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GARDENING: A nook for dreaming

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Garden sheds are more than just a place to store tools - create a work or hobby shed or a place for dad to relax

Father’s Day is a tradition celebrated in a number of countries across the world. The garden shed has long since been a place associated with the man of the house.

The traditional shed in suburban gardens was a simple structure for storing garden tools, usually near the vegetable patch. Peter Rabbit, from Beatrix Potter’s children’s books, hid in a watering can in Mr McGregor’s garden shed.

Historically speaking

Pale orange buds open to apricot. The Roald Dahl rose was named after the famed author who worked in a garden shed. Picture: RHS/ Sarah Cuttle

Garden sheds are places that can also fulfil other needs. Poet Dylan Thomas chose to work in a garden shed and Roald Dahl, the famous author, wrote in a 1.8m by 2.1m shed, copied from Dylan’s shed.

George Bernard Shaw (1856-1950) worked for the last 20 years of his life in a sophisticated writer’s shed on his property in St Albans, Hertfordshire. Besides having electricity, a phone and a buzzer system, the most notable feature was that it was built on a turntable, which enabled Shaw to push it to follow the sun.

In 19th century Britain, the potting sheds of wealthy landowners were where the estate gardeners would store tools, bulbs and seeds, where clay pots and soil would be kept under work benches, and where past successes and failures, current work and weather would be recorded in garden journals.

It was also a place where the gardeners would seek shelter in rainy weather and winter cold. One can imagine worn jackets hanging on pegs behind the shed door, and gardeners, cloth caps on heads, pricking out seedlings, the smell of damp earth mingling with the smoke from their pipes.

Old sheds at Kirstenbosch

The first nursery at Kirstenbosch Botanical Garden was established in 1913 below the Dell, next to a stream. It consisted of 10 small terraces and a temporary wood-andiron potting shed.

The first proper garden shed in Kirstenbosch was built between the Dell and the Koppie in 1923. It was known as the “tool and store work shed” and was constructed of stone, with a thatch roof.

Shed trends

Potting sheds are invaluable close to a vegetable garden. Picture: RHS/ Jon Enoch

The potting shed has evolved and, today, a shed in the garden can be much more than just a place to store garden tools. Sheds are now so popular that Britain hosts a competition to crown a Shed of the Year. One of the newest categories is an “eco-shed” – the structure must complement and blend in with the natural environment.

A further trend in many countries is the community man’s shed, a social meeting place for retired men to connect with peers. Here they can get together, share their experiences and make new friends. They also learn new skills, such as wood turning and wood carving, metalwork and welding and make furniture, picture frames and toys, repair bicycles and take part in community projects.

Additional living or work spaces have moved outdoors into the gentle surroundings of the garden. Outdoor offices and covered seating spaces were popular trends at this year’s Chelsea Flower Show.

An old grain silo converted into a studio at the 2019 Chelsea Flower Show. Picture: RHS/ Neil Hepworth

The centre piece of the gold-award winning The Resilience Garden was a 6m high grain silo re-purposed as a design studio and fitted with an oak floor. 

Space for dad

A shed can be a studio where dad can enjoy private space, a retreat for reading, writing or listening to music; it can be a hobby shed for woodworking or a miniature train layout; a pub shed to watch sport or play pool.

Hobby sheds have gained popularity in recent years. Picture: RHS/ Tim Sandall

A shed can also become a workplace. Many people, dissatisfied with open-plan offices and the interruptions and lack of privacy , are choosing to work at home.

The office shed has become a multi-functional space with spades and rakes replaced by routers, laptops and tablets. Windows that let in adequate light, and which can be opened to let hot air escape and cool air in, are essential.

Sheds in frequent use will need a paved pathway from home to shed and this will also be a safe place to bury electric cables and water connections. Dads’ shed can be an attractive focal point in a colourful garden or a retreat in the quietest and most secluded part of the garden, painted in forest green.

A paved pathway leading to the shed looks tidy and encourages guests to take a closer look.
Picture: Louise Jenner-Clarke

Check planning permission requirements and the need for approved building plans, as per the by-laws of your municipality. If the shed is close to your property boundary, check with your neighbours on its positioning.

If you haven’t yet finalised a Father’s Day gift for your dad, why not consider a shed? Offer the gift of your time to help dad build a shed using reclaimed and salvaged materials. The alternative is to research local firms for manufacturers and the internet for a prefabricated shed. The basic shed can then be fitted out to suit your dad’s requirements. The shed can be rustic or modern and of different materials.

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