Secret gardens: Treasures wait behind the gates

ASKING: $262,000

SIZE: 1302 fin. sq. ft.


ADDRESS: 525 Clark Road


CURB APPEAL: 6 out of a possible 10

LISTED BY: Betsy Cobb of Roy Wheeler Realty Co. * 951-5138

Experts agree that trees increase real estate values. As well as providing beauty, trees screen unsightly areas, filter dust, reduce noise pollution, provide food and shelter for birds and other wildlife, and sometimes produce fruit. For energy-conscious homeowners, they cool houses in summer and warm them in winter by their shade and reduction in wind velocity.

If trees are what you're looking for in your next house, then the price of this property will definitely be worth it.

Stepping across a hot gravel driveway and through one of several gates into the area surrounding the house, we immediately felt the impact of the trees and of the 15-feet-high hedges. Images of The Secret Garden, where one garden portal leads to another, each filled with an effusive bounty of bloom, immediately jumped to mind.

Here in the front garden ("yard" would be too prosaic a description), we found a shady corner with a small pond and abundant lotus flowers around which groups of chairs and some candles and other decorations gave evidence of a previous evening's soirĂ©e. More gates beckoned, but the house– with its artfully arranged front porch and low hum of air-conditioning– drew us closer.

The plethora of oversized houses without trees that dominate much of western Albemarle is the complete antithesis of this house. Although it seems tiny, it nevertheless manages to contain everything a house should have.

A small living room to the right of the front door with a strategically placed mirror seems like an adequate place for relaxation. At the end of the entrance hallway, a beautiful dining room with exquisite furnishings appears larger and more interesting than it would if empty.

The adjoining kitchen with its Mediterranean blue and white motif has all the interesting little cubbies and unusual corner spots typical of older homes. A laundry/pantry space sits off the kitchen, but should there ever be mud-happy children living here, this room would do well to be hidden behind a door– or at the least have access to the outside. A sunroom rounds out the downstairs.

Upstairs, the main bedroom has built-in office space with desk and an extra room used now as a huge walk-in closet with bookshelf. This could easily be a nursery or third bedroom as long as one didn't mind walking through someone else's chamber to get to it.

The second bedroom, decorated in luxurious pinks, has a nice-sized closet and beautiful views. The bathroom, with only a standup shower for bathing, has one wall inscribed in silver stenciling, "Everyone deserves to be happy... but only a few are willing." It gives one pause– undoubtedly the desired effect.

The current owner's occupation– she's a decorative painter– shows in the tasteful use of color and design. Even outside there's an artistic touch to the landscaping. Through another garden gate, an established (but untended) vegetable garden awaits rejuvenation. There are mowed paths and mulched paths throughout the two and a half acres.

Several outbuildings in perfect stages of dilapidation, perched benignly on a small knoll off to one side, are an architectural testament to simpler times. A duplicate, almost miniature, version of the "big" house, with its pale yellow painted wood exterior, is just a few steps and a garden gate away. Although it is currently used as a studio, from the window it actually looked like one of the larger interior spaces and could probably be turned into another living area.

The mold has been cast to fit the current owner's needs. For someone else with similar tastes, it may fill the bill quite nicely, but at this price, it's still a small bang for big bucks.

For added charm, about a mile up the road and tucked into a hillside, sits Our Lady of the Angels monastery. Despite the welcoming signs and a chapel that is always open, the nuns dwell in the valley in monastic solitude. To supplement their financial needs, they make their own Gouda cheese and it is, in proper biblical reverence, to die for.