The Secret Garden

The Secret Garden

So, the last renovation blog detailed the thinking behind creating the Secret Garden. Although it’s not a real Secret Garden – it’s pretty obvious it’s there when you look out of the living room window – it feels quite secret, when you’re in it. And, we are delighted that, finally, it’s a part of our home that we are now very proud of. Our home, which we are now selling, so this this Secret Garden could be yours

The project started a few weeks ago, when we finally decided that a wooden fence, with the posts sunken into concrete, would form the boundary wall. We decided on a wooden fence, because we wanted something which could be quite easily removed by new owners, if they decided they wanted something different. Wooden posts were purchased, concrete and metal holders to keep the posts in place. Thankfully, looking back, we didn’t go the expense of also buying the wood to create the actual fence. Immediate obstacles presented themselves, particularly that the land is on a slight incline and we had no digger and therefore holes for the fence posts were having to be dug out by hand. It was immediately apparent that doing it this way was going to be a very slow process, and we wanted something in place quite quickly, so despite the purchases already made, we had a re-think. Our builder couldn’t work as much as we wanted, and so we also decided that we’d do it ourselves and see how far we got. First thing we did was abandon the idea of the wooden fence. The holes were re-filled and the wooden planks used to create a boundary at ground level. (PS – the mess beyond what would be come The Secret Garden is on-going work by a neighbour, who is building a small stone cottage. We’re hoping that the crane and the building materials won’t be around for too much longer and that the finishing touch will be a bit of landscaping).

A lorry load of sand was then ordered and this was flattened over a layer of Geotex to prevent weeds growing. Using just a rake, a snow shovel and our feet, this was soon quite compacted and we could begin to kind of see what the space could potentially look like.

We decided to surface the area in the way we did the car parking area at the front of the house, as this has proven to be very hard-wearing. Next delivery was three cubic metres of white stones. These were tipped into the corner and we started the process of moving the stones, using a wheelbarrow to get them up the incline, and then raking into place.

Having decided against the wooden fence, we still had to come up with a solution, which would not only demarcate our boundary but would also give us the privacy we wanted. We considered potted bamboos, having lots of these in the front garden, but quickly decided against them on the grounds that they shed leaves and so over the winter would look quite bare. We had also decided that if we were going to have a privacy hedge, we wanted to be able to take the plants away with us to The Printworks, and so very quickly, we settled on the idea of potted conifer trees, which would be quite thick and impenetrable. Ten, plus pots, were bought from our local garden centre. On delivery however, we realised we had seriously underestimated the number we’d need and safe to say we now in excess of twenty! Lesson learned – always measure and calculate…

As well as conifers, we also thought if we were finally going to do this, we might as well do it properly and have the garden area we’d always imagined. So, back to the garden centre – who by this time, were thankfully giving us good discounts! – and more pots were purchased. Along with some very beautiful big plants – a feijoa, a eucalyptus, a fig tree and, the best of all, a mature olive tree. Smaller pots and plants were also included to add a bit of colour and winter pansies, to hang from pots on the palette planter on the wall.

A small table and two chairs have been added (we already had these so saved on a little bit of expenditure) and we’ve also brought the fire pit around. Nights are very chilly now, but we have sat out, warmly wrapped up, with the fire on, with a glass of wine. I’m not sure quite how many times we’ll repeat this, this winter, but it was nice while it lasted! A new shed – in a very pleasing grey colour, which was a real bonus as I assumed it would be green – has also been constructed, meaning that all of the garden tools, bags of soil, plant pots etc etc, can now be stored away.

On one of our visits to the garden centre, I spotted a beautiful vintage, wrought iron wall basket, full of succulent plants and ferns, and knew it would be a gorgeous addition to the garden. A bit of negotiation ensued, as it wasn’t actually for sale, but a cash price was agreed and it was ours. It’s now securely attached to the wall, above the table, and come springtime, when the succulents and ferns start growing and twisting of the basket, I’m sure it’ll look very pretty, indeed.

Although we’ll continue to develop this little garden while we’re still in the house, it is now such a nice feeling to look out of the living room window and see something which is cared for and attractive, rather than a cobbled together, makeshift garden, overlooking building work. The conifers give us the privacy we wanted, whilst being portable and easily able to be taken to the new renovation project and eventually planted. The same with the other plants. New owners will definitely have their own ideas about what they want to do with the rear of the house, so we made the decision that whatever we did would be temporary and could be moved with us. I can already see the big olive tree and the fig tree, especially, in the internal courtyard we are going to create. So, whoever buys the house, won’t also be taking possession of everything in the Secret Garden, but they will have seen the potential…

 Next stage for this garden, is to finish planting up spring bulbs, which we’re staggering, so that rather than one hit of flowers, we have a few waves of colour. I also have a couple of ideas which I think, if implemented, will be the icing on the cake, but I’m biding my time with suggesting these…

 

Creating A Secret Garden

Creating A Secret Garden

Whilst we’ve spent the best part of the last four and a half years, fully renovating our Istrian stone-house and creating beautiful gardens to the front and side of the property, the rear has been woefully neglected. We’ve tried to titivate it up, but it’s never really been the kind of place where we want to spend any time. When people are viewing our house for sale, I always internally shudder when we take them to the back of the house. I know that when you are buying property, you are often buying the potential, but we just felt that the time had come to tackle this much neglected part of our home. So, let us take you right back to the beginning, and what this area was like when we saw its potential…

Yep, this is what we saw when we viewed the house for the first time. A very, very sorry state – and don’t even get us onto the shutters! But, when you can see through the current state of things and have a clear vision, that’s what drives you on. Fast forward a couple of years, and we were given the opportunity to buy the little abandoned house from one of our neighbours. Although we were knee deep in renovations, we knew that other people had expressed interest in this property and we felt that if we didn’t secure it, we could have someone else purchasing it from under our noses. It’s very close to our main house and we were concerned with a) the potential proximity of another house and b) building works – out of our control – going on under our windows for goodness knows how long. So, the decision was made to purchase the house and land.This took quite a long time to complete on – much longer, in fact, than the purchase of the main house – but eventually everything was signed off and we finally owned it, meaning that no-one could build close our house. We were also at this time, in the very early stages of considering our next renovation property and toying with the idea of selling the house. Owning this smaller dwelling and surrounding land, with all boundaries legally established, therefore became even more important.

So, for the last couple of years, all we’ve really done is tidy things up, gradually. All of the building materials and the trailer, as per the contract our solicitor negotiated, had to be removed by our neighbour and the area generally cleared, prior to completion. This enabled us to begin assessing what we might eventually do with the land. We decided early on that the house would stay, especially if were selling up. Although it would need to be demolished, we felt that new owners should decide its eventual fate, and we knew that whilst we were still living here, it could be the backdrop for something very pretty. So, very slowly, when we had the time, we started to tackle this overgrown mess…

We think that originally, the small house would have been for the animals, as probably evidenced by the stone trough, below. It was in a bit of a state, with stones beginning to come loose and to be honest, hadn’t really been put together very well, so we decided to take it down. It did give us quite a bit more garden space – but, in an unexpected turn, it’s recently been rebuilt, using the same stones. This time, though, it’s not a drinking trough. It’s going to be the home for our gorgeous new olive tree…

Once the ground had been cleared of weeds and vines and ivy and stones, sheeting was laid and we marked out our boundary with flagstones, before infilling with bark chippings. (The quite strange shape of the boundary is due to the fact we agreed to give our neighbour access to another of his properties, which he plans to renovate, opposite the small house).

Starting to look better, but still a long way off finished! However, ideas were beginning to form. The table and chairs and the lone bamboo looked a bit lost, and we knew we most definitely wouldn’t be sitting out here for quite some time to come, as we still felt very exposed. Plus, the nearest property to us, beyond the little house, was an abandoned, tumble-down property which had recently been demolished and building work had started to create a new stone cottage. We were still focusing on the main house and moving on with the securing of our new renovation project, so things stalled a little at the rear of the house, but we did what we could to create a little bit more privacy.

To the other side of the little house, we also cleared the ground and started the process of laying flagstones, to create a pathway, and more of the bark chippings.

As summer ’21 progressed, we started to get more enquiries about our house for sale, and had a number of speculative visits, as people passing would see the A-board by the road and often just turn up in the garden. And this made us realise that once and for all, we had to properly tackle the rear of the house. However much we had improved it since we moved in, it all still looked far too ramshackle and not what we wanted visitors to see. So, Project Secret Garden commenced at the end of the summer, the intention being to have our builder construct a wall, all along the boundary. This became complicated as the land is on a slight incline and we didn’t relish the prospect of getting in a digger for excavation works. A wooden fence, supported by posts sunken into concrete was decided upon – and then abandoned when this too became problematic, for a variety of reasons. So, we took things into our own hands, and got creative.

And, although it looks as if we’re kind of back to where we started, much progress has been made over the last two weeks. We hope that the final pieces of the jigsaw will all come together this week, and that we will eventually have a beautiful secluded space, which is completely private. Which screens us off from the comings and goings in the village and means that come next spring, either us, or new owners, will be able to enjoy our secret suntrap – and no-one will know we are there…

Coming up – how we developed The Secret Garden…

 

 

 

 

Oprtalj Renovation Diary #1

Oprtalj Renovation Diary #1

So, we’ve finally made a proper start. The old industrial unit, which has sat unloved and empty for as long as we’ve lived in Istria, is being internally dismantled in preparation for the major renovations. A scaffold unit, an extendable ladder and a demolition drill have been added to our arsenal of tools and equipment, and we’re off! Sensibly, we’re largely staying away whilst our builder smashes down the walls – we’re on hand to offer words of support and photograph what’s going on. It’s not very pretty at all at the moment, and won’t be for quite some time, but you’ve to crack some eggs to make an omelette, as the saying goes…

The walls to be dismantled were clearly identified and the mallet swung into action.

Unless you know the layout of the building, none of what we are currently doing will make much sense. But, in a nutshell, we are creating three ensuite bedrooms, all with big windows overlooking the valley and Oprtalj, with simple ensuites. Access to each room will be from a newly created corridor to the the rear of the bedrooms. This idea is to work with the main structure of the building and create a very simple, minimalistic, open plan space inside. We’re still negotiating on outside land, so as there is much space inside, we’re stealing some of it from the other end of the building, to create an internal courtyard/potted garden. But that’s all way, way in the future.

At the moment, we’re just delighted that we’re surrounded by rubble and masonry – oh, and wasps because we’ve uncovered a wasps’ nest – because this all means one thing. PROGRESS.

In the meantime, we are selling our current renovated house. It could be the perfect holiday home for someone out there. Check out our website – and if you’re interested, get in touch and let’s see what we can do.

 

Our Small Stone Cottage…

Our Small Stone Cottage…

A small, abandoned cottage – in need of much TLC – sits behind our main house. It belonged to one of our neighbours and when he offered to sell it to us, we decided to go for it. The little house, which we think was possibly connected to our house many, many years ago, is very close, and we didn’t want someone else seeing its potential and snapping it up, as all of a sudden we’d have lost our much valued privacy. With the house, we also purchased a parcel of land, meaning that the potential of the dwelling really increased.

It’s small. The floor space is approximately 6m x 4.5m, but it is tall enough to have at least a mezzanine level, or if carefully designed, two floors. The roof would most definitely need to be taken down – over the years, vines and ivy have twisted their way up and out through the slate tiles. It looks very magical, but not the safest. The building is constructed completely of beautiful, milky Istrian stones. Again, I’m no builder, but I would imagine if the cottage was to be renovated, the easiest way to do might be to take it down, stone by stone, and rebuild. The small windows have Istrian stone lintels – a big bonus, as these are quite pricey if bought new. We know this because we had to buy four, for our new kitchen window.

We’ve cut and stripped back much of the vines, although ensuring that the sturdiest ones, which could potentially be holding it all together, were left in place. The roof greenery has been left intact – although we can access the roof, it wouldn’t be at all safe to actually get onto it so a cherry picker would be required. This was all part of the grand plan when we bought the property, but our plans changed pretty quickly, when our heads were turned by another renovation opportunity. Meaning that our two houses – the main renovated house and our cute cottage – are for sale.

Internally, there’s not much to see. We think it was originally a barn for animals, so we’ve unfortunately not uncovered anything which could be salvaged. But, small as it is, it would make an amazing annexe – perfect for a bijou holiday rental, a granny flat OR, if the main house was rented out in the holiday season, this could be where you could camp out.

Even though we’re no longer intending to renovate the stone cottage, as our intention now is to move, we do still scour Pinterest and have turned up some gorgeous examples of what could be done with it. Feast your eyes…

https://tinyhousetalk.com/charming-stone-tiny-house-moulin-de-liar/

https://tinyhousetalk.com/376-sq-ft-modern-brick-tiny-home-with-ocean-views/

www.nordichouse.co.uk

The image below, although not entirely practical, has to be my favourite. It’s so magical and internally looks so much like our little cottage. Perfect for a photoshoot…

So, if you love the idea of a fully renovated holiday home, but with the scope to also let your imagination run riot, why not get in touch? You too could discover Terra Magica.

(Uncredited images from Pinterest. If you are the photographer – or you know who is – please get in touch and we will obviously credit you for your beautiful images).

 

Summer Garden ’21

Summer Garden ’21

After over a year of lockdown and travel restrictions, we’ve finally been double jabbed and now that we can access the EU vaccination certificate, the prospect of travel is on the horizon. Not immediately, but the prospect is there. In the meantime however, we’re going to enjoy the garden we have been working hard on creating, since early spring. Building works on the house have now finished, so there’s no more mess in the garden. Meaning that we’ve able to tackle it properly. Way back in February, we started on the little patch of land which is communally owned (but no-one so far seems to have taken responsibility for it), just to the side of the house. Trees, vines, ivy, weeds etc were cleared and a small wooden fence put in, to create a lavender patch. The area was also cleared of stones and levelled.

Spring has felt very long, but finally summer has arrived. February, March & April were spent sowing wildflower seeds, seed balls, sunflowers, dahlias, new potted plants and climbing roses. Most mornings were spent doing a “tour of duty” around the garden – pulling out weeds, checking on new growth, nurturing and watering and feeding. And, we think it has finally paid off…

Of course, in the middle of the growth spurt, we did have a very, very cold snap and we thought that our beautiful new growth would perish. But, as we know, nature is nothing if not hardy.

Once the snow had thawed, our attention turned to the land around our little abandoned house to the rear of the main house. This was also cleared of stones and vines and weeds, and black plastic sheeting laid, before being covered with red bark. We also created a stepping stone path to the back of the house, using spare flagstones to create curves for interest, which were infilled with wildflower seeds. Solar lights have made a huge difference, as this part of the garden is now lit up at night.

We also ensured that we used cut down branches – they became supports for the climbers, including our honeysuckle and wisteria. An old log crate was also chopped up and recycled, part of it being utilised as a “fence” to hang plants from and encourage one of Virginal Creepers to entwine its way around it.

Over the last couple of months, the garden has exploded into a riot of colour. It’s looking so pretty, we’ve decided that new sunbeds and an outdoor L-shaped sofa were in order. More of that in the next blog, but here’s a snapshot of what’s been emerging..,

The garden, finally, is looking so, so pretty. We’ve worked hard on it this year. It’s full of bees and butterflies and colours and aromas. So, even though we can potentially travel in the near future, I think we’ll be quite happy to sit in our garden and savour it. Because, our house is for sale, and having found our next renovation property, we could soon be back on a building site…

 

 

 

Spring Bathroom Makeover

Spring Bathroom Makeover

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This rather lovely rustic, wooden A-frame ladder, hinged at the top and held together at the bottom with thick rope, hasn’t really been utilised in our house as well as it could have been. It’s usually covered in throws, which as the weather warms up, are discarded from beds and sofas. When we decided to titivate the top bathroom, I suddenly saw the ladder with new eyes and knew it was the perfect accessory for what I was imagining in the bathroom.

With a very high sloping ceiling, although the bathroom is quite small floor-space wise, it feels cavernous because it is so high and I knew that the solution was to try and bring down the ceiling. Without actually going to the expense of doing that. So, the idea of a jungle bathroom was born. Although not with real plants unfortunately. The beams from which I intended to suspend the plants, are high and a bit difficult to access so regular watering would have been problematic. Also, because the downstairs bathroom has a powerful shower, this tends to be the one we use most, so chances are we’d actually forget to go in and water plants in the upstairs bathroom. The other consideration was that we have a houseful of faux plants and foliage, which meant I could easily redistribute what we already had, without having to make any additional purchases. The only real consideration then was how to suspend the foliage, without overloading the beams. And, voila – this is when I saw the potential of the ladder, with the hinges removed and the rope cut, so that it could be opened and laid flat across the top of the beams. Because of the angle of the ceiling and the position of the door and walls, it was a tricky manoeuvre, but through sheer determination, we wrestled it into place and started to attach the faux stems of ivy and vines with the rope we’d previously taken off.

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A metal wall rack, from Rockett St George, was brought up from the living room and another vine hung over it. I think the green glittery pigeon is very happy in his new home, too.

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An adhesive, battery operated LED strip was attached to the join between the back of the bath and the wall, which gives off a very pretty glow. (And yes, they are ready to be refilled recycled gin bottles on the bath shelf. The cut of the glass bottles and the colour of the bath foam is really accentuated now with the lights behind them).

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There will undoubtedly be more tweaks that we make to this room, but it now feels a whole lot more “finished”, and a much more comfortable room in which to fill up that bath, pour a glass of wine and sink back and relax.

Our home is up for sale. We have fully renovated it – and as with this bathroom, we continue to do so, as we live in it full time – but we have found our next renovation project, 5kms away, and it’s time for us to move on. If you’d like to find out more about our home – it’d be perfect as a holiday home/rental if you didn’t want to make the move full time – then do visit our website. We guarantee you won’t find a more comprehensive house for sale website

 

 

Garden Renovation

Garden Renovation

So, the exterior renovation of our house for sale, continues apace. We’ve largely completed the interior renovation – but we never say never – and so our attention has been turned to the garden area around the main house and the little abandoned house to the rear. We’ve been working away on the piece of land next to our neighbour’s field and this is steadily being sown with seeds and planted up with bulbs, so that we will have ongoing colour over the summer, rather than one hit. But today, we’ve decided to begin on another area, just for a change of scene.

This was the very first photo we ever took of this particular piece of land. To the right is the corner of our house and then we have the abandoned property, which was owned by a neighbour. It was held together by the vines and the ivy, part of the roof having collapsed in on itself. The land around was unkempt – full of stones and rubble and strong vines growing underground, as well as weeds. It was a mess. But we had other priorities four years ago…

We completed on the purchase of the small house in March 2020, with the land to the other side. The land above, to the left of the property, does not belong to us – it is like a lot of land in Istria. Multiple owners, scattered far and wide, and no-one assuming any responsibility for its upkeep. We were initially very reticent to do anything with any land around the house which did not belong to us, but we have gradually come to realise, if we are prepared to do the work, no-one will raise an eyebrow. And why would they when they have someone else, keeping their land tidy and in good order? We’re sure that many people will think we are bonkers for doing this, but things out here are very different to back in the UK. If nothing is done with land here, it is literally left. It is overgrown. Uncared for. And with pieces of land like this, unless you have the patience of a saint, it’s unlikely it’ll sell as all owners need to agree to the sale. But we didn’t want to have a beautiful house internally and then be surrounded by a scruffy exterior – so when we purchased the small house, the improvements just evolved.

Our first foray into sorting this area was done with our first Workaway guests – Mariuz and Julie, from France. With a head for heights, Mariuz was up the ladder and chopping away at the unruly vines, which in time, would have pulled down the house. It took days to do this, but gave us our first taste of what things could be like and so motivated us to continue.

For the past few months, we’ve made do with the ground being weeded and covered in plastic sheeting to prevent regrowth, and covered in bark chippings. We also bought three fruit trees – two apple and one cherry – and these are potted up. The whole area has looked a lot more cheery, since we added some lights, a few decorative balls and a chiminera. But it still wasn’t quite as lovely as we wanted it to be, without spending a lot of money. We’re not that daft 😉

But today – a lovely, sunny March day, quite warm when in the sun – has signalled the start of the next phase of the renovation of this area of the garden. The piece of land just outside of the bark chippings has been dug over and the clumps of grass taken out. The soil has been turned over and levelled out. Before Christmas we laid a bit of a wonky path of flagstones as the grassy ground would just get muddy when it rained – it was done quickly and wasn’t ever right, so that’s now been tackled today. We now have a straight path that runs along side the house and to the rear, so no more getting wet, muddy feet in the rain. A channel has been left between the flagstones and the raised bed under the well room windows (currently bursting with spring bulbs) so that we can sow wild flower seeds, and have a burst of colour in the summer. But, the best bit, has been the inspired laying of a double arc of flagstones – not my idea! – providing a pathway AND a lovely area for sowing more flower seeds, as well as a palette that wasn’t being used, which will now be utilised for potted bulbs.

Our potted fern has always been in the shade, so she’s now been moved centre stage and will benefit from full sun, until early afternoon so may well fare a lot better. The dead fronds need to be tidied up, but we think that the sunshine will do her good. And, our white wrought iron table and chairs, which seem to have been positioned everywhere, now do seem to have found a new home until we get the time to renovate these. Tomorrow, seeds will be sown around the big concrete pot and between the two lines of flagstones, and spring bulbs potted up for the palette platform. Then, it’s onto the other side as we create a natural trellis for honeysuckles, made from thick branches and garden twine, to finally mark out the boundary of our land to the rear, meaning we can bring the potted bamboos to this side of the little house, to thicken out the screen at the top of the piece of land, beyond the vintage garden furniture.

So, it’s coming together, but it’s taking – as ever – a whole lot longer than we anticipated. But at least, we’ve largely finished inside the house and so can concentrate exclusively on the exterior. Oh…apart from the new renovation in Oprtalj, which will hopefully become our one level, open plan, dream home.

 

 

 

 

Spring Project

Spring Project

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We knew we had to tackle this part of the garden, because it was overgrown, messy, full of stones and rubble from previous renovation works and the trees were literally being strangled by vines and brambles.The little stone wall was falling down in places, and in other places, held together only by creeping ivy. Nothing could grow at ground level because no sunlight could get to it. We look onto it from the side of our house and from our garden, and it has always been an eyesore, but there’s always been so much else to do, that it seemed a waste of time, tackling this previously.

We also don’t actually own this piece of land. It was once mooted that we look into the purchase of it, as it’s owned by the local Opcina (local council) and they are often willing to sell parcels of land like this – but, it is actually a huge piece of land in total and would have been difficult to keep on top of, and we weren’t actually sure how we’d make use of it. But, as our house is now for sale, and now that we’ve finished the internal renovation, it’s been decided that we’ll tackle the bit of land closest to us. The wall was rebuilt last year – it’s now much sturdier and falls apart less frequently! We’ve also planted succulents in many of the gaps, so in the summer, it’s actually now very attractive. So, as spring has now appeared, we’ve been dividing our days between design work and garden work. The first phase of this external renovation is now complete – all of the scrubby, twiggy branches and trunks have been removed, now revealing proper clumps of trees. Vines – so strong that they were probably the kind that Tarzan swung from – have been pulled out at ground level and carefully unravelled from the trees. This was a long, hard job as we didn’t want to damage the trees, but definitely wanted the vines out. They’ve all been removed now, and chopped up as they actually make fantastic kindling for the woodburner.

With the vines removed, we could assess what else was wrapping itself around the trees – brambles were prolific and again these were carefully removed and chopped up. Ivy was another plant which we removed – although we were reluctant to do this initially, because the birds feed off the berries in the winter. However, we reasoned that the ivy on the green wall in the garden, and the ivy covering our little abandoned house, provided a very good supply of winter berries. so went ahead with the removal in this area. Storms and winds had also broken many branches which were either just hanging on, or had broken off and were lying intertwined in other branches. All now gone. Meaning that we have enough wood and kindling to see us through the spring. So, what have the last few days looked like in the garden?

WHERE WE STARTED

We had previously put down black plastic sheeting to try and slow down the growth of weeds and vines and ivy. Over the course of the winter however, when we had the car parking area laid, the soil and rubble which was dug out, was dumped in this patch of land, and so this had to be bagged up and cleared before we could do anything. This looks nothing – but this was at the end of the initial clearance.

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We did sift a lot of the soil to go back onto the plastic, as this would form the basis of what would become the lavender patch. This was a particularly horrendous job, as it was raining at the time, and once the red clay soil gets wet, and on your wellies, that’s it.It is impossible to remove completely and inevitably gets dragged across the painted patio and up into the house. And is an utter nightmare to clean off. But, another job we knew we had to do, as there was no way we were buying additional soil when we already had this.

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The next thing that had to be tackled was the undergrowth – and this had to be done by hand, as it was too thick and the trunks too strong for our cutters. The amount that we wanted to cut back seemed daunting, but we knew that the tangled, knotty undergrowth had to be cut back if we were to create something a little bit more magical, so teeth needed to be gritted and the tree saw put into action.

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Once the red soil was down, we then dug a channel around the perimeter to sink in the small fencing, to create the bed for the lavender plants.

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Top soil was added and we started to position the plants – but it became increasingly clear that our optimistic purchase of twelve plants was way short of the mark, having underestimated the size of the patch we’d created, so it was back to the nursery to purchase another dozen. Plus a couple of beautiful mimosa plants, to add to the colour elsewhere in the garden.

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Next up, was quite a bit of fire pit action, to begin getting rid of the dead branches and cuttings etc. I’m sure that anyone who saw us lighting a fire-pit would have thought we were mad. Round here, you just seem to set to fire to things like this, on the ground – definitely not in a garden fire pit. But we didn’t want to be responsible for an out of control fire, and so played it safe…

 

As there is no lighting – yet – in this part of the garden, solar lights are in place for the time being, just so that when it’s dusk, there’s a little bit of light, which does look lovely from the kitchen, which overlooks this area.

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We had a couple of day’s work, cutting back the trees to the side of this piece of land and keeping on with the pulling up of vines. At some point in the past, someone has chopped trees down, as once the undergrowth was removed, the ankle-breaker tree trump stumps revealed themselves, meaning more work, sawing these down to ground level. We could go on and on, cutting and chopping and tidying, but I think we needed to take a view and be realistic, especially as it’s not our land. So, we’ve taken the clearance back to where we think is a reasonable point – and to be honest, we’ve now so much wood to chop for the woodburners, that we needed to stop or we’d have nowhere to store it.

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By the weekend the trees were beginning to become more defined – instead of scratty branches and growth around the base, they were now standing in clumps, with the trunks exposed. It won’t be long until the leaves are back on these trees, and hopefully the shapes will be much better too, as we’ve also done a bit of pruning and shaping here and there. You can see the ivy and vines, still twisting around the bases of the trees and which took ages, to pull up and clear. But, it had to be done, otherwise it wouldn’t be long before we were back to where we started.

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The red field will hopefully soon be planted up – we don’t know with what this year, but it always looks beautiful come the summer and so hopefully will continue to be a lovely background to our garden. These tree trunks have never been this exposed – I’d always thought we had inherited quite ugly trees, but it turns out all they needed was a bit of TLC.

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One of the lovely surprises we’ve had since clearing the ground, is that these hardy, wild crocuses have suddenly bloomed over the last few days. Every morning we spot more, and so hopefully we’ll have a few clumps of these until the wildflower seeds which we’re sowing today, start to emerge. Looks like that great big pile of branches and leaves and twigs has kept then warm under the soil and the spring sunlight is now sufficiently warm enough for them to push up through the soil. We’ve definitely not planted them and we’ve not previously ever noticed any colour in this patch, so hoping that our efforts are reviving them.

I think at times we’ve felt a bit defeated by this task. It wasn’t one that was in any way necessary, especially as it’s not even our land. But it was irritating that we looked out onto something so messy, and so we knew that we would tackle it. It’s been really hard work and seems to have taken a long time – but in reality, in just over a week, we’ve done the really hard part. It’s quite amazing looking at the first photograph above and then seeing this one, below and realising how far we’ve come. And, as we keep we reminding ourselves, it will only look better from now, as we have some gorgeous plans for it.

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So, onwards and upwards. We have cold snap this weekend, so the planting of the dahlia tubers will have to wait a little longer, but over today and tomorrow, the rest of the sunflower seeds are being planted and a mix of wildflowers will be sown in front of this wall above (so on the other side of the lavender). Then the big sowing in the patch we’ve cleared above. This summer, one way or another, is definitely going to be a riot of colour in our garden and around it.

 

 

 

 

Spring Planning in the Garden

Spring Planning in the Garden

I finally feel we’re coming to the end of a very long winter. Although we’ve still got to see February out – and this is the month when for the past four years, we’ve had snowfall in Istria – there are signs of spring. The bulbs we planted around the base of a big tree and along the side of the house are beginning to push up through the soil. Tiny buds are appearing on the branches of the trees. Birdsong is much more in evidence. The days are most definitely getting longer. And we feel ourselves, that we are beginning to uncurl, stretch and slowly start to come out of our hibernation, beneath furry throws on the sofa and bed. So, although the temperature has just plummeted – a thick covering of ice has formed over the water in the butts – we decided to brave the cold and get out into the garden this afternoon. Although we are selling the house, we keep remembering it is still our full time home and so we will continue to improve it and keep making it as beautiful as it can be, so that we can still enjoy living here.

The Mini Orchard

This sounds rather grand, but in reality it’s currently a collection of potted fruit trees. However, come the spring, we hope it will look a lot more plentiful. We’ve tidied the little patch of communally owned land to the side of the abandoned house we purchased from a neighbour. With hindsight, we maybe should have also pursued the purchase of this parcel of land, but we didn’t – however, no-one has taken any real responsibility for it, so for very little expenditure we’ve started to improve it. It was cleared of rubble and weeds and vines, which were knotted through the soil, last autumn and covered with thick sheeting to prevent weed regrowth. When we cleared it, we also uncovered a bay tree, which we’d never noticed before – this is now thriving and the smell is wonderful. Perfect for picking for the kitchen. The ground has now been covered with reddish-brown bark chippings, and we’ve continued the little stone wall, so that it now an enclosed piece of land. As the land doesn’t belong to us, we didn’t want to go the expense of doing anything permanent – and what we have done, we’ll likely take away, as the plants are all in pots. But, so far, with potted bamboos, a cherry tree and a couple of apple trees, as well as our potted Norwegian pine from Christmas and the unexpected bay tree, it’s beginning to look quite lovely.

Obviously, it’s going to take a while for those trees to bear fruits, but we’re hoping that with the addition of two or three more sapling trees, come spring, we’ll have some foliage going on. A few pots of bulbs will also be spread around to add a few pops of colour, to what was a seriously neglected piece of land.

The Lavender Patch

For anyone who’s been to visit, you’ll remember another scratty piece of land, which was behind the little wall, opposite our kitchen window. Again, communally owned and left to its own devices – but in the summer, our hammock is hung between two trees at the little wall and so this area is to your right and has always been on our “to-do” list. Well, we’re now doing it and are hopeful that come the summer, it’ll be filled with the aroma of lavender and butterflies. We’re a bit of a way off that lovely scene, but today we did make a start…

 

The trees in this little copse are quite spindly without leaves and are pretty gnarled and twisted. Vines and brambles wind around the base of them and it’s all been a bit of a mess. So. in the autumn, we started the clearance and put down thick black sheeting again, to prevent regrowth of weeds and to keep the thick, red soil as dry as possible. Today, a couple of the trees which were in the worst condition were cut down (good wood and kindling to dry out for next year) and the area cleared of ground level vines. This weekend, big wooden sleepers will be sourced and cut to size to make a bed, which will be filled with soil and planted up with a variety of lavender plants. Around it, the idea is to plant bluebells (or similar), so that we can create a little magical wooded copse. Last summer, strings of blue and grey bauble lights were threaded through the trees – you can see a couple of the strings which were never taken down – and looked so pretty, that more of these will be installed.

It’s hard to imagine right now that these two areas around the house, will become real features. In my head, they look magical and ethereal – let’s see if my vision comes to life…

 

 

 

The Start of Something New

The Start of Something New

2020, as everyone knows, was a pretty unbelievable year, all round. If someone had told me the following, in January 2020, I’d have thought they were daft:

  • that we’d have to have official travel permits to drive to the supermarket
  • that wearing a mask would become the norm
  • that apart from a couple of local people, we’d see NO-ONE else socially the whole year
  • that we could count the number of meals we had out, on one hand – we had three
  • that apart from a night in Rijeka in January, we’d not be away from our house for the whole year
  • that we could not make the very easy trips to Slovenia and Italy – usually a once a week occurence, if not more
  • that we would have absolutely no visitors at all, for a whole year
  • that we could not make the annual roadtrip back to the UK at Christmas to be with family and friends
  • that Zoom would become our lifeline
  • that we would put our house on the market and begin the renovation of another property…

All of these points sound incredibly mad, but perhaps the last one, most of all, because yes folks, in the middle of a global pandemic we did actually embark on a house sale and purchase. When we viewed the property which will become our next renovation, it was when the world was “normal” and the viewing (and subsequent ones) set us off on a path it was hard to get off. This new property was potentially everything we had ever wanted – it had a view, it was near amenities, it was where friends lived, it was huge, it would enable us to have proper open plan living, and it was affordable. And all things considered, meant that we decided to sell up and go for it. Then the pandemic took hold.

To cut a long story short, our house is still on the market because interested potential buyers cannot easily travel to view the property and with COVID, we don’t feel it is appropriate to be doing viewings anyway. However, the guy who owned the property did want to sell it to us and so the upshot is, we are leasing it until our house sells. We have a contract in place, which allows us to begin doing work to the property – we could renovate it fully, if we wanted to, but until ours sells, we won’t be able to go at it hammer & tongs, as we need to free up the capital. However, with a strong contract in place, which was thrashed out between solicitors, we feel in a very fortunate position. We still have our warm, cosy, renovated property to return to but can begin the initial clearing of the new property.

It was, quite a long time ago, a commercial unit, where a printing business operated – hence the name we’ve chosen for it. The Printworks. It had been up for sale for quite a long and was full of machinery and the mess of a long abandoned business, but fortunately for us, the vendor agreed to clear it before we signed the documents. Pre-signing, this was what it looked like…

I know. Just. Awful! But, after having imagined for so long how it could eventually look, we were able see beyond and through the horror show and we weren’t daunted by the project that lay ahead. Having already renovated a property in Istria, albeit not on this scale, we also felt we were in a much stronger position than we had been four years ago, when we knew nothing and no-one. So, we said good-bye to 2020 with leases and pre-contracts signed, and got the keys to the property. A nice way to end a not-so-nice year.

The property is on one level and is kind of rectangular in shape. Although we have a very clear idea about what we want it to eventually look like, we will be involving architects as we want to ensure that we can actually do what we want to do – and to take their professional advice. We are working to a strict budget at the moment, and so we are doing as much of the preparatory work as possible, ourselves. Where we can remove walls, we’re removing them ourselves, and this is what has been the main focus recently. Two small rooms were divided by a wall which didn’t go all the way to the ceiling, so it was pretty obvious this wasn’t a supporting wall and this has now been knocked down and the larger space we have now opened up will eventually become one of three en-suite bedrooms.

The first task was to rip up the mock parquet linoleum and remove the main internal UPVC doors and frames so that we could begin to assess the space we were starting to play with. The lino came up pleasingly easily and we were very relieved to find solid concrete floors underneath. Hopefully, a starting point for the eventual laying of underfloor heating – and if not, at least we won’t be worrying about wrecking wooden floors as the work progresses.

All of the UPVC frames are white and are all actually in really good condition. However, all of the windows are at the front of the house and to maximise on light and space, we think that most of the windows (and certainly the ones in the three bedrooms) will be widened and sliding glass doors fitted. However, we wanted to see what the frames would be like in an anthracite colour and so did a quick spray paint job, touching up the walls around in white to see the contrast. What an immediate difference! The darker frame, quite literally, framed the view and there and then the decision was made – whatever the windows were going to be like, the frames were going to be dark. I cannot wait for the summer when everything is vibrant green outside and we’ll see for definite what inky frames will look like.

So, this week’s demolition has involved knocking down the partition wall between the two small rooms, to begin creating a larger space, which will hopefully become one of three (simple) ensuite bathrooms. As I said earlier, we knew we were OK with demolishing this wall as it didn’t go to the ceiling. Despite one of the rooms having a toilet in it…

Today, this wall was finally down – it’s been a bit too chilly to work on the house recently. And, to be honest, we’d have been mad to leave a fully renovated, fully working and very warm house to work on our new project. However, the sun returned today and the wall was dealt with…

The plan is to have a corridor that runs along the rear of the three bedrooms (behind the wall where the toilet is currently situated) and have access to the rooms off this corridor. The walls that currently block off the views (to the left of this photo) will be demolished and the dividing walls extended to the front of the house. By doing this, all three rooms will have uninterrupted views. We’re hoping to install sliding glass doors in each room, instead of the windows which are there now – and each set of doors will hopefully lead out onto a balcony which will run along the length of the front of the house. Because of the incline that the property is built on, the bedrooms are much higher up from the road and so a long balcony will still be private.

Two of the bedrooms will be guest rooms and will be similar in size and design. Both will have simple – but beautiful – ensuites, and as we have plumbing already in, the job will hopefully be easier than starting it all from scratch. We envisage the ensuites being back to back to further cut down on plumbing problems.

The work has definitely started, but once we’ve done the clearance we can do, it’ll be over to the professionals. We need the electrics to be looked at – and we’re preparing ourselves for a complete overhaul in this department, especially as we want this house to be as intuitive as possible. We need architects to help us with the plans. And we obviously need to start the investigation into the boundaries again. Although at least this time, we know what to do and what to expect. It’s been a long time in the planning and we’re very happy that in the midst of everything that is going on, we have a renovation project to keep us occupied. Think we’ll definitely be kept busy…