Tuesday, January 7, 2014

New House: The Secret Garden

Inpenetrable in the beginning

I've been cleaning up and getting to know the house I bought last month.

On my first visits a year or more ago to look at the long-abandoned Mérida centro property, the back yard -- called the patio in Yucatán -- was so overgrown and full of debris that I wasn't able to appreciate it. 
Cleared, but still a maze
Then in August, at my request the sellers paid someone to remove out-of-control thorny brush, creepers and high weeds. This enabled me finally to walk to the back of the lot. Until then, I'd been limited to looking at it from the house, staring into a mass of green from the rear doors and peering over the railing of the second-story terrace. From these vantage points I made the logical assumption that the high walls I could see out there in the tangle were the limits of the property.

Even after the lot was cleared, the patio was a maze. Two large, round rainwater storage tanks dominate the area near the house. Old property-line walls, roofless rooms and what look like a chicken coop, laundry areas and kitchen, split the lot lengthwise and from side to side. I hadn't yet seen the plat and didn't have precise measurements, so the dimensions of what was on offer were still indefinite.

The lot widens out at the rear
By ducking through low doorways, twisting and turning through this labyrinth, I was delighted to find that the lot widens out toward the rear by including a five-meter-wide rectangle of land behind the neighboring house.

Then came a bigger surprise. When I walked to the end of this section I discovered an opening that leads back in the direction of my patio.

This entry led to a space behind the high wall that until then I had assumed was the rear of the property. Here I found what I've been calling "the secret garden," a walled-in, secluded strip of land running across the back of the lot, containing the remains of an animal pen and some sour orange trees.

The Secret Garden
The existence of this space probably is due to the fact that the patio, like most in Merida centro, has been in use for many generations. The property was split up when passed down to heirs, who later further divided it into apartments. The divisions reflect changing uses of space over time, primarily for keeping animals, washing and drying laundry, and growing lemons and sour oranges (which no true Yucatecan kitchen can do without). All of this construction and division resulted, probably unintentionally, in a sliver of land completely isolated and invisible from the neighbors, the rest of the yard and from the house. You only see it when you are there.

My lawyer did the legal due diligence and all of the paperwork was in order. To be certain, before signing a contract to purchase I returned to the house with copies of the deed and plats to put the puzzle pieces together, measure and be sure that all of this belongs to the house.

It does.

So that's my secret garden. It would be tempting to plant aromatic herbs and flowers in this space, bring in a little table and chair, and maintain it as a secluded place to enjoy my morning coffee. 

However my plans to make the best use of the land mean that the high stone wall probably will come down to incorporate this tiny refuge with the rest of the patio. I guess I'll have to enjoy it while I can. But then who knows, perhaps I'll get inspired while I'm hanging out back there, and figure out a good way to keep the secret garden intact.

18 comments:

  1. That's a very special post, Marc. Yes, the aromatic herbs are a must. I myself love marjoram, but it needs excellent drainage. With all these rains, I'm still struggling to keep my potted marjoram's alive.

    And thanks as well for actually reminding me of a children's novel of my own childhood. The book, THE SECRET GARDEN, was a classic.

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    1. Thanks, Alinde. Funny that I never read the book when I was a kid. I'll get ahold of a copy soon.

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  2. First, you need to marry a woman named Lily, who will die tragically, but not as tragically as her sister and husband, whose daughter (your niece) will come live with you in your drafty, old house on the moors. Hold it! That's been done.

    Enjoy each piece of space while you can. Our time is to short for plans.

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    1. Since I have yet to read The Secret Garden, I assume that's the story you refer to. Perhaps I should've read it before naming this post. I am sure (inspired by your blog) I could have thrown in a few literary references.

      Interestingly, I have plans to renovate the place, but have been toying with the idea of cleaning it up a bit more and moving into it "as is" for a year or two. It seems that I always have better ideas about design after living in spaces for awhile. I'll keep you posted. Ahem.

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  3. Hola Marc, me gusta mucho tu blog, me parece maravillosa tu nueva casa con su "Secret Garden", ojalá la puedas disfrutar muy pronto. Un abrazo!

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    1. Gracias Nelia. Les voy a invitar a tomar un cafecito en mi jardin secreto...un mejor ambiente que Starbucks. Y sin colas.

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  4. Wonderful, Marc! I hope you find a way to keep the garden. Maybe a different kind of divider? Perhaps a hedge?

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    1. A hedge is an idea I haven't considered. Thanks for the suggestion. But my big problem is that I like to have a pool in this hot climate, and this lot has room for a pool long enough to really swim in. If I decide to build the pool, it would go right about where the wall is, or would end up either too close to the house or too close to the back wall, I think. We'll see. I am still just daydreaming about it. No firm design plans yet.

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  5. I'm all for keeping your secret garden in tact. I built one when we were landscaping our property in Patzcuaro and I really loved it. It was a wonderful little refuge.

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    1. Shannon, I'd like to keep the garden intact. It's a lovely space, but I can't figure out how to keep it and fully use the rest of the yard. I'm getting an architect to help with plans and permits. Maybe he can work it out.

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  6. Marc,
    You have the best "luck" in finding wonderful properties. I assume that you manufacture your luck by endless searching and keeping an open mind and using your wonderful photographer's eye. I am looking forward to seeing what you do with the property and your secret garden.
    I vote to put scented plants there. Some nicotiana (flowering tobacco) from your C 60 property if you haven't sold it, it's nightblooming, four o'clocks (jalapa mirabilis) for the late afternoon and jasmine or roses for the rest of the time.
    The herb garden is best just outside your kitchen door, that way you see it and are inspired to use them in your cooking. The same is true of vegetable gardens, the closer to the kitchen the more likely you are to incorporate into your food.

    regards,
    Theresa

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    1. I agree, Theresa, being at the back, this space is too far away for a kitchen garden. However it's a good space for other things. I am still planning. Thanks for your suggestions. I will keep them in the mix.

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  7. Great story, Marc.

    I sometimes have dreams where I find an extra garden space or room in the house, and I find that very exciting (which is why I had to buy our neighbour's house !).

    I agree that maybe you should live with it for a time before deciding to incorporate it and build a pool (despite how obvious it may seem to you now).

    Back in Merida in March - would love to see what you've got.

    Cheers

    Paul

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    1. This place has provided more surprises than average, and I have gone through a lot of houses. And there are more to come. I've found some other interesting things that will be future fodder for this blog.

      See you in March. I'd like to see your project as well.

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  8. This sounds like a fascinating project, and I hope you write a lot about it. So I'd guess that step one is to hire some sturdy guys with a truck to haul away all the debris in the back yard?

    If you knock down the wall separating your secret garden from the rest of the yard, perhaps you can reuse the stones for something else. A fountain perhaps?

    Saludos,

    Kim G
    Boston, MA
    Where we have a space behind the garage that could be a secret garden, but we'd have to wall off the rest of the back yard first.

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    1. Yes, there will be many, many truckloads of debris hauled away. However I will keep all the stone. Walls need to be repaired and in some spots raised. The stone will all be reused, for sure.

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  9. A PS, Marc: Please don't forget some actual STEPS a su techo (roof)--there may come a day (as has with me), when using a ladder to check on my roof is a risky endeavor.

    Finally, I suggest that in your very sensible "live in" period--evaluate your real need for a pool. Although I have room for a pool, I've never regretted not having one. (I believe I termed it, on another blog, something like a "pet dog" or "another pet." I was referring to the maintenance and expense variables. When I was swimming actively, I particularly enjoyed the amenities of the Hyatt Hotel's membership program, which gives both the swimming privileges and a lot more. I still believe that such a membership is more fun, AND less expensive, than having your own pool. But it is wise to keep the potential pool area open, in the event that you sell the new house someday.

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    1. Alinde, stairways are already in place to most of the roof, and there is one high section where I plan a metal spiral. All of the roof will be accessible. It's one of the things I liked about this house. I love rooftops.

      I will do a pool. I've always had one in Merida, and can't really imagine living through the heat (as I do without AC) and not have a pool to cool off in. I do the maintenance myself, usually early in the morning when it's cool, and don't find it too much trouble.

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