Two years ago, we bought a house in the historic centre of Jerez in the south of Spain. The most unusual thing about this house was it had a garden or, rather, the potential for one. Most houses in this zone of the city are lucky to have a balcony or an inner courtyard. We have all three!
The house had been on the market for some time because, understandably, people found it hard to imagine this potential. At the back of the house there had been a casa de vecina or 'house of neighbours' which consisted, as is fairly typical in this kind of housing, of a handful of ramshackle dwellings with no planning permission. There was one toilet between them and a communal washing area consisting of a couple of large stone sinks. The roofs of the dwelling had caved in and no one had lived there for over twenty years. Removing the rubble took many wheelbarrows to many skips.
We didn't really have a plan for the garden but, as the rubble was cleared, a few ideas presented themselves. For example, once the builders had cleared away the loose bricks of the flat-roofed building at the end of the garden, a sturdy skeleton remained and we prompltly decided to make this into an outdoor shady area. I had secretly admired the vaulted ceiling in this dwelling so was glad something could be made of it. We were lucky also in that when the garden wall was revealed, its brickwork suggested there were archways there in the past. How long ago, we don't know, but certainly inspired by the Islamic past of the city.
Feeling frugal after the building project was subject to extension after extension, we used a very tall antique door that had been found in the garage, tidied it up and lay it across two saw horses for a table. Further frugality came into play with our Bedouin style 'couch': a single bed and mattress that was also in the house when we bought it. When buying a property in Spain, it's usual for it to come fully furnished and this can be a mixed bag erring toward a lot of throwing away. When the removal van arrived with our stuff, we gave the fellows a few hundred extra to take away most of what had been left once the van was empty. Some of the items we discarded from here were quite tragic...bags of mouse-eaten family photos, old bull fighting posters, headless plastic dolls and, la tour de force, a potty under a bed. We covered the single bed with a large Turkish carpet, the result of us finally giving in to vendors in Istanbul. Said carpet had lived folded in a cupboard for a few years. The Bedouin tray table, also bought on that trip to Istanbul, finally had an appropriate setting.
We had a lucky day when the thick layer of concrete over most of the ground was jack-hammered up to reveal original cobbles needing very little repair. Another revolation was the well, well, not exactly a well. imagine a massive demijohn in the ground, a thin neck and the round part going down about thirty feet. It is lined with toscos the old flat handmade bricks which allow the water to seep though. Full of clear odourless water, I tested it by filling a jar and putting in a goldfish. When there were no adverse effects, we pumped the water into the pond. Now we have a useful unchlorinated supply of water to top up our pond in summer.
I liked the idea of keeping as much of the tiled flooring as possible partly as a small reminder of the little houses that used to be there. We made gaps in the tiles and planted orange, lemon and lime trees along with plumeria, aromaticas (mint, lavendar, basil and rosemary) and succulents: all plants that can cope with the long hot and dry summer. A couple of sturdy walls were left standing and whitewashed to create another area of shade incorporating a roof of grape vines. We kept the communal sinks too and put plants in them, but the communal toilet has gone I'm afraid.