The Heirloom Potting Shed

A potting shed is the perfect addition to any gardener’s yard.

| Winter 2013-2014

Through the centuries, gardeners have loved these small structures. Working in them is akin to playing “house.” The structure is small and private, a place to step away from the ordinary. Here we can construct a world that is personal and practical. Garden sheds have probably been around as long as there have been gardeners. Haven’t folks always needed a cool place to stow tools and step out of the sun? Where, for example, could medieval monks have stashed the rakes, seed baskets, and hoes if not in a shed? This humble building, by definition “a small outlying structure for gardening,” was little changed for centuries. Today they may be humble, but many are charming and quirky in design, reflecting the personality of gardeners.

No wonder we love potting sheds. Working in them is akin to playing “house.” The structure is small and private, a place to step away from the ordinary. Here we can construct a world that is personal and practical. And though individuals add their own touches, most garden sheds include a few basics: shelves for storage of pots, bulbs and seeds, hangers for tools, and a waist-high shelf for potting. Windows and chairs are nice as well.

One of the earliest illustrations is found in a work on gardening and farming by the German author, W.H. von Hohberg in the late 1600s. Hohberg’s shed was cozy, with work tables, garden tools and windows to bring in light.

In the 19th century, the potting shed came into its own. There on large estates, a utility building was needed to pot up cuttings and start seeds. These buildings were especially useful in the winter where gardeners could carry on their duties in warmth.

In the popular Encyclopedia of Gardening (1820s), John Claudius Loudon wrote that the shed should be “perfectly light, and well aired with numerous windows.” He added, “along these [should be] a range of benches or tables, for potting cuttings or bulbs, sowing seeds, preparing cutting, … making baskets, ... and a great variety of other operations.”

But large estates were not the only homes for such sheds. William Cobbett, an English writer of “how-to” books for the cottage gardener said this in 1829: “There is yet one thing to notice in the laying out of the garden, namely that there must be a shed to serve as a place for depositing tools, flower-pots, and the like, and also for the gardener to retire in case of rain, and to do work there when they cannot do work out of doors.” Further he added, that the shed should be “sufficiently spacious not only for the purposes just mentioned, but also for the hanging up of seeds to dry and for various other purposes.”

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