Between the Rows: Garden books offer crafty projects for creative minds

  • In “She Sheds Style: Make Your Space Your Own,” author Erika Kotite offers creative design tips for she sheds such as this one that features a small paved patio, a pergola for shade, and an espaliered tree for art or fruit. Contributed photo/Cool Springs Press

  • Max Murdo, author of “Upcycling Outdoors,” turned an old suitcase into a planter, but Erika Kotite, author of “She Sheds Style: Make Your Space Your Own,” turned her old suitcase into a charming ottoman, shown here. Contributed photo/Cool Springs Press

  • “She Sheds Style: Make Your Space Your Own” Contributed photo/Cool Springs Press

  • “Upcycling Outdoors” Contributed photo/Jacqui Small


For the Recorder
Published: 10/12/2018 11:37:45 AM

Two books on my desk that were sent to me for review offer very different takes on creating sheds and other items for the garden.

Every garden is unique because every gardener has different desires. Some gardeners want vegetable gardens, some want lots of flowers, some want art and glamour, and some want a practical fixture.

Max Murdo is a gardener, and a thrifty handyman. He likes taking throwaways and then “conceptualizing an idea, researching, developing, making prototypes and finally displaying the finished product in all its glory.” He loves designing all kinds of things for the garden, from simple but handsome hanging planters, to a three-door potting shed and an array of hanging lights. In his book “Upcycling Outdoors,” Murdo provides clear how-to photos, showing each step along the way.

Some of the pictured products are easy to put together, and require inexpensive materials, even if they are not to be found in the depths of the cellar or garden shed. I could easily imagine making a suitcase planter because while I don’t have any old suitcases of my own, I have seen them in thrift shops for very little. This project takes nothing more than an old suitcase, four legs, some plastic, and your own creativity for painting.

Other projects may very well take a weekend, like the three-door potting shed. Out here in our rural part of the world, it might be possible to pick up the materials for something like a three-door potting shed at our transfer stations.

The pleasure Murdo finds in these projects is the joy of working outdoors, the satisfaction of not putting more trash in our dumps, the delight in creating a piece of art and the thrill of learning new skills. I would find all those pleasures as well, but I have to add I would like to be doing bigger projects with a partner. Fortunately, my husband is always willing when I look at him with smile and say, “I’ve got an idea!”

The scope of the projects in this book ranges from easy, like the plastic gutter hanging planter, to more difficult, like the bicycle wheel fire pit. You will be lured from one project to another, and the clarity of the photos and directions give confidence.

Murdo has many strings to his bow. He has shared his creativity and skills on television and at the Chelsea Flower Show, and has won design awards. His work has been featured in galleries and exhibits.

“She Sheds Style: Make Your Space Your Own” by Erika Kotite is specifically devoted to sheds for the lady of the house. Ever since I visited a display of inspired and ingenious garden sheds at the Berkshire Botanical Garden in 2010, I have thought how wonderful it would be to have a shed that has more functions than simply storing garden tools and equipment.

Women are still looking for a room of their own, and Kotite’s book about she shed style describes the many ways a small shed can provide private space for sewing, painting, reading or socializing. Nowadays we have the advantage of the availability of prefabricated wooden sheds of various sizes, and Kotite suggests ways these can be taken from standard to an original style. She also shows different ways that an existing shed can be refurbished or rebuilt, sometimes using salvaged windows and other materials.

While there is practical information and advice about building a she shed, the emphasis in the book is on style. Her she sheds range in style from elegant, cozy, shabby chic, modern and whimsical. I was fascinated with the idea of weaving a wild vine she shed built on an artfully painted wooden platform, with another painted canvas cover.

Besides instances of styles, the great benefit of the book is the directions given for various projects, which would be valuable in many places beyond a shed. Do you want a herringbone brick floor? Do you want to learn a variety of decorative painting techniques? Do you want to plant an espalier?

Kotite has many ideas about using space, and about working with color. I found the lesson that explained hues, tints, tones and shades helpful in explaining why some colors go together beautifully and effectively, and others don’t.

Kotite has been the editor for Romantic Homes and Victorian Homes, and has been featured in Architectural Digest, on, on NBC’s Today Show and on other TV programs, as well as in magazine and newspaper articles.

Gift giving is almost upon us and these well-illustrated books make wonderful presents for those who like taking on creative projects. Now that autumn is well upon us, and our days in the garden this year are limited, it is pleasant to sit in our warm houses and think about next year. What do we want to change or add to our gardens? What can we do without spending too much money? “Upcycling Outdoors” and “She Sheds Style” certainly provide food for creative thought.

Pat Leuchtman has been writing and gardening since 1980. Readers can leave comments at her website:


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