The Potting Shed

A gardener’s toolbox

Outbuildings have always been a very important architectural element in the design of major gardens. These outbuildings can include barns, pagodas, follies, dovecotes, guesthouses, pool houses, temples, greenhouses and potting sheds. Thomas Jefferson designed a beautiful garden pavilion in the vegetable garden at Monticello where he could look out at the beautiful view while making notes in his garden journal about what thrived and perished in his vegetable garden. While we might not have room in our suburban gardens for a folly, pavilion or a barn, there is usually a space to tuck in a potting bench or potting shed. 

A potting shed can be the heart of the garden. It should also be a destination in the garden. It is where plants get their start, where prized garden tools are housed, where containers are created and where the weary gardener may seek shelter from the sun or rain. A potting shed is the gardener’s sanctuary. Plenty of physical activity takes place in and around the potting shed, but I would guess that plenty of mental activity takes place also. There is no better therapy than having one’s hands in the soil and creating beauty in the natural surroundings. A potting shed is to the gardener what a perfectly planned kitchen is to the chef.

Potting sheds are as unique as their owners and as stylish as the gardens that are built.  They can be big, tall, short or small but perfect potting sheds have many things in common. The potting shed can be attached to the side of the house or garage, or it can be a free-standing building on its own foundation. Potting sheds should be in a sheltered spot in the garden so that they are conducive to gardening activity 12 months a year. They should be designed for comfort and convenience. They should be personal. If the gardener is 6 feet 10 inches tall there is no reason to have the potting shelf or bench at the same height as it would be for a more diminutive gardener. It is very helpful to have a nice roof with a deep overhang so that if you desire to work during a drizzle you can do that without getting soaked. The roof will also allow the gardener to work during the hot summer days and not get sun burned. Wire the potting shed for electricity and add as many outlets as you can. There are so many useful battery operated tools, and this would be a convenient place to re-charge the batteries so that they are  always ready for use.

Storage is KEY in the potting shed. Be creative. You’ll need storage for soil, fertilizer, sprays, equipment, containers for planting, containers for starting seeds, tools, watering cans of different sizes, kneeling pads, hoses, gardening aprons, twine, scissors, flagging tape and paint, herb and perennial markers … the list is almost endless. Be creative in your storage methods. Pegboard with different hooks is a simple and economical way to store tools and cords. Visit antiques stores and flea markets to start a collection of interesting hooks for hanging tools. Use an old ladder to stack terra cotta pots for starting seeds or rooting your favorite rose or hydrangea. Keep a small stack of old bricks to use for air layering azaleas and hydrangeas. Find old wine barrels to contain soil and fertilizer. Use an interesting ice scoop to scoop out the soil and fertilizer to make the perfect potting mix for tender young plants. Use baskets of different shapes and sizes to store seeds packages, twine, masonry nails and plant markers. 


A Gardener’s Wish List for the Potting Shed:

• A comfortable chair or two

• A really good gardening hat to protect you from the sun

• Gardening books for reference and inspiration

• Baskets to contain garden supplies or to plant in

• Seeds: after the seeds have been started, frame the prettiest packets to decorate the interior of your potting shed

• Kneeling pads

• Sprayers

• Buckets of all shapes and sizes and of different materials: metal and plastic

• Watering cans

• Hoses: always, always invest in the best quality hose that your budget will allow

• Boots and socks

• Marking paint and tape

• Tools – rakes, shovels, lopers, pruners, electric shears and electrical cords

• Wheelbarrow

• Paper bags for leaves and small branches

• Heavy duty plastic bags for heavier yard debris

• Tarp

• Battery operated blower for small jobs — my clients will tell you that this is my most favorite tool for the garden.

Decorate Your Potting Shed

This little shed is going to be your home in the garden. It is a place for you to experiment and to express your creativity, but it is also a place for solitude and socialization. Decorate the exterior with vintage shingles and windows. Add vines such as Virginia Creeper or clematis. Add climbing hydrangea and roses for blossoms from spring to summer. Use large native stones for the entrance to the shed. If the hunter in your family has an extra set of antlers, mount them over the front door for a Bavarian look. Or use any smaller antlers as hooks on the interior for key chains, sunglasses or any small hanging gardening tool. On the inside, collect old, rusty gardening tools to hang as sculpture on the walls. Paint the interior a light color to add as much light as possible. Hang a wrought iron chandelier or lantern to make it even more inviting at dusk and during the evening.

You can always buy a pre-fabricated shed from one of our local garden centers and personalize it to make it fit into your garden. Add shingles and shutters that really open and close. Paint the exterior a complementary color that will enhance the beauty of your garden. This is like playing house for grown-ups!

If I could have absolutely anything I wanted for my garden, it would be a pair of matching potting sheds in each corner of my side garden. They would have hipped, shingled roofs with an old copper weathervane on top of each. One would be used as a potting shed. Its mate would be the perfect location for a bar to use during an outdoor garden party. This would be my dream come true.


Gardening Chores For December

• It is still not too late to plant tulips in the garden.

• Plant trees and shrubs on mild winter days when the soil is not frozen. Remember to water  as usual.

• If there are any large shrubs in the garden that you would like to move to a different location, now is the best time to do it.

• Use old bricks to air layer azaleas or hydrangeas.

• If you decorate your house with poinsettias for the holidays, do not over water. They will thrive when watered twice a week. Make sure they drain completely.

• Use magnolia leaves to decorate your house for the holidays. Plunge them in buckets of lukewarm water for 12 to 24 hours and they should look fresh for two to three weeks. I like to use a plant polish to make the leaves glossy and shiny.

• Deck the halls with boughs of holly and smilax. Decorate your exteriors, too. Nothing says ‘Christmas’ like white lights strung in the trees or entwined in a fluffy, natural wreath or garland around your front door.

• Decorate your potting shed with a beautiful, full mixed wreath, a garland of smilax and electric candles in the windows.

• If you notice any flowering trees or shrubs beginning to bud in the garden, cut a few branches to force inside. Some shrubs or trees to consider: Yoshino cherry, Quince, Forsythia, Winter Jasmine or even Dogwood.

• Visit our wonderful locally owned garden centers to see what goodies are on sale. Maybe you will find a new tree for the garden or a new spiffy tool for the potting shed.

• Camellias should still be in full bloom. Check plants for scale and treat accordingly. Pick a bunch to brighten your breakfast table or living room. Polish your grandmother’s heirloom silver basket and float a few camellia blooms for an easy and old-fashioned arrangement.

• If we have a mild winter day, clean out your garage or potting shed. Perform yearly maintenance on power tools. Sharpen and lubricate hand tools.

• Check outdoor lighting for any burned out bulbs or any fixtures that have been knocked out of position.

• Take your gardening catalogs out to your potting shed and make a list of new things to try.

• Enjoy this lazy time in the garden.


Colorful Blooms In December

Camellia japonica, tea olive, paper white narcissus, violas and pansies