News Treehugger Voices Tips for Sustainable Garden Buildings Do you want a new structure in your garden? Here's some advice before you start. By Elizabeth Waddington Elizabeth Waddington Facebook LinkedIn Writer, Permaculture Designer, Sustainability Consultant University of St Andrews (MA) Elizabeth has worked since 2010 as a freelance writer and consultant covering gardening, permaculture, and sustainable living. She has also written a number of books and e-books on gardens and gardening. Learn about our editorial process Published October 22, 2021 03:00PM EDT Fact checked by Haley Mast Fact checked by Haley Mast LinkedIn Harvard University Extension School Haley Mast is a freelance writer, fact-checker, and small organic farmer in the Columbia River Gorge. She enjoys gardening, reporting on environmental topics, and spending her time outside snowboarding or foraging. Topics of expertise and interest include agriculture, conservation, ecology, and climate science. Learn about our fact checking process Share Twitter Pinterest Email ChristinLola/Getty Images News Environment Business & Policy Science Animals Home & Design Current Events Treehugger Voices News Archive Adding a garden building, such as a shed or summer house, might not seem immediately like the most sustainable thing to do in your garden. But if you make the right decisions about how it is constructed, and go about it in the right way, then it can be hugely beneficial in helping you live a more eco-friendly life. One key thing to remember is that a sustainable garden building can only truly be called that if you have considered its construction from every angle. A well-designed structure could easily add to the biodiversity in your space rather than detract from it. It could integrate into the rest of your garden and make a Treehugger-esque life easier to lead. But if the wrong choices are made, it could easy detract more than it adds and come at a cost to people and planet. Unfortunately, all too often garden buildings look like structures that are entirely at odds with their surroundings. A carefully designed and well-constructed project, on the other hand, won't be in your garden, taking up space. It will be part of it. Choosing Where to Place a Garden Building Many garden buildings are simply plonked at one end of a garden, often at the furthest point from the home. But especially in larger gardens, it is important to think about positioning and orientation. You should think about sunlight and shade—not only for the structure itself, but also what's cast by it. Be sure to think holistically, since more than one objective can be achieved by positioning a garden building in a particular spot. For example, the location might also bring benefits in terms of creating a shaded area for plants or people. It might create a cool, quiet sanctuary for wildlife behind it. It might offer a new south-facing vertical growing area (in the northern hemisphere) for sun-loving plants. Think about the existing terrain and planting and strive to fit the design of the garden building to that, rather than trying to shoehorn in a standard build and bulldozing what is already there. Non-traditional or minimal foundations and clever construction can often dramatically minimize the impact on the land and costs of the endeavor. Construction and Materials for a Sustainable Garden Building You do not need to pour a massive concrete slab and erect a new, perhaps off-the-shelf garden building. There are more eco-friendly options to consider. People have ingeniously created a huge range of wonderful sheds and recreational buildings using natural or reclaimed materials. You might even be lucky enough to have the construction materials you need already on site. Timber, taken from a sustainably managed woodland close by or reclaimed, is a popular option in many settings. But there are others to consider, too. Why not a straw bale garden building, for example? Perhaps you could create one from cob, earth bags, or adobe; or build an "Earthship" using waste materials. On a sloping site, you might create a partially earth-sheltered garden building, and a green roof or turf roof might be an interesting option in some settings. Whatever you consider, thinking outside the box can help you find innovative ways to reduce the impact and increase the unique appeal of your build. Integration and Planting As you make decisions about where you will locate your garden building, how big it should be, and what it will be made from, always think holistically. Don't look at the building in isolation. Be sure to consider how it will be integrated with other elements in your garden. One interesting thing to think about is how a new building in your garden might increase the potential for catching and storing rainwater. Depending on the roof you choose, you might be able to add guttering and direct that water to barrels or buckets, or to other parts of the site. Think about how you will travel around the space, and get to and from the new structure. Consider pathways and think about efficiencies and your patterns of movement to determine a good layout and the positioning of different elements. It is also crucial to make sure that the building feels part of the garden by paying attention to surrounding planting. Even if the structure itself does not have plants growing on it (a green roof, vertical gardens, climbers, etc.), you should consider how it will interact with and be nestled into the surrounding planting. Using a Sustainable Garden Building As you make other choices, you will need to have a clear idea of how your new garden building will be used. It can aid your quest toward greater sustainable living in a range of different ways. For example, it might be a space where you store gardening equipment that makes it easier for you to grow your own food, or be a space where you can sow seeds, pot up, and undertake other gardening jobs. It might be a space to store bikes or other equipment that allows you to travel around in a greener way. A recreational garden building might be far more than just a space to sit and relax alone or with family and friends. It might also be a space where you can enjoy learning new skills that will aid you in living in a more eco-friendly way. You might also turn a garden building into a workshop where you can build self-reliance and make the most of the natural and reclaimed resources at your disposal. It could become a home office or a space from which to start a sustainable business.