The shed is the mainstay of many gardens, but it’s often taken for granted. People tend to think of sheds as eyesores, and hide them at the end of the garden where they slowly rot, leak and disintegrate.
As with many similar garden features, it is worth exploring why we need sheds. How best should we use them? And where should we put them?
How much we might use a shed dictates the wider design of your garden. If you are going to use yours frequently, you may need to lay more paving, pathways and work areas than otherwise. You may also want to place a shed more conveniently – in a central position or even closer to the house. My garage/shed opens on to the garden, so I can store essential equipment close by. The garage is also alongside the house, out of sight, so nothing blocks my view.
The traditional potting shed is a serious workplace for the committed gardener, whether amateur or professional, and two things will determine its size and design: the need for storage and for an effective work surface. Also, if you are a busy gardener, put the structure close to a greenhouse, cold frame or fruit, vegetable or flower garden. Hard surfacing will also be required around the shed to cope with the regular use, and you may also need pathways into the rest of the garden.
If you are planning to use your shed purely for storage, it won’t see nearly so much use. A mower, for example, may only be used once a week in high season, and a bicycle may see the light of day even less. If you are storing a barbecue or garden furniture over winter, you probably seldom visit the shed, and don’t need to bother about laying paths to protect surfaces.
These days, many new-build homes and gardens are small and offer limited storage, so the need for a shed may be great, but its impact on the garden will be greater, particularly if you see the shed as an unsightly necessity to be hidden, with any planting you use to disguise it taking up even more space.
Most sheds are made of timber, usually softwood. They arrive in prefabricated panels that bolt together. The roof is normally covered with waterproof asphalt sheets or roofing felt. Larger structures may be tiled with shingles or could even be brick-built with slate roofs – in this sense the term ‘shed’ relates more to the function of the building rather than its architecture.
Smaller sheds of about 1.2m x 1.8m are good for small gardens, but they fill up quickly – a bike and a lawn-mower are about their limit. The roof may be a typical central-ridge or a mono-pitch. As sheds increase in size, it’s worth using the roof to catch rainwater. A water butt is very useful for a potting shed.
The recent trend for green roofs has helped change perceptions of the garden shed. Covering a roof with low-maintenance plants benefits wildlife, increases biodiversity and keeps sheds cooler in summer and warmer in winter. Green roofs can also disguise the structure, especially when viewed from above. Sedums or turf are ideal because of their shallow rooting needs. Large mats planted with such species are available and can be cut to size and fitted easily.
If you want to make your shed seem less obtrusive, stain it a dark colour and it will recede into the background. Planting or trellis screens can be used to create a ‘false boundary’ too, beyond which the shed and other items can be hidden.
Some people actually celebrate the shed and place it centre stage, and want a more decorative or architecturally sympathetic structure. A wide range of summerhouses are on the market, and most can double up as storage sheds. This is especially useful for those who see the shed as a retreat or a hobby room. Decorative timber work, painted finishes and window treatments can transform these humble buildings into amusing follies that become focal points.
One or two companies are now producing contemporary sheds with more architectural structures. Many have blond wood panels, sleek glazing and sharp steel or aluminium detailing, all more at home in elegant city gardens.
In gardens where space is limited, consider bespoke or off-the-peg storage such as covered boxes or shelved cupboards. Often made of fibreglass sheets, these are large enough to take most garden tools, apart from lawn-mowers, and can be disguised with planting. Choose a dark colour to reduce its impact.
If you plan to use your shed for anything other than basic storage, it may be worth fitting a mains electricity connection to provide you with light and possibly heat. Consider the route of cables through the garden. Pathways are ideal – you’ll always know where the cables are, and you’re not going to put a spade through them by accident.
The security of a shed should be given careful thought with the value of what you store in them a defining consideration. The more sophisticated the use, the more valuable the contents are likely to become, so take adequate precautions.
As ever, careful planning is a must and then pottering in your shed will be a true pleasure.
KEY POINTS TO TAKE AWAY
1 Don’t buy a small shed just because it is the cheapest option. Look at your storage needs. Better to buy a larger shed in the first place than have to replace it later.
2 Garden sheds are generally allowed under planning legislation, but must not exceed 50 per cent of the garden space in area. In conservation areas they will require planning permission if they exceed 10m3 in volume. A flat roof shed should not exceed 3m in height and a ridged roof 4m. Storage sheds are seldom permitted in front gardens. They should be sited at least 20m from the highway.
3 Most timber sheds will need to rest on a prepared paved base, although it may be useful to consider raising the base on brick battens (engineering brick is particularly good). This will prolong the life of the floor timbers by keeping them away from damp ground. Some even rest on a steel base.
4 Security is an important issue. Most household insurance will not cover equipment stored in a garden shed, as most locks are easily broken or removed by thieves. It is wise not to store good quality tools or expensive equipment in the shed, especially if there is easy access to the garden. Steel sheds are generally bolted to a prepared paved base, and can prove structurally more secure. Incorporate a damp-proofing membrane into the base in such cases to protect the stored materials.
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This article first appeared in September 2008, issue 141.
Andrew Wilson is a garden designer, writer and lecturer, and an assessor and judge for RHS show gardens.