Changing Our View…

Changing Our View…

Coming up to three years ago, we were very excited when one of the tumble down, abandoned houses beyond our property was demolished and heavy machinery arrived in the village. We were even more excited at the prospect of the neighbour building a new house, in the style – we were assured – of his current two, which are very pretty. The Istrian stones were cleared, and foundations seemed to go in pretty quickly. A crane arrived, creating even more excitement, as no-one surely, in their right mind, installs a crane. And then does sod all with it. Or, so we thought…

Two years and a bit later, the crane is still there. Along with a cement mixer and lots of building materials, but not much else. Now, this isn’t unusual in Istria. As is commonplace in many Mediterranean countries, building work can take a long time. Builders are often working on multiple projects. In the height of summer it is way too hot to be doing long days of heavy construction work. Buildings may be being built as holiday homes, and so owners often arrange for work to be done when they are able to be on site. There’s also a real culture of mañana mañana here. So, we get it. We know that construction work takes times. And so we’ve been patient, as the project behind our home has crawled along, with periods of nothing in between slight flurries of mild activity. We’re in one of those periods of nothing happening now, as no-one has been on site for over three months.

However, our patience has now worn very, very thin. Written communication to the neighbour has proved fruitless as our requests for information re the progress of the work, and maybe a possible end date, have gone unanswered. Builders have from time to time, assured us (when they have been on site) that all is progressing and that when it is finished, and landscaped, it will be very beautiful. Of that we have no doubt. But it’s the WHEN – because until someone pulls their finger out, and “when” actually arrives, we are still looking out onto a building site, no matter what we do to hide it.

Our living room (pictured above) is on the first floor, and so even with the border of the potted conifers we have installed, you can still see the building site beyond. This is something which has been repeatedly brought up by viewers, asking about timescales for the construction work – and, as the neighbours have so far not deemed it important to discuss/share their plans with us, there’s been very little we’ve been able to say. So, we’ve decided that we’ll take things into our hands and do what we can do to improve our own outlook.

Within our boundaries, we also own the little stone house, above. This was purchased from a neighbour and is definitely in need of renovation. We thought that it would potentially be an amazing selling point, as once renovated it would provide additional accommodation. But most viewers seemed to see it only as additional work, and the potential didn’t have the appeal we expected it to have. Either that, or we just had a run of very un-curious and project-shy house viewers! So, a big decision has been made.

We’re exploring having the small house demolished and building a boundary wall, thereby creating an enclosed rear garden. We think if anyone comes along in the future and says they’d have bought our house, if only there had been a small building included in the sale, with scope to renovate, then we’ll take it on the chin. We’re still working out the best way to do this, but the eventual wall, will be rendered. It will also be a high wall – high enough to give us 100% privacy from the outside. And because of its height, we’ll hopefully have a panel (or panels) made up of glass bricks on the wall opposite the main house, meaning that light will still flood into the garden. Foliage will be planted to give extra depth and interest, along with lighting. I’m very much liking the examples below, and at least now I have a better idea of what to show to a builder to begin to explain our thinking.

Access to the rear garden is currently via the communal grassed area to the side of the main house. We intend to open up the living room window by installing French windows and creating a small balcony with external steps leading down into the garden, meaning that this communal path will not need to be used. Access to the garden, will be from the house. And, if funds allow, the final piece of the jigsaw will be the installation of a pool, along the lines of a Dip Tank. Therefore also addressing the second most asked question – “Do you have a pool?”

So, roll on autumn as we’re heading towards another BIG project!


secret garden reno : update 3

secret garden reno : update 3

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…


garden reno : update 8

garden reno : update 8

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…