Home Offices are more popular than ever and feature at the Chelsea Flower show as an alternative to the garden shed
The latest gardening trend to emerge from the Chelsea Flower Show this week will not feature seeds, plants or flowers; instead it will involve futuristic pods with built in workstations. Many of the shows top gardens will display ultra modern garden offices built seamlessly into the landscape. It is not just a matter of putting a computer in a shed. Glass fronts, open sides and removable roofs, plus wireless technology are used so that workers can sit among the foliage.
Created by the likes of celebrity gardener Diarmuid Gavin, and sponsored by companies such as Microsoft, and Merrill Lynch, the gardens are being created to take advantage of the increasing number of employees opting for flexible hours or working from home full time. Working outside had always been favoured by writers- George Bernard Shaw, Dylan Thomas, Roald Dahl and Philip Pullman produced great work from their gardens- but now it is taking off across a range of professions. And because many people have already converted attics and basements to create extra space, garden conversions are tipped to be the next craze.
Gavin's showpiece offering at Chelsea- Hanover Quay Garden- includes a white pod office fitted with an Apple Mac. It has been designed as the communal space in a flat complex for city workers in Dublin's Docklands area.
"This is happening everywhere now and it is not a trend driven by designers," said Gavin. It is being driven by those working at home. This is the first one we have done for a communal space and it is to show developers what can be done" Gavin has already fitted up to the minute workspaces in 40 gardens.
Jackie Fretton had one of his creations put into her garden in Stoke Newington, north east London. "We live in the midst of Hackney", she said. "All you can see are buildings, so I wanted an office where I could see the sky. Essentially, what we got was a steel sphere with a lid and a door that comes down like a drawbridge."
Fretton was a busy television producer who wanted to spend more time with her baby daughter, leading to her decision to do more work from home. "What this space did was allow me to be at home with Daisy but be able to walk away from her and the nanny into a separate area to work. It is aesthetic and being able to see the garden and sky makes it an inspirational space." For Fretton, the office inspired her to make a huge change. "I spent so much time in there that I decided to give up my job and I have recently started to train to be a garden designer."
The Merrill Lynch Garden at Chelsea has been designed by Andy Sturgeon and has an office space, fully fronted with glass that opens out to create a connection with the plants and flowers. Sturgeon used theories around the psychology of colour to ensure that the office maximised productivity. "Green is a calming colour and helps to get people inspired," he said. "We have tried to make the garden stimulating without being distracting."
Last week's downpours might put people off working outdoors but the garden offices are all designed to provide protection from the weather. Not that this helped those installing them at the show. Sturgeon and Gavin were amongst others who struggled with the cold and rain last week as they put the finishing touches to their gardens. Gavin's garden was heavily dependent on lavender that was refusing to open. And heat lamps were used to encourage a bank of poppies to open in the Chelsea Pensioners' garden. Designed by Julian Dowle to mark the 60th anniversary of the Second World War.
Lizzie Taylor and Dawn Isaac also had to contend with the heavy downpours as the completed the Microsoft SoGo (small office garden office) garden. Yet another innovative outdoor office design, this has a dramatic, open sided, steel pod, with an integrated table and chair that swivels round it to change the view. Isaac said, "Most of our clients are starting to use their gardens more and more- especially in London where space is limited. The idea of the SoGo is to have something that is aesthetic and practical.
John Coulthard, head of small business for Microsoft said the company was sponsoring this idea because of the increase in flexible working. He pointed to an RAC study that showed workers in London spent up to three hours a day commuting. "This is nearly two days per week. If you are in your garden at 8am instead of sitting on the Circle line, there is one and a half hours when you can respond to customers and others can't."
Coulthard said advancements in technology meant that people no longer needed to be tied down to one place in the house to work and could make more use of their garden.