If the best moments of my life were ranked – building my first allotment shed would easily feature in my top five. My shed is my sanctuary: it’s my hideout from the world, a place to socialise, my writer’s garret (or as Dylan Thomas put it 'my word-splashed hut') and also my relaxing retreat. Okay, so it doesn’t have running water, curtains, or heating, but it’s the first place I want to be when I get up in the morning and the last place I’ll leave as the sun dips behind the allotment horizon.
And it seems I’m not alone in my shed-love. More than two-thirds of the UK population now boasts a garden or allotment outhouse and it’s estimated that the average 'sheddie' spends almost a year in the shed throughout their lifetime. To find out why, I talked to a group of ‘sheddies’ about why they can’t live without them...
My old shed after it had a summer makeover
It took the assistance of the emergency services to get Charlotte Petts’ shed onto her Lewes plot.
'10-years-ago, when we were transporting the shed on a roof rack to the site, half of it blew off and ended up in the middle of the A27,' recalls Charlotte.
'The police had to come and shut the road while we collected all the pieces!'
And today, although it’s nearing the end of its life, Charlotte is very sad to see it go. 'There’s coat hooks on the door and a little latch so you can shut it from the inside (much needed for bucket-based allotment wees) and an assortment of shelving,' she says.
'I used to drive past the allotment and dream of having my own shed. As a life-long renter, it’s been the one building I’ve actually owned, and it’s become a place of refuge.
'When my granny died, I sat in my shed with a cup of tea and raised a toast to her, I’ve hidden in it after breakups, and I’ve hosted many allotment dinners (the inside of the door is signed by people who’ve eaten with us). I can’t think of a better place to spend an afternoon.'
When Ashleigh Gardner got the keys for her Haringey plot in January 2019, she also inherited a 'DIY-wonder' of a shed.
'It’s a patchwork quilt and an eternal work in progress,' says Ashleigh. 'It leaks like a sieve, and is not easy to repair, but having spent countless hours getting a bindweed-infested plot into shape this year – I really would have struggled to achieve as much without it.'
In fact, with its nifty transparent plastic panelling, it lets in plenty of light and is a generous size for all her tools.
'We’re going to add a veranda and BBQ area so I can return the amazingly generous hosting I’ve received from my plot neighbours this year,' she adds. 'We’re already storing a few beers in there for luring plot-holders!'
The new build
Having waited seven years on an allotment waiting list, Emma Taylor finally got her first plot in the summer of 2019 – but it took another three months to finish the shed.
'There was a whopping 12-week wait for it to be delivered and then my poor husband spent days building it,' says Emma, from Mottram St Andrew in Cheshire. 'Our plot is so boggy; the mud was halfway up his calves for most of the build.'
But it’s been worth the wait. Her 8ft by 6ft potting shed has windows across the whole of one wall, a potting shelf, a stable door and even a camping loo. 'It’s so picturesque,' she says. 'There are great views over the allotment, and I love being able to sit with a freshly-brewed cup of tea watching the clouds and birds pass by – it’s very calming.'
The community enterprise
The gardeners at Enterprise(https://zinniacommunityenterprise.wordpress.com/) have not only grown a rainbow of vegetables this year – but a rainbow of a reclaimed shed too. Their colourful new shed has become the heart of their community allotment in Orpington, based at a derelict plant nursery, where they can gain skills, employment, and social support.
'We bought the shed for just £50 from someone who had used it to house ducks,' says Liz Kennea, from Zinnia. 'But we love making things and putting our own stamp on them. The shed has been reused, refurbished and is therefore absolutely unique. It reflects who we are and what we’re about. It is essential to us.'
Plot holder Lorraine Smith has turned her shed into something of a garden boudoir at her Northampton allotment. The windows of the 7ft by 5ft shed have net curtains, there’s a gas stove for hot drinks, and an artificial grass carpet. It’s even got a name.
'I love my ‘Fred the shed’!' says Lorraine. 'It’s a place where I can store tools, cook lunch and it’s fitted with guttering and water butts, so we don’t have to walk all the way to the water trough. In the summer, I’ll decorate it with bunting and at Christmas a bit of tinsel too! It’s a huge part of allotment life.'
The plot cafe
You’ll always know when tea’s up at Sean James Cameron’s plot in Bromley – after all, he’s fitted a tea bell to his shed to tell fellow plot holders there’s a brew on.
'It’s become a focal point on the site, and anyone who wants a tea is welcomed – as long as they bring their own mug and contribute to the biscuit tin!' says Sean, who charts his growing pains via YouTube at Sean's Kitchen Garden.
When he’s not socialising, however, the shed becomes a special place to recoup. Suffering from Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, Sean has fitted the shed with a lounger so he can rest when it gets tired.
'I love to sit and watch the wildlife too. I get foxes, woodpeckers and wild parrots on the plot,' he adds. 'During harvest time, I also cook in my shed on an old caravan stove. On cold days nothing beats a shed-cooked stew.'