Thursday, August 18, 2011

Garden Sheds

There are few outbuildings as appealing as the garden shed.  Small, eminently affordable, totally functional, lacking in frivolity -- a purchase one could easily justify.  All gardeners know that the accumulation of tools grows faster than the growth rate of plants.  Just this year alone I’ve ordered a fine left-handed knife, a hand rake, a potato hook, a kneeling cushion/bench combination, several pairs of heavy-duty gloves, an extra trowel or two, and a new clippers.

I don’t lack storage space, but that has not kept me from wanting a small outbuilding, just for the garden.  I’ve looked at shed kits in every conceivable style, from configurations for cozy cabins with window boxes, to Zen retreats, to cabanas with Palladian gables.  There are hip-roofed styles recommended for California vineyards, austere slant-roofed sheds for tool minimalists, sheds with faux-Tudor rooflines, and five-sided numbers with French doors.

Although most of us are governed by practicality, in our hearts what we really want is a garden room; less a place to store tools and bags of fertilizer than a room from which to enjoy the garden.  Historically, there have always been structures in the garden, from the simplest arbors to the most elaborate marble sleeping platforms in hot climates.  Tents with hangings, summerhouses, gazebos and trellised pavilions have all had their place in gardens.   In some regions garden rooms are linked to a greenhouse, conservatory, or solarium.  In other regions, like our northeast, it always means a screened porch as you couldn’t live outdoors without one.  

Gayle Burbank's garden room
I have warmed myself in winter gardens, lathe and glass additions used primarily for the cultivation of tropical plants but with plenty of space for chairs and tables.  I have spent cool summer mornings in old stone barns or outbuildings turned into garden rooms.   I’ve had summer dinners in dining rooms that can only be called garden rooms because they look out on the garden.  
Gayle Burbank's garden room, interior
But there is a consistent thread.  A passionate gardener’s garden room always has a point of view.  It may be facing a fragrant evening garden rich in heliotrope, nicotiana, Casablanca lilies and daturas.  It may be no more than a potting shed, with space for a table, pots, barrels of soil, and running water.  Painters might arrange their studio to open on to the garden and keep clippers nearby for a few spare moments of deadheading. 

Apartment sunroom
Some of the prettiest gardens rooms can be found in garden-less apartments.  The tenants are invariably displaced gardeners forcibly removed from their gardens or relocated by circumstance to a flower-less world.  These rooms are often filled with wicker, patterned chintzes, airy curtains and potted plants.  The effect of ease and charm is not appreciably different from what you would have found in their lost gardens.  

As you can see, some of us are as blades of grass swaying the wind; first one way, then another.  All we need is a place to store our tools and hide the trash standing around in plastic barrels, yet we dream of buildings. 
Garden room in waiting

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