Sheditecture: designer gardens make their mark at Chelsea

People really are going to work in the garden. This year’s Chelsea Flower Show not only inspired gardeners, it inspired homeworkers too
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It isn’t the rather lovely foxglove which won best plant in show, nor is it Diarmuid Gavin’s eyecatching pyramid of scaffolding. What will stay in the mind from this year’s Chelsea are the sheds. 

Of course there have always been plenty of hutlike structures to be seen around the site. Many of the exhibitors set up their wares within simple, though attractive, sheds and there are numerous garden building suppliers showing off their latest models of greenhouses, summerhouses and indeed rotating spherical loungers.

But while the carefully designed gardens often include some background element of building or wall, this year the show was positively awash with full scale garden offices, caravans and shepherds’ huts, underlining the trend that while people have been talking about garden ‘rooms’ for quite a time, that same phrase now means something rather more concrete.

It’s hardly surprising: anecdotal evidence suggests a well-heeled garden office building can add 5% to the value of a property as well as providing a deal-making element for the increasing numbers of people who are starting their own business and working from home. And indeed Chelsea has seen some intriguing garden office designs in the past including: 

* 2005 - Andy Sturgeon’s design for the Merrill Lynch garden featured a white-walled garden office with glass folding doors

* 2005 - In the same year the Microsoft SoGo Garden designed by Lizzie Taylor and Dawn Isaac showcased a futuristic swivelling brushed steel work pod

* 2007 - Diarmuid Gavin’s Westland Garden show garden featured two garden studios, a ‘his and hers’ design for an active artistic couple

* 2008 - The Simmons & Simmons Garden A Journey to Work designed by Growing Ambition was a garden for a solicitor whose firm was looking for innovative ways to encourage flexible working and so featured an office in a barn at the bottom of the garden

The clichéd idea of the ramshackle back garden shed was nowhere better displaced this year than in the Artisan Retreats area where five sturdy Malvern Collection summerhouses were turned into working spaces. With not a rake or a spade in sight, these were places in which people could work creatively, among them a book-binding studio and a textile workshop.

This move towards treating outdoor structures as genuine extensions of the home rather than as humble storage areas was most explicit than at Patricia Fox’s Rooftop Workplace of Tomorrow garden. This was very much a working home office blending beautifully into a garden atmosphere, somewhere homeworkers could make a video conference call while also harvesting fresh tea from the living wall for their elevenses. It was a pity that the futuristic Tetra Shed stand failed to appear for this also promised a genuinely high-tech approach to working in the garden.

Some of these working shedlike atmospheres were even moveable. Designed by Woolcott and Smith, one of the most popular gardens featured a Plankbridge shepherd’s hut in which novelist Tracy Chevalier wrote part of her new novel during Monday’s press day. Nearby was Jo Thompson’s lovely silver gilt-winning show garden where a vintage caravan was centre stage, to be used as a garden office, guest accommodation or as a children’s playhouse.

There were still plenty of traditional garden structures to be enjoyed, but even these paid tribute to a time when where we lived and where we worked were not so strictly defined. There was the shaded cabanon in the L'Occitane Immortelle Garden, Vicky Harris’s stone crofter’s hut in her Naturally Dry garden and the shepherd’s stone hut in Borut Benedejcic’s Pepa’s Story Artisan Garden. Nigel Dunnett’s RBD Blue Water Garden featured a lovely conical-roofed trullo, a traditional hut from Puglia.

Of course it is still Chelsea Flower Show, not Chelsea Shed Show. But this year’s gardens reflected the genuine seachange in how we are using our outdoor space and making our properties more valuable in the process.