Home: Making Room: Shed Sweet Shed

I know exactly what I want.

It’s a Victorian, clapboard, with window boxes and a front porch and a gambrel roof with gingerbread trim. I know exactly where I want it: halfway between the house and the garage, tucked among the phlox and hollyhocks. I even know what I’m going to put in it: rakes and shovels and potting soil and the post-hole digger and the lawn mower and a big potting bench and rows and rows of shelving under south-facing windows, where each spring I’ll get my seeds off to an early start.

The gardening shed is a common lust object, a touchstone for both practical reasons — all that storage! — and not-so-practical ones. When do gardeners actually get around to building them? “When the garage is full,” says Ray Evans with a laugh. Evans is a consultant with the Barn Door in Atco, New Jersey, which constructs some 400 sheds a year from Virginia through New Jersey, from cozy 6-by-8-footers to 14-by-30-foot behemoths.

How big a shed you need depends on what you plan to fit inside, and on the size of your property. You want to stay proportionate. One way to figure out how much shed you need is to haul everything you plan to store in it out to the lawn, then measure the footprint (keeping in mind that some stuff can be hung up, stored in drawers or shelved). If you plan to do repotting or start seedlings, add counter space. Choose a fairly level location. And check your local zoning and building codes, says Evans: “A lot of people are under the misconception that those codes don’t apply to sheds.” Some localities may require a poured foundation; in others, a gravel bed will do.

You can buy a prefabricated shed and customize it, build one from blueprints (available in magazines and on the Internet), or hire an architect to design a masterpiece. A shed is the perfect opportunity to indulge your whimsy; styles range from Tudor to colonial to country-barn to red-cedar sleek. (The Barn Door offers an adorable miniature working mill house.) “When I talk to people about what they want, they already know,” says Nellie Ahl, owner of Gardensheds in Lancaster. “They’ve thought about it for a long time.” Ahl, who sells prefab sheds, asks clients to describe their houses. “You want it to go with the home, but not too matchy-matchy,” she says. Often, she’ll echo a house’s architectural details — Victorian brackets, shutters, a distinctive window shape.

Consider the look of your garden as well, advises Jack Blandy, owner of Stoney Bank Nurseries in Glen Mills. “If you have a natural garden, you’ll want a more natural structure,” he says. “If your garden is avant-garde, you might use modern structural elements.” He suggests embedding old rakes and garden implements in smooth, stuccoed siding as one chic contemporary approach. Use trellises, climbing roses and other plants that tie your shed to the landscape. “It should have windows and window boxes,” says Blandy, “so it says, ‘Okay, this is a garden shed.’”

Whether you’ll need electricity depends on how you’ll use your shed, but plan on a nearby water source for washing things off — your hands, the outsides of pots, tools, plants. And keep in mind proximity to trash and compost bins. If you’ll be doing plenty of potting, Evans suggests a floor that can withstand moisture: “We use pressure-treated lumber,” he says. Consider a paved or flagstone pathway from the house for rainy days.

Inside your shed, functionality is king. “Think through what you’re doing,” advises Bill Talbot, store manager of Rick’s Utility Sheds & Gazebos in Aston. “We can make your shed as efficient as you let us.” Partitions can create mini-rooms for kids’ bikes, pool supplies, and lawn and garden chemicals; outer doors with top hinges can add extra storage space.

“Workbench, potting shelf, drawers, skylights, screens, storage loft, tool rack with wooden dowels,” Ahl says, ticking off popular interior options. One of her mid-range sheds, built by Amish workers, runs from $3,000 to $5,000, depending on size and options. Shipping and highway load permit fees can add several hundred dollars to the cost of a prefab shed.

A well-constructed shed, made with pressure-treated lumber and properly cared for, will last a lifetime — maybe many lifetimes. In garden-crazed England, the latest trend is turning outdoor sheds into home offices with Wi-Fi and satellite dishes, air conditioning, even hot tubs. That’s the beauty of the garden shed: It can be humble as a lean-to or ornate as a castle. Blandy’s ideal version would be fitted into a hillside to provide underground storage. “And if I could, I’d build one of those environmental living roofs,” he muses, proving that even professional landscape designers aren’t immune to shed dreams.