being converted into a living room) – the window in the cellar is at ground level, so with a little bit of excavation work (she says!), a doorway will be opened up with new steps outside, leading up and into the garden. There’ll also be a gate built into the wall, so that the garden can be accessed from outside too.
And then all we have to do, is plan what our enclosed Secret Garden will look like. I wonder which of these it will resemble? Or, maybe it will be a composite of a few. Whatever it eventually looks like, it will be a secret haven, that no-body except us, and our visitors, can see in to…