I have found another person with my summer habit of sleeping in a shed in the garden rather than in a perfectly good bedroom in the house. I only do this in the summer, I just like to be almost outside when the weather is good, with the leafy shade of a huge rose which covers half the verandah to curtain the bright morning sun. it’s a wooden shed, lined with wood, with a rough plank floor, and french windows take up the whole of the end of the room, its so small. its really part of my pottery workshop. I love to lock the dogs in the kitchen last thing at night and wander up the garden, looking at the stars. in the summer the nights are so light that my eyes adjust very quickly and I don’t need a torch. on a wet night I love to hear the rain on the tiled roof. and I love the simplicity – a sleeping bag and a couple of pillows, a blanket for cold nights. I often have the door open and let the night air blow in.
this other shed-sleeping person I discovered when reading his book, “Wildwood, A Journey Through Trees”. Roger Deakin, who very sadly died in 2006 after completing this book, writes of his two shed retreats, in long-grassed meadows near his Suffolk house. one is a “shepherd’s hut in the lee of a south-facing Suffolk hedge and a big ash tree a field away from the house. Perched on iron wheels, it is lined with close-grained pine boards stained a deep honey-amber by years of woodsmoke seeping from the stove. There’s a simple chair and table where I often work, oil lamps and candles, sun-faded curtains, and a wooden bed with a space underneath where sheepdogs and orphan lambs would once have curled up, gently warming the slumbering shepherd above. The hut has a barrelled tin roof and wooden ceiling, so when it rains the whole vessel resounds to the tattoo. Sleep through that and you could still be woken early by magpies clattering along the corrugated rooftop like Cajun washboard player, or an ill-bred bluetit noisily investigating the eaves.”
“Lying in bed in the shepherd’s hut is an out of body experience in which you are suspended six feet above the bottom of a wooden boat, gazing into its wooden hull and along the line of its keel. Everything is upside down, of course, but it is such another world in there that anything is possible. You gaze out of the open door at a wake of bubbling cow parsley and the green depths of a hedge in May. Lift your face up to a porthole and you can survey the green waters of Cowpasture Meadow coming to meet you as you voyage across doldrums of Sargasso buttercups in lazy pools, or navigate towards the beacon of a solitary green-winged orchid.”
“You hear everything in the hut: the foxes barking down the lane, even the rabbits thumping their hind legs on the ground sometimes. Easing myself up on one elbow about twenty past four, I inched back the curtain and surveyed the meadow. Yellow pools of buttercup, and here and there a pyramidal orchid, or a lush, intensely purple patch of the southern marsh orchid, the huge flowers stacked and layered like wedding cakes. A crow was flying in big circles above the pasture, climbing steeply, then gliding down for pure pleasure.”
“I dozed back to sleep, but was awoken by a most violent rumbling and shaking of the whole hut, then a sound of loud scratching. For a moment I thought a cat must have leapt in, somehow, through an open window and on to my bed. Then, looking out of the window in some alarm, I realised what it was: a roe-deer rubbing herself against one corner of the hut, inches away from my pillow. A clamour of hooves as she and two others bounced off through the standing hay. The birdsong was by now too loud for sleep, so I adjourned to the house across the dew for breakfast.”
the other shed is a “railway wagon, which I hauled into one of my fields years ago. Working or sleeping in my railway wagon is like embarking on a journey. An ash tree growing just behind it strokes the roof and plays tunes on the stove-pipe chimney with its branches whenever the wind blows. Wind rattles the heavy wooden sliding door and seeps in through small gaps between the boards. The entire structure is of wood: an oak frame strengthened by bolted iron straps and brackets, and by double walls of sturdy pine boards, all secured by screws, running horizontally inside and vertically outside to shed rain better. The roof is barrel-vaulted with oak, boarded above, with thick tarred roofing felt on top. When I bought the wagon it had no floor, so I made a wooden one, insulated beneath and damp-proofed by building paper.”
“There’s so much room inside you could happily live in the wagon. It is fifteen feet by eight, with an airy ceiling nine feet high. At each end, a tiny foot-square window in a corner opens by sliding up a wooden shutter and propping it with a stick. The wagon is sunk so deep in the massive hedge that the light seeping in is pure green. The interior is painted cream, and the sliding front door faces south. this will open to a width of six feet, so plenty of light comes in, reflected off the blond, drying hay of the meadow. … Most of one end of the wagon is occupied by a wooden bed whose ends I rescued in a damaged state from the auction sheds at Diss and repaired. When I light the candles in the three Moroccan lanterns, I think of something the artist Roger Ackling said to me, quoting Thoreau: ‘Electricity kills darkness, candlelight illuminates it.’”
“In the warm embrace of the wagon’s wood, I always sleep like a cat for eight hours at a time. … What is it about being enclosed by wood which is so comforting? Is this some kind of Reichian orgone box? Or is it simply a matter of feng shui: that the bed is oriented in the right way for deep sleep? I think it more likely that it is the symbolic act of leaving worldly things behind in the house, walking a hundred-yard winding path through a hay meadow and climbing aboard the uncluttered wagon, sunk deep into the leaf-purified air of an unruly Suffolk hedgerow that calms me down and encourages the dreams. It is a version of the wild, and always a return: every cabin is a version of all other cabins, dens, treehouses and nests. I leave the door open, with just a swaying curtain to keep the moths away from the lanterns.”
so much of this resonates with my experience of sleeping in the garden in my shed bed. I am new to this; I started doing it four years ago, when building work in the house meant that I had to remove myself, with the dogs, and we lived in the shed for the whole summer, even after the builders were long gone. maybe there is something atavistic about the cabin, going right back to when we were forest dwelling primates, making nests in the forest canopy.
moths. this is a poplar hawk moth, and the image was sent to me along with a wonderful article about moths for the local parish magazine, the Lynx. (I am the rep for Bale). at the same time I found myself reading a whole chapter on moths in Roger Deakin’s book. moths have beautiful names – Clouded Silver, Peach Blossom, or strange ones – Heart & Dart, The Snout, a Garden Carpet, pictured below,
or even The Uncertain. certainly I had never heard of any of them before I read the article. “The Moth Wood” describes an evening spent with the Essex Moth Group using a white sheet and the intense ultraviolet blue light of a mercury vapour lamp to trap moths in order to record species and numbers. Deakin writes;
“Over the summer, I had found myself more and more fascinated with the moths I encountered in woods, or flying in through my study window or door at night. Their names alone, as Joe and his colleagues added them to their growing list, were a kind of poetry: the willow beauty, the dingy footman. the clouded silver, the flame shoulder, (below)
the smokey angle shades, the dew moth. ….. Just then there was a flurry of new arrivals: a common wainscot, several green carpets, a straw underwing, and two or three scorched carpets, which would most likely have been feeding as caterpillars on the spindle trees in the wood. he maple prominent that came in next would likewise have been feeding on the maple coppice. Many moths are christened only in Latin, but the lovely vernacular names date from the seventeenth century. … As our nocturnal callers arrived, the lepidopterists announced them like major-domos at a ball: ‘Large yellow underwing, iron prominent, lesser cream wave, (below)
brimstone moth, lime-speck pug.’