Saturday, March 16, 2013

5 tips for making the most out of your garden workspace

A few years ago I bought a flat with a shed. This is no ordinary shed – in fact to call it a shed may actually be doing it a disservice. It’s more a very small house, with double glazing, electricity, internet connection, wooden blinds and carpet. As a freelance writer, this little slice of shed heaven was indeed a deal breaker in our first-time buyer property hunt.
After spending many a happy work day toiling away at the bottom of my garden, I decided to put together 5 top tips for making the most out of shed working.

1. Room with a view

Not only can a garden office provide you with well needed extra space (I have a small flat so it’s a real blessing) it can also provide an inspirational setting to work in. Getting out of the confines of your home and having a completely separate, designated work space can be very productive. Particularly if your ‘shed’ is for creative pursuits – being surrounded by the nature in your garden can certainly prove a stimulating setting.
If you’re having a working space installed in your garden, think carefully about where and how it’s positioned. What will your windows look out on to? Try to ensure you get the best view from your shed – it’s much more inspiring to watch the birds and admire the flowers rather than your neighbour’s fence!

2. Shed matchmaking

If you’re not fortunate enough to inherit a fully kitted-out shed (I should really refer to it is a ‘garden office’), you may be considering having one installed. There are numerous types of garden-based workspace available, so it’s a good idea to fully research the different types and different companies.
Depending on what you need it for, you might need a specific type of construction or certain dimensions. For example, the space you require for a writing retreat may be quite different from the requirements of a sound-proof music studio.
If you’re worried about how the construction will look in the ‘flesh’– make sure you see an example of it before parting with any money. Some companies have showrooms to display different models while others might put you in touch with someone in your local/nearby area who already has one of their models installed. It could be hugely helpful to see how this looks and feels in someone else’s garden before taking the plunge yourself.

3. Location, location

Of course, the possibility of having an outdoor office will depend on the amount of external space you have at your property. If you’re fortunate enough to have a large area to play with – I’d suggest locating the office at a good distance away from your main property. If it’s very close, I will guarantee you’ll keep popping inside for various reasons – snacks, drinks etc…
My garden is long and thin with the office located right down the bottom. I feel far enough from my house to separate work and leisure time when I’m home. It also makes me fully equip myself with all I need to stay down at the bottom of the garden for a good few hours at a time.

4. Get wired

If your WiFi signal doesn’t extend to your office, there may be other ways to get your little hideaway connected. When my outdoor office was installed (admittedly, nothing to do with me) a cable was run through the wall of the house, along the length of our garden and into the office. Presumably this is via some kind of waterproof, weatherproof casing. It’s worth thinking about internet and electricity connections at the point of installation.

5. Keep it safe

Finally, make sure your ‘shed’ – whatever design it may be, is fully covered by your home insurance. If you’re having a new structure installed, make sure you tell your home insurance provider about this addition to your property. Some garden offices can cost thousands of pounds, so you’ll probably need to extend your cover to make sure it’s fully insured under your policy.
In addition, don’t forget about any equipment or possessions you keep in this space. Again, your contents insurance might not automatically cover items kept in an outbuilding – so make sure you check.

Saturday, March 9, 2013

New Garden Revealed

After seven months of workers and inspectors and three-jurisdiction permit purgatory, my life is at last quiet. And heres where I spend hours a day on this 11 x 17-foot screened-in porch. A bug-free place to work and read and nap, with my three indoor cats. Heaven.

With the porch done, it was time to install the flagstone patio and walkway. Whats left for me to do is to plant more plants, and to make enough concrete pavers to form a path to the storage shed door. A DIY job right up my alley (no skill required).

Plant suggestions?
Above you see the largest area that needs filling in. At the back of this section, along the property line, I planted a Shasta doublefile viburnum, which you have to imagine at 15 or so feet tall, and a Ghost Weigela, which has yellow-green foliage and will soon be 5 x 5. In front of it are three Morning Light Miscanthus from my old garden, and then bare mulch awaiting maybe swaths of a couple of perennials. The space gets about four hours of sun.

Above you see the 3 Abelia species that I planted in April and have seen sprout up with impressive speed. Go, Abelia! Id never grown them before and had always loved their smell. To their right is a Fothergilla, another plant Id never grown before, and I must say its taking its sweet time growing.

Above is the view from the sidewalk at the bottom of the yard, where I planted three Cryptomerias to provide screening. Theyre gorgeous, soft to the touch, and grow surprisingly fast. To cover some of the shed Ive planted a crossvine and a climbing hydrangea.

Heres another somewhat empty and definitely problematic space between the porch and the neighbors privacy screen. On the left are some of the Blue Billow lacecrap hydrangeas I found on sale for 15 bucks each, and on the right, some of the Blue Maid hollies that are supposed to screen the screen. Im looking for someplace to hide the garden hose maybe one of those round terra cotta holders?
Problems, failures so far
  • Some of my new plants are dying! Yes, the Blue Maid hollies are infected with some fungal disease or other (according to the garden center diagnosticians) and you know how that goes those fungicides are much better at prevention than cure. So of the seven hollies I bought in April that are super-important for providing screening, one is gone and another is done for. Damn.
  • Speaking of screening, as I sit on my porch my primary view is of the back-neighbors storage area. So Im wishing Id spent more and bought Cryptomerias already tall enough to accomplish that job. (Patience is something I could use more of in this department.) I checked the before photo of the garden and noticed that a large burning bush did a splendid job of hiding the storage area, but I hated it and it had to go. So this is a case of things getting worse before they slowly get better.
  • Finally (for now), the soil here is crappy hard-packed clay. My original plan to hire someone to amend it with compost was itself amended by the reality of the humongous amount of compost involved almost a thousand bucks worth in bags, since theres noplace to dump a truckload. Instead, I paid a worker just to remove the existing shrubs that burning bush, and a bunch of misshapen azaleas. Soil amendment will have to come plant by plant, as I mix compost into each planting hole. Plus, Im counting on earthworms to turn the nice organic mulch Im using into decent topsoil, eventually. Maybe in time for the next gardener here.