The potting shed was full of old fashioned charm. I didn’t appreciate it at the time. What sixteen year old would? It was built of rough bricks in a warm shade of red with a slate roof. A wooden door was on the left hand side, its bottom edge ragged from rot and rodent’s teeth. There was a window set into the brick under which grew a neat row of Box. Closely pruned for making wreaths. Stepping through the door was like going back to 1872 not 1972. A mixture of stone slabs, brick and concrete made up the floor. An ‘economy job’ as the boss used to say, ‘left-overs from something else’. All the gardening hand tools were hung on the left hand wall on square ended cut-nails. The wooden handles worn dark and smooth by decades of sweaty hands. Hoes and rip hooks made from proper forged steel which took an edge. Spade blades and fork tines worn down from years of use in stony ground.
The walls had once been lime-washed. Dust had accrued on the rough surface and a fine grey lace of old cobwebs hung between the wall and the exposed wooden roof beams. On the right hand side were planking shelves. These were stacked with flat pack cardboard boxes variously used for tomatoes, cucumbers and strawberries. They stuck out over the edge of the shelves and looked in imminent danger of falling off, but force of habit kept them there. There was a stout wooden workbench under the window, its surface covered with a rough grey blanket. Here, tomatoes were graded, wreaths were made and seeds were sown. The potting shed was never used for potting.
Handy stuff was pushed out to the corners of the bench. A selection of old jam jars held florist’s wires, fine rusty dust gathering in the bottoms. They made a musical, metallic jingle when moved. A ceramic pot held pens and pencils. Odd amounts of wire were curled into circles and stood propped against the window frame. An old metal Oxo tin, its colours turning into rust, held a selection of small wooden dibbers for pricking out bedding plants. I became notorious for putting them down and then forgetting where I had put them. One of my workmates carved me a mahogany dibber with a hole in the end, through which he threaded a piece of string. He hung it round my neck like an Olympic medal causing much laughter from everyone else. I still have the dibber thirty odd years later, minus its string.
The roof beams were low enough to touch and all sorts of small items were hung there. Bags of elastic bands, bags of bags and string, lots of small bundles of string. These were a speciality of the boss’s father. He was affectionately known as the ‘Old Chap’. Well into his eighties he would shuffle out from the house around eleven in the morning and cast his pale, watery blue eyes over the contents of all the glasshouses. This took him some time as they were on quite a steep hill. He would tweak a plant here, move a tray there, and pick up string. He finished his tour of inspection in the shed. He would stand at the bench and slowly wind the bits of string around his fingers. Taking the long end he tied the bundle through the middle and put a loop in the end. He then selected a nail on the beams and hung it up. It sometimes took him a couple of goes as his aim wasn’t good. There was all sorts of string, from hairy sisal to orange binder twine. And there they hung, a flutter of bizarre butterflies. Job well done, he would adjust his flat tweed cap more firmly on his head and shuffle back indoors for his lunch.