Inspired by blissful childhood afternoons in her grandad’s various allotment huts, Emma Mitchell has turned her shed into a many-splendored garden getaway.
When I was small my grandad had a series of allotments in suburban Liverpool, on which he grew armfuls of sweetpeas, raspberries and prizewinning onions the size of footballs. Each allotment had a shed. They were ramshackle affairs that smelled of loam and were full of trowels, dibbers and spider villages.
I used to accompany him to his allotment and while he picked beans or earthed up his spuds I’d wander off to spend time in the hut. I would sweep the floor, dust the shelves, rehome the spiders and put a couple of chairs in the doorway. Then he and I would sit and listen to the bees for a while before we went home with the green spoils.
I remember a strong urge to paint the shed walls and hide in there all day with my Roald Dahl and Joan Aiken books, some paper, scissors and Pritt. It was my grandad’s domain though and I wasn’t sure I’d ever get rid of the whiff of Tomorite.
In late 1998 I started courting Mr M. For our second date we stuck a pin in a map of East Anglia and headed towards a pleasant-sounding place we’d never visited: Southwold. Quaint high street? Check. Quirky pier? Check. Delicious fish and chips and a brewery? Oh yes.
Hold the phone, though: there was a row of pastel-coloured huts that looked as though they’d been erected by the Sylvanian Families. What were they? There were no pink sheds at Llandudno or Morecambe. It turned out that they were beach huts, for sitting in while looking at the beach and eating a butty. Genius. Some had stripy curtains and kettles. All had deckchairs. Bloody hell. Suddenly I wanted one more than I wanted a turquoise iMac but at the time they were £50,000 each – half the price of a whole house. Barking.
“To the filing cabinet and twirly chair I added a slightly knackered futon covered in a quilt, a rickety table, my tools, some cushions and a radio. It felt as good as sweeping woodlice from my grandad’s allotment huts. I realised I was making a den.”
By 2005 I had married Mr M, had a baby and he’d bagged a new job with several days of working at home each week. The baby was noisy so we decided that he needed an office. A shed that looked a bit like a beach hut was a bargain compared to the real deal. There was no sea but I reckoned I could knock up a bit of handmade beach with a bag of B&Q pebbles and a couple of shells. A flatpack arrived from one of the Benelux countries. It was like massive wooden Lego.
We painted it. Three layers were needed inside and out. It was a sheddy version of the Forth Bridge. A twirly office chair, a portable radiator, ‘leccy and broadband were installed and Mr M began to do work things up there.
Trouble was, he preferred the muslin-strewn, squawky yet warming bosom of the cottage and barely used it. So I hatched a plan.
I’d been selling jewellery at Cats Protection craft fairs and it didn’t really fit in with the neon knitted teddy bears and jam. I wanted to be brave, start a blog, join Cambridge Open Studios and become a Proper Artist. I reckoned the hut would be a good place to make and sell my silver stuff.
To the filing cabinet and twirly chair I added a slightly knackered futon covered in a quilt, an old set of pigeonholes cast off from one of the Cambridge colleges, a rickety table, my tools, some cushions and a radio.
It felt as good as sweeping woodlice from my grandad’s allotment huts. I realised I was making a den.
Five years later and I’m still making jewellery in my shed. When I close the doors it acts as a sort of hide and I draw the birds I see through the windows (pigeons the size of bull mastiffs that strut around like Winston Churchill mostly, but also the odd fancy number such as a garden warbler or goldcrest) and then make them in silver along with the odd cornflower and forget-me-not. I try to overlook the nettles and skunk cabbages.
My shed’s a place where friends come to crochet, cackle and down a gin or three. It’s a smallish wooden cube of calm that I escape to now and again when there’s a spare 10 minutes. Oh and sometimes I take paper and Pritt up there.
Emma’s shed was used as an inspiration for a shed makeover on Alan Titchmarsh’s Love Your Garden on 30 June. It can be found on ITV Player and is repeated on Sunday at 12.40pm on ITV.967 Views
I make things, mostly out of silver, sometimes out of wool. I’m never too far from a bottle of PVA glue.