You can't take it with you

Some people are so passionate about a feature in their home, they are loath to let new owners change it. Mary Wilson reports
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The Independent Online

If you have lived somewhere for a long time and created a particular feature in your house or garden, you might be very loathe to leave it, especially if you are worried it will not be looked after with the same TLC as you have given over the years. But inevitably the time comes to move and sell up, so what to do about your beloved garden/animals/special plants? In some extreme cases, vendors will actually go as far as rejecting a possible sale because they feel the incoming purchaser will not care enough about their passion. "When I bought my house in Highgate, north London, 43 years ago, I asked the lady who was selling it why she was doing so," says Lady Lovell-Davis, widow of Labour peer, Peter Lovell-Davis. "She told me she felt the vine needed somebody younger to look after it and this is a little how I feel now."

The wonderful 100-year-old vine, a prolific black Hamburg dessert grape vine, grows up the outside of the house into the original first-floor "vinery", a Victorian conservatory. "The vine was really the reason I bought the house," says Lovell-Davis. "It produces about 100 bunches of grapes every year and doesn't take a lot of looking after, but there's too much stretching for me now. It is a delicious grape and when I'm asked to a dinner party anytime after September, I always take a couple of bunches with me."

Not everyone looking at the house has been intrigued by the vine and Lady Lovell-Davis is particularly concerned about those who want to convert the garage, for which she has started to apply for planning permission, on the side of the house. "The people who are interested go and look at the root in the garden, but others have talked about cutting it down, which is very worrying. One person suggested I make it a condition of sale that the new owner had to keep and maintain the vine, but I don't think I'll go as far as that.

"Another person was telling me how you could dip the leaves in egg and then dust them with icing sugar to make a lovely decoration when serving fruit," she says. "He would be a good person to buy it." The double-fronted end-of-terrace house in North Road has four double bedrooms, excellent entertaining space - the Lovell-Davises were well-known for their hospitality in the past - and a rear garden, in which in one corner there is a Victorian stable, the only one left in Highgate. The vinery, which has seen better days, could do with refurbishment. Stonebridge & Company (020-8341 6938) is selling the property for £1.3 million.

David and Ali Rouse have lived in Songhurst House, a quintessentially Sussex property, for almost nine years. This large gabled and hung-tiled house with 12.5 acres of land has been extensively refurbished by the couple, but now the time has come to move on. There is something they are very reluctant to leave behind, however: 20 home-bred ducks.

"We bought a pair of Aylesbury ducks for one of our daughter's birthdays seven years ago," says Ali Rouse. "We fenced them in, but the fox got them both. We were gutted. We then paid for a tractor to dig out a pond, we put picket fencing around the pond and bought some Call ducks (smaller version of Mallard) and then several more pairs from different breeders. But the fox got those, too."

After spending £2,000 on a chain-link fence to protect them, they now have 20 ducks of differing varieties, including some from a rogue mallard who arrived for a year and then went off again, leaving his young. "The ducks are no problem to look after, they just need feeding once a day, but it takes a while to home them in and we don't think it would be right to move them," says Ali Rouse.

"They have become part and parcel of our lives. When you drive up to the house they always quack to greet you and our children, who are now 13, 14, 15 and 16 will be very sorry to leave them." Songhurst House in Loxwood, West Sussex, has six bedrooms, triple open-bay garage with studio over, swimming pool and paddocks and is on the market with a guide price in excess of £2m through Browns (01483 267070).

Meredith Etherington-Smith's passion has been the very special garden of her home on Seymour Walk, Chelsea. "I started playing with the idea of an outdoor subtropical garden about 12 years ago," she says. "It was very experimental and I wasn't sure what would live and what would die. But everything lived. Now we have almost a canopy of plants and it looks just like a subtropical forest. We must have a micro-climate here."

In her 50ft by 23ft garden, which is on three levels, she has bamboos, wonderful rare tree ferns, palm trees and bananas. "The tree ferns will be very hard to leave behind. Some people who have come to see the house are obviously not interested. They go out to the garden and reel back with surprise. I would love someone to take the project on and would be very, very sad if someone dug it all up and started growing roses."

The garden is also very easy maintenance. "It takes just two days a year," says Meredith. "One day to put it to sleep - a lot of the plants are covered up now - and one day to wake it up."

The garden, together with Etherington-Smith's four-bedroom house, is on the market for £1.55m through Aylesford (020-7351 2383)