Victoria Summerley: City Life

'When you're outside in the shed you can be whoever you like. You can talk to yourself without anyone noticing'
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Perhaps it's a throwback to our Stone Age ancestry, but it seems to me that the urge to bury ourselves in some sort of den, or cave, is still a very strong instinct. Caves and dens aren't very common in your average urban environment, unfortunately (not in Wandsworth, anyway), so the modern-day equivalent would appear to be a shed of some kind. How else would you explain the growing popularity of outdoor rooms and garden studios in our backyards?

Ah, I hear you say sagely, it's all to do with cramped modern homes and more people working from home. But it can't simply be a question of lack of space indoors. These days, you've got to have a fairly reasonable-sized property in order to have a back garden big enough to house a shed. No, I think the answer is that we all love to have a little hidey-hole somewhere, where we can escape from everyone else. And to be able to plead pressure of work in order to do that is the best possible excuse, because no one can argue with you.

There's another benefit. While you're in the house, you're still you. Outside in the shed, or the garden studio, or whatever, you can be whoever you like: Ernest Hemingway penning his latest oeuvre, perhaps, or Edmund Hillary planning the conquest of Everest. You can talk to yourself without anyone noticing.

It is traditionally men who are supposed to be obsessed with sheds. This may seem like a sexist generalisation, but judging by anecdotal evidence, I think it could well be true. I happened to be looking at the website the other day, which carries more varieties of sheds, studios, log cabins, glass boxes, modular pavilions, pods and cubes than you can possibly imagine. One by one, my male colleagues came to look over my shoulder, oohing and aahing and phwoaring as if they'd just stumbled across a picture of Keira Knightley or Sienna Miller. (Is this sexist of me? Am I unjust in assuming they would show their appreciation of Sienna Miller or Keira Knightley in such a manner? No, I think I'm on fairly safe ground there.)

Shedworking is a fascinating site, dedicated to "the lifestyles of shedworkers and those who work in shedlike atmospheres". Actually, it's a great place to go BEFORE you become a shedworker, as it offers all sorts of useful information about suppliers, designs, fittings and insulation. If you are thinking of making such a move, then you might like to note that next week is National Shed Week (no, seriously) and there are all sorts of things going on to entertain sheddies. Chief among these is the Shed of the Year 2008 competition. Voting is open until Friday (4 July) so cut along to and check out the entries. There are green-roof sheds, funky sheds such as the Gar-Den, American entries that look like mini clapboard houses, and even flooded sheds. Best of all, in my view, were the pub sheds – I took a particular fancy to the Fat Newt. Cheers!


As well as being National Shed Week, next week is also the Royal Horticultural Society Hampton Court Flower Show, which opens on Tuesday and runs until Sunday 13 July. The great and the good (and everybody else) flock to the Chelsea Flower Show, but whereas gardening enthusiasts have a bit of a love-hate relationship with Chelsea (too many crowds, too many stands selling garden sundries, too many wacky show gardens), Hampton Court is the show that everyone loves. This has always puzzled me, because Hampton Court is packed with people, has loads of stands selling garden sundries and far more wacky (sorry, conceptual) gardens than you will see at Chelsea.

The crucial difference is that the Hampton Court showground is much bigger; three times the size of Chelsea. It's set in open parkland, right under the nose of the spectacular Tudor palace, and it's beside the river, so it feels like an old-fashioned country fete. (We Londoners love a bit of country, as long as it's only 20 minutes from the West End.) Even the journey is fun: if you arrive by train at Hampton Court, you can take a riverboat from the station to the showground. And you can buy plants (you can only place orders at Chelsea).

There will be huge emphasis on growing your own food at Hampton Court this year, with a Growing Tastes marquee hosting a summer fruit and vegetable competition, a kitchen garden design by Michael Balston inspired by British, Mediterranean and Asian cuisine, and a food demonstration theatre to show you how to make the most of all that delicious produce. (There will be experts around to give advice on how to grow exotic ingredients in your own garden.) I'm looking forward to the Thai floating market, which will consist of 15 authentic Thai market boats paddling up and down the Long Water with a cargo of spices, herbs, hats and silks. It's all been shipped over by the Thai tourist board to recreate the atmosphere of Bangkok's waterways.

There was a time when your average fruit and veg show consisted of supersized onions and leeks in a small village hall. Now, it seems, gardening is not only the new rock'n'roll but Glastonbury, Reading and the Isle of Wight all rolled into one.

The RHS Hampton Court Flower Show runs from Tuesday 8 July to Sunday 13 July (Tuesday and Wednesday RHS members only). For more details and bookings, go to