The Fortress at the Bottom of the Garden: or, My First Shed

In a few week’s time, the weather here will gently warm and the light will begin to signal that Spring is on its way.

Silent though this coming is – save  for the clamour of the delighted birds – it serves as a cannon blast wake up call to all the home improvement magazines, who brush the dust from their shoulders and  totter up from their armchairs to hail that stranger to winter: The Outside.

I wonder if other countries get the same feature wheeled out – with bright breezy optimism – to fill the hearts of their countrymen with territorial pride?

For soon, it will be Decorate-Your-Shed season once again.

I do not know whether readers far and wide have read something like this. I suspect it is a very English preoccupation. We don’t have a huge amount of space here in Blighty. There are those who do, but they are generally jolly well off. The rest of us have pocket-handkerchieves of land which we tend with all the devotion of a nun in her convent chapel.

Even our houses are generally smaller and pokier than many other countries. New houses are averaging 818 square feet compared to 1,200 in France, just across the water: and Master Builder’s Federation data shows they’re still getting smaller. Homes built in 2009, they reported, were on average 55% smaller than those built 80 years before.

So every year the home improvement sorts peddle the dream of a few square feet of one’s own, somewhere extra.

In other words, the garden shed.

Seriously.

Here, for the majority of us, that means 8 x 7 ft of floorspace pilfered from land next to the compost heap. And that, my friends, includes veranda.

But hope springs eternal. Here in Britain the magazine features run along the line of “three different looks for the shed/summerhouse”. You can have the gingham Doris Day Calamity-Jane look, the Heidi-inspired alpine look, the bachelor black theme, the outside office retreat.

Designers labour to shoehorn in workstations and  anglepoises, bookshelves and chaise longues; they curtain the little shed windows in Laura Ashley and advise on the best mugmats for the job.

Because we are British and desperate, we buy the whole shebang. Yes, the march hares among us cry giddily, we truly can have more space.

By robbing the miniscule garden of 56 square feet (which used to provide admirable sniffing ground for the family dog and extra turning space for the great big toy plastic tractor), we can create a small box of idyll: a place to be alone, to leave one’s favourite paperback, poised for the moment when a steaming hot cup of tea can be borne like a trophy out across the paving slabs and away from the sound and fury of the household.

Three words: dream on, Britishers.

For despite what they tell you, our climate does not favour the garden shed. We buy them as part of a dream, but that dream has mould and mice attached to it six months after it has been bought, and the paperbacks grow warped and wrinkled waiting for us to shiver our way across the paving stones to use our 56ft.

Or worse: the shed becomes a repository of Stuff.

Whenever there is a clearout the cry goes up: store it in the shed! When the Man Drawer is overflowing with mole wrenches and posidrives, a new box grows and overflows in the shed. The garden tools once stood neatly  with parallel vertical handles but now they list at crazy angles.

Our shed has a history. It was my first ever shed: I have had a greenhouse before, but never a shed. My father in law, who lived in the house before I did, adored the shed and clad its strange weatherproof sandpaper-like covering in fetching orange pine pilfered from the inside of the house.

Now it looked like an up-market sauna.

Tools, screws, bolts and brackets, all were lovingly organised and labelled, and if there were mice droppings and a pervading smell of damp it could still be called an organised space.

And then the chaos of the Shrewsday household was brought to bear on this little haven.

If you open the door, things fall out.

It might be a bag of plastic toys, or a broken spade, or a breadmaker; it could be my nephew’s high chair, or a plastic Mercedes toy car.

The lovingly laid squares of carpet are fit only for mushrooms.

This place is about as far away from those little quasi-alpine shed hideaways as it is possible to be; but mark my words. One turns into the other.

Our shed is scheduled for demolition, once the weather gets warmer. But sheds are like kittens: when one dies, some of us just have this overwhelming urge to fill the void with another shed.

For a giggle, try here

Written in response to Side View’s weekend theme, My First…… which you can find here

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53 thoughts on “The Fortress at the Bottom of the Garden: or, My First Shed

  1. I tried *here* and I am giggling and thinking I wonder how many days of the British summer such a summer house would actually look like that? Six, tops? 😉

    If I had a shed, it would be a writing shed like Roald Dahl’s equipped with a stout lock, excellent heating, a kettle and plenty of PG tips! http://www.thehistoryblog.com/archives/12804

    PS – loved your Bayeux tapestry blog. Read it on my phone, hence lack of comment. 😉

    1. That was indeed a shed to be proud of, Jan. It makes me wonder what the one TH White lived in was like: he went a bit feral for a while and just did loads of writing and flying hawks…I’d love to see the inside of that!

      Re: Bayeux: thanks 😀

  2. I rather like the look of your shed with it’s lanterns and snow clad trees. Whatever will you do with all of the stuff inside it on demolition day? – definitely you will need a new one. So far I have resisted the temptation of a shed, but I do like the look of those Shepherds’ Huts and Gypsy Vans.

    1. Ah, gypsy vans….beautiful old things but a tad pokey I fear. We once discovered one n a friends back meadow, and spent ages making a camp in it. A shepherd’s hut might be fun, as long as the crook is not compulsory 🙂

      Demolition Day will see the entire shed and all its contents disappear into a voluminous skip. We haven’t touched anything in there for at least two years!

  3. I once had a shed on a farm where I lived in a first life sooooo many years ago. Also had barns and tractors and farmed some 240 acres in the lovely land of Ohio.

    We now live in wonderful Charleston in the Lowcountry of South Carolina and, alas, we have no shed. We do have an attic where a bit of stuff goes and a FROG where a lot of stuff goes. A FROG, for those unfamiliar with the term, and I was one of those, is a Finished Room Over Garage. It can be fairly large if you have a large garage and can serve as an office, an extra bedroom, a workout area, etc. We use it for all of this and more….namely storing stuff.

    I wish you luck with either the renovation or destruction of the Shed, but, hope you keep it as a place to put all that extra stuff somewhere. Also a great place for the kids to sneak off to when they “vant to be alone”.

    1. Sheesh, Lou, the kids have a whole floor ensuite to themselves! However you may have a point. As Enid Blyton and the Secret Seven timelessly illustrate, the garden shed can find a whole new life as club house when the adults have ceased to use it. I shall put this consideration into the mix, once we are staring at a large gap and foundations.

    1. In my dreams, Sidey, I build one of Lou’s FROGs above the kitchen (but used to be the garage) providing extended first floor and a second floor solar to gaze across the forest to Windsor.

      Now wouldn’t that be something 🙂

  4. Summer house on a shoe string -Aye Yai Yai Yai Yai.

    I just now got up an went to the window an looked at my garden shed. That little shack out back, which holds all my shtufffs, also acts as anchor to many memories. Next to it is buried my best friend. Raises my morning coffee, here’s to you my friend. Dam garden shed made me teary-eyed. That’s not a bad thing is it.

    1. Nope: good to get these things aired, I always say. Your reaction is very similar to my husband: he has a strong attachment to the pine-clad storeroom and can relate every little twist and turn of its history. He keeps an eye on tenants and suchlike, the mice and the Fox who likes to sit next to it at night. I’m raising my own coffee to your best friend; and to your new one, Elvira, who captures the hearts of your readers 🙂

  5. We Americans have sheds as well, Kate, and the penchant for bigger and bigger houses is a part of this big financial mess, in my opinion. The trend has slowly shifted to smaller homes – they are the ones selling these days in my neck of the woods.

    Your shed sounds like ours, which is really a lean-to attached to garage. It is so jam-packed that a moving company has to come to take its contents out before Tom can mow. tee hee Can’t wait to see what new kitten you get.

  6. I love when I’m right. Even your shed sounds charming.

    We’re amidst an indoor remodel over here, and I’m up to my neck in decorating on a shoestring–almost literally–but it never occurred to me to toss out the lawnmower and my husband’s tools and simply remodel the shed!

    Love the link… Can’t wait to see your powder blue dream-shed 😉

  7. I loved your description of this tiniest of getaways, soon taken over by the junk that has Gotton Away!! I am presently beginning to design a granny flat for the Matriarch, she needs to still live in HER own space but close enough for me to make sure she is alright. It will be along the lines of a tiny perfect dolls house, with a loft for her visiting grandchildren, tons of light and a verandah (she is a smoker and really does need a place of her own) .. if you come across anything on these mini shed sites you visit let me know , I love making a small space work like a big one!! c

    1. Celi: what a great project! the Matriarch is going to have a great time, I have no doubt…the brief alone is inspiring.

      One of our British sheds might be a tad too small 😀 You’d have to staple the grandchildren to the ceiling.

      If I encounter any space-saving pieces of genius on my shed furnishing travels, however, I shall hotfoot it to thekitchensgarden to regale you with them….

  8. I have long hankered to live in that which is only slightly larger than the garden getaway you have referenced; such as those found here: http://www.tumbleweedhouses.com/ or here: http://www.parkmodelsdirect.com/RM/photos.asp They are only pipe dreams, but they are compact and don’t leave much room for accumulating “stuff.” 🙂

    That said, there are a myriad of folks in the good ol’ USofA who cannot confine their “stuff” to a garden shed or an attic, or a FROG, a la the Mellos, and consequently, have provided much fodder for places such as these: http://www.publicstorage.com.

    I say tidy up that cute little shed at the bottom or your garden and keep it. The pine cladding and it’s history are charming.

    1. It’s a bit smelly, Karen, and we’d have to serve eviction notices on all the mice and inform the fox who uses it as a bathroom to vent elsewhere….

      I love the links. Especially the idea of a “public storage experience”….hope that one day you get your dream space 🙂

  9. What a romantic idea . . . that of turning a garden shed into a reading nook (boasting a moldy book with moth eaten pages) and tea house (complete with mouse as a drop in visitor leaving droppings behind). 😉

    Have fun with your shed clean out, Kate!

  10. Selling dreams is big business. That is such a pretty shed in the photo, romantic with the snow and all… if only you hadn’t told me about the mice and rot, I could almost be persuaded to buy into such a dream. 🙂 The average new house built in Canada in 2010 was just under 2000 sq ft – but in British Columbia (where I live), a whopping 2500 sq ft. I dream on… 😀

  11. How funny. I had so many plans for my garden shed. Retiled it with the welsh slate from the main house roof, put in a wonderful new door, painted it all white and bright inside. The mice love jumping from box to box, filled with what? I can’t remember and dare not open them! Great post!

  12. MTM’s Man Shed is also scheduled for demolition this spring. I cannot even wedge myself in the door. He keeps bringing stuff out to photograph and sell on EBay, rusty stuff he gets hundreds of dollars per item for. (When I try to sell some trinket of mine – that’s been stored in the house – it brings $3.95.)

    I will never understand the concept of a Man Shed, which is somehow different from a Garden Shed. In the Man Shed, nothing stored there has to do with gardening. That stuff gets thrown under the house or piled under the platform for the AC units.

    I pray to God Phil never decides he needs a Man Shed…………

    1. I read this out to Phil: it is such a familiar scenario, what with eBay and suchlike 😀 If we let another shed go up there I fear it will become a Man Shed. I must put up robust opposition!

  13. I have a blue shed at the bottom of the garden, which houses my garden tools etc and is so untidy!!! An important part of any garden, but not in any way a possible escape place…

    I hope you sort out your shed and storage – we all own too much stuff these days, I feel. 🙂

    1. It is good to have somewhere to stash the tools, Pseu and you know my feelings: if we buy an outside space we somehow forget all those soggy British summers…

      The stuff in the shed, I am fairly sure, can just go straight into the skip 😀

  14. Not so much on the decorating your Garden Shed, but, rest assured the Home-improvement retailers are already heralding “Spring Soon Cometh” with their End of Winter, Lawn and Garden equipment sales pitches. Seems Christmas gets advertized by September these days. Great idea you have.
    Bless You

  15. It feels confessional to tell you I live alone in 1600 sq ft – with 2 bathrooms. My shed is only for storing outside stuff. I stack my wood against two outside walls since I extended the eaves. I don’t have any mice, thankfully. Either they aren’t attracted to tools and equip or the Haughtily Hunting Duc keeps guard on the place.

    Have you seen this?

    1. Amy, that’s inspiring 🙂 Jay has it all worked out, doesn’t he?

      I probably couldn’t downsize quite that far with a family….but later on in life? With that backyard? You bet…

  16. Our shed is my husband’s domain and I think I’ve only ever been inside it three times in four years… it’s either concrete with wood cladding or wood with concrete cladding… see, that’s how familiar I am with it! I do know the odd dead rodent shows up there and of course it’s where the handleless tools emigrate.

    I’ve never seen any of the magazines for prettying-up a shed, but the link you gave is reminiscent of a miniature that I saw years ago (dolls house miniature).

  17. Hm, there is a subtle difference between a summer house and a shed and I think the climate is not best suited to the summer house, definitely a dream thing! I count myself very fortunate, as space is a real privilege in this country, to live in a older flat with big windows and rooms, a garden, a balcony and most important of all, the shed. And ours is as dangerous as yours! 🙂

  18. I love the pictures from the magazine! Maybe there is a need for “a room of one’s own” no matter how you find it! We have a shed for all those things we should have eliminated years ago…and I’d be embarrassed to show you! Really! I have such admiration for people who are not pack rats! But if I am, I might like to be one with style 🙂 Debra

  19. In Australia, the backyard shed has traditionally been the realm of “secret men’s business”. There’s even an organization called Australian Men’s Shed which is actually a great initiative to get retired men out of a rut and into shed- type activities within a community

    http://www.mensshed.org/what-is-a-men's-shed/.aspx

    I hope you’ll replace yours, Kate – perhaps with an outside writing room ofyour own 🙂

  20. There is a powder blue one in the garden next door to ours, it is pretty – like a beach hut. But with that size it fills nearly the width of the garden. I’ll post back a photo tomorrow when its light. Good luck with demolition!

    1. Now at all: I shall bear your comments in mind when it comes to the moment I look at the foundations and think, hmmm, that looks a bit bare…

      Nothing a few chickens won’t fill 😀 Thanks for commenting!

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