I have always been the sort of person who liked to build gang huts," says Peter McLaren.

"When I was a child my mum gave me a saw, some board, some planks, a set square and a measuring tape for Christmas. It was the best thing that ever happened to me. I made a coffee table that fell down immediately, but the seed was planted."

The artist lives at Glassmount House, near Kirkcaldy, with his mother Irene and her brother Peter. The property was once owned by the Jardine family, of the Jardine Matheson banking company, who built the large greenhouses that still hug one side of the building. For a time it was home to the local minister and his five unmarried sisters. McLaren's parents bought the property from a merchant banker and his wife, and the family have called it home for 40 years.

"The house isn't very nice, but the view is great, so when we are all dead and gone, if someone bought the place they could build something really nice and have the benefit of the view," says McLaren, 50. "As children, it was a great place for hide and seek."

The grounds, listed in the Scotland's Gardens Yellow Book, a directory of open gardens, are what attracts most visitors here. Over the past decade or so, McLaren and his mother have put a lot of hard graft into transforming them. "My brother got married here 12 years ago and my mother retired that year and decided to smarten things up in anticipation of the wedding. She started digging - and she could dig for Britain."

There was one problem with the garden. While the views from the hilltop home are stunning, showing the countryside and nearby Firth Of Forth, standing inside the walled garden you would never know.

"The wall must be about eight or nine feet high, so when you are inside the garden, you can't see out unless you are at the top of the garden. So we tried to find a way of creating outbuildings that would give us height so we could see out."

And so began McLaren's passion for building sheds. However, to describe them as sheds does not do justice to the range of outhouses, follies and pavilions which populate every corner of the garden.

Initially he created the platforms using telegraph poles, which he sourced free from the BT depot in Kirkcaldy, but now he has to buy them from various suppliers. "They were great when they were free. I used some of my best ones to build Doric temples.

"I have 12 poles holding up a six by two, which is madness because when I came to build some of the more ambitious buildings such as the Pool Hoos, I found myself using the wobbliest of posts to support tonnes of weight."

McLaren loves to travel all over the world by bike and what he sees from the saddle has always inspired his landscape painting and, now, his shed-building. "My sister stays in France so I go to stay with her by bike. You see things on a bike you would never see otherwise and you are more inclined to stop and take pictures and speak to folk. I get inspiration from seeing things online as well.

"I am a painter so I have to be able to respond to changes as things develop. I think that is maybe the difference between a painter and an architect, who is bound by convention and all the regulations. I would not do it if I was confined to those limitations. An artist really has free rein."

French Summer Hoos

"It is amazing it is still standing, given it was just a knock-up," says McLaren of his first shed. It was built in 2005, in less than two days, from a variety of recycled materials.

The shed is topped with slate tiles from Ballachulish, which McLaren found behind the potting shed, salvaged by the previous owners from a huge Edwardian extension that was demolished.

The rest of the hoos is made from old salvaged weather board, telegraph poles and scaffold boards. The windows were found in a skip. "We cut up an old train set to get the plywood to build the roof. The cost was minimal. I never thought it was going to last, but I am glad it has. The more it weathers, the better it gets."


The centre is a cable drum from BT, around which McLaren has fashioned an octagonal structure. The Doocot is painted with five fake windows on each of its eight sides in keeping with the structure of the real doocot, which sits in another part of the garden.

The Doocot is marginally outwith the garden so for it to be visible from inside it had to be built 15 feet above the ground. "It was a bit of a job, and I had to rent scaffolding to get the thing up."

It may look like a doocot, but the structure is home to another species. On the day it was erected, bats snuck into the roof and have resided there ever since.


McLaren made the Pavilion from salvaged telegraph poles about six years ago. It was his second building project in the garden.

The hexagonal structure has glass on five sides. "There was never a plan to put glass in it, but somebody fortuitously fly-tipped plate glass on the road to Kinghorn and I managed to get it on the trailer and home without breaking it. Amazingly, it fitted into the spaces between the poles. If ever there was an opportunistic salvage, that was it."

The structure has an outdoor walkway and enjoys views across fields of oats to the island of Inchkeith, in the Firth Of Forth. In winter you can see right over to North Berwick Law, the Bass Rock and the entire East Lothian coast.

"It's lovely," says McLaren. "At ground level, you would be staring down into a dyke. The garden is a bit like a prison; you couldn't see out."

The Pavilion acts as a favourite spot where the extended family hold musical gatherings. "My mother was an aspiring violinist, my sister is a professional violinist and my cousin is a composer, so it is a fun place to play music. The acoustics are very good."

Pool Hoos

The light-flooded Pool Hoos was one of the later additions and is the most furnished. It is decked out as a bedroom and McLaren allows passing cyclists to stay here free through an accommodation website.

"We have had guys from Canada, America and Germany.

"You get the full force of the morning sun to waken you up. It is like being in a greenhouse. It is nice when it rains as well - there is this tremendous pitter-patter on the roof. It is great in a storm. You get a bit of a sway. The monkey puzzle tree rattles on the side like an axe murderer trying to get in. It is not for the faint-hearted."

The outhouse was a finalist in this year's Shed Of The Year competition on Channel 4, and the name comes from the fact it sits between two ponds. "We dug this pond out as kids. It is the type of job you get in the summer holiday to keep you occupied."

The surrounding foliage includes a 60ft pine that served as the family Christmas tree. The monkey puzzle tree was also planted by McLaren and his siblings as children. "The thing that gets you when you are up here is the light," he says. "When you are in the garden you are really enclosed and you are crawling through the jungle like David Bellamy. It is fun to be up here among the trees."

McLaren used glass from a demolished conservatory he had noticed on a bike ride and which the owner insisted he take free. The roof material came from a factory in Methil.

"If I had to go to a builders' merchants and buy all the stuff, I would never do it, there is no thrill in that. For me, it is the fun of finding something and then finding a new life for it. I think the telegraph poles are special when they are painted white. I just want to hug them."


McLaren's favourite haunt is his studio, partly because of the roaring woodburner. "While the other buildings were a flight of fancy, this was built because of a genuine need to have a working studio," he says. "It had to be durable, it had to have light, it had to have purpose and it had to be pretty. If it is not an inspiring place to be in, you are never going to paint interesting paintings when you are in it.

"I had previously been working in the stable yard and had to open the door to get natural light, which is fine in summer but in winter it was unworkable. It was hard to find motivation to paint with no light and poor heat. This has changed everything. It is perfect. You can watch the seasons change.

"Outside, we planted a meadow, called the Shed-ow, and it is full of poppies and primula. It is a full palette of colour so when you are looking for inspiration, it is outside your door. Again, seeing the crop being planted and ripen and being harvested is all part of that cycle. You also see these great weather systems coming down the Forth."

The windows are made with recycled glass from Fife Council bus stops. The local authority had a bus MoT station in nearby Thornton and the old glass had been stacked up against a wall over 30 years and was covered in slime. The building was due for demolition, so McLaren could take the glass away, most of which had graffiti scraped into the surface. Some scratchings are still readable, including "Pete Loves Eck" and "Rumer Rules. Don't Mess."

Small Woodshed

"I went into town one day to put a cheque in the bank. The bank building was having its roof redone, so I grabbed the old slates out of the skip and came home with a roof for a woodshed."

Tennis court pavilion

"During the very harsh winter of several years ago, a big yew tree in the garden collapsed under the weight of the snow on its branches. When it fell, the tree flattened the surrounding foliage, creating a shed-sized space.

"We have always had this lovely view from here. It is even nicer in the winter when the leaves are not here, but it was always exposed and windy, so building the pavilion was a chance to make the view work.

"The tin roof was another thing I was very lucky to find. I asked at a scrap yard in Kirkcaldy if they had any tin and there was a mountain of it that had been damaged in transit. So, again, it found a home here." n