Suddenly sheds have become trendy. I remember when I was a child, my father’s potting shed smelt of damp, mouse droppings, cigar smoke and no doubt, carcinogenic chemicals. It was home to spiders, mildewed garments, dead butterflies and all my father’s complicated garden paraphernalia. My father had never heard of shed chic and he would have snorted in derision at the very idea.
Tool Shed. East Ruston.
Today, we all want a shed. I’m not sure why men like them, maybe so that they have somewhere to play with their tools. But I think women never grow out of their love of playing ‘house’. We all have perfectly nice houses but we want a Wendy House to play in. Maybe in all of us, the need for a cave is an atavistic thing. Our early ancestors needed it for security. And we still crave a cave, or in modern day terms, a little hut of our own.
I visited Long Melford Hall this summer with my niece. It was fascinating to find that Beatrice Potter used to stay there regularly and in their library they recently found some of her original drawings. But what also fascinated me, was the boudoir decorated with French eighteenth century furniture and Meissen porcelain. The very idea of a lady needing a boudoir is such an odd concept nowadays. And back then, as ladies didn’t seem to do much anyway, it seems strange that they needed a special room to do not much in. But nevertheless, I like the idea of a room of your own. A boudoir. I don’t just want somewhere to sit elegantly sipping tea from a Meissen cup. Or even like Hyacinth Bouquet, out of Royal Doulton china with ‘ hand painted periwinkles’ . But maybe the modern equivalent of a boudoir is a shed. A shed with a potting station and shelves and all my tools nice and clean and hanging from their own hooks. And a nice comfy chair with cushions. And a big table to work or write on.
I have been planning my boudoir/ shed all summer. In fact not only have I been dreaming about sheds but I have been lying awake for several nights planning mine. The Pianist was incredulous when I told him that I couldn’t sleep because of my shed. But then he nodded and said wisely: ‘Ah yes, sheds, a common cause of insomnia, ask any doctor.’ I think perhaps he was being ironic. Anyway, at last my dreams have come true, I have my shed and I want to share it with you.
You may wonder why I need a new shed when I already have three old stables. But honestly, although I try to kid myself they are shabby-chic, what they are really, is hopelessly tumble-down and scruffy. And they are all full of stuff accumulated over many years by many past owners of this house. One is full of wood and discarded windows. I wrote about my efforts to clean up the plant pot shed in an earlier post. Shamefully, it is no better, in fact it is worse. I am only grateful if I can close the door. And the other is full of – well, I don’t know -stuff.
Even if I am not potting on my lovely potting station, or doing other shed- related things, my new She-Shed is a place to take a cup of tea into. Obviously, I don’t drink out of Meissen, or sit in an elegant gown entertaining charming young men . I don’t know any charming young men, except for my son and my son-in-law and they would be a bit surprised if I invited them to take tea in my shed. But nevertheless, this shed is my boudoir.
I have painted it inside in a shade called Cool Marble, despite everyone’s incredulity that I thought the inside needs painting. So many people have hastened to tell me that the inside of a shed doesn’t need painting. Of course, it doesn’t need it. ‘Oh reason not the need’ as King Lear said, under rather more exacting circumstances. The floor is painted with slate coloured deck paint. The outside is painted Silver Birch. On an impulse I painted the window frames Cool Marble and painted stripes on the door so it looks like a beach hut. The great thing about a shed is you can indulge any whim.
Ok, the nearest beach is more than 30 miles away and I know that Alexander Pope said that we should consult the genius loci, the spirit of the place in the garden. This mantra has been repeated from Russell Page onwards. I heard Arne Maynard speak recently and this was his theme too. In fact, the original use of the phrase was used by the Romans to mean that we should propitiate the gods or spirits of the place who live there. Well as I have said before, I do not want a midden and a cabbage patch to make this in keeping with a sixteenth century garden. So the gods of this place will have to stay unpropitiated. I live here now and I will indulge any whim that comes into my mind. And if I want a beach hut I shall have one. In fact I am toying with the idea of a shingle beach, Derek Jarman type mini -garden in front of it. I even have a plump bathing beauty on the door.
Maybe I can rig something up to play George Formby singing ‘My Little Stick of Blackpool Rock‘ when I open the door. The Pianist can accompany him on his banjolele.
But inside I have abandoned the maritime theme . I cleaned, oiled and sharpened all my tools and they are hanging up in neat order, thanks to the Pianist’s efforts in erecting this special tool- hanging thingy. And no duct tape was used at all. How wonderful it will be not to have to run around from garage to shed to greenhouses looking for all my tools. And how lovely to see them all clean and gleaming. I can’t bear to get them dirty now. The Pianist asked me to dig him some leeks and I had to try to persuade him that he didn’t really need leeks. I didn’t want to get my fork dirty. I can see this is going to scupper my winter gardening plans a bit.
And yes, that is a picture you see on the wall. Well why not?
And then the dear Pianist has given me four long shelves. I keep my vases here because from now on I shall do all my flower arranging in the shed. This has come just in time as I have run out of cupboard space in the house for all my jugs. I do have this weird thing about jugs. I hadn’ t realised quite how many I have until I put them all on the shelf.
And then I have a special potting station. I have never had such a luxury before.
Next to it it is a wipe clean board to keep track of what has been sown.
Miniature Xmas card pegs hold the seeds waiting to be sown soon. All my other seeds are in my grandmother’s gas mask tin from the war. This used to hold her sewing kit but as I am allergic to the needle sort of sowing this is a much better use for it.
It is nice to find new uses for things that your family have owned. I keep plant pots in my father’ s old tool box. I believe this was his tuck box at school.
My Mother’ s tapestry basket holds my gardening gloves. The chickens hold labels.
I use an old fashioned bread bin to keep my vermiculite in.
Much more practical are the two galvanised steel bins for potting compost and the large plastic boxes for grit and sand.
But I like old things. This old walnut box does not actually contain gants but a hammer and nails. I love it, how wonderful that people used to have a special box to keep their gloves in and one that they could lock so that nobody could steal them.
My Chinese umbrella stand seems the obvious place to keep bamboo canes. It didn’t serve any purpose in the house as all our brollies are telescopic.
The long table was an eBay buy and came much cheaper than making one. Fortunately it just fitted in the car. The wicker chair was ridiculously cheap on eBay too.
The great thing about a shed is that you can indulge in the sort of whimsy which you wouldn’ t tolerate in the house. For instance I have ladybirds in odd places.
I have even brought my pottery pig and owl in here; my children made them for me when they small and so they are very precious.
And maybe I am propitiating the genius loci because as you see I have a green man, symbol of the ancient spirit of nature.
I am quite sad that my shed is finished now because I enjoyed doing it. Never mind, it’s on with the next project. Life is never boring if you have a garden.