With summertime quickly approaching (hasn’t this weather been phenomenal lately?), my thoughts are definitely heading outdoors, and so the next few posts will celebrate all that nature has to offer us. Today, I’d like to explore the garden folly, a delightful addition to any outdoor space.
If you haven’t heard of them, follies are whimsical structures meant to delight, add visual flair and even impart a little intrigue into a garden. From faux castle ruins to neoclassical temples, Asian-inspired pagodas to Egyptian pyramids, garden follies are most commonly associated with the English landscapes of the 18th century. But despite their whimsical name and their penchant to delight, follies were considered more than just pretty faces.
“They had meaning over and above just being delightful,” says Emile de Bruijn from the UK’s National Trust. Think of follies as a sort of three-dimensional 18th-century Instagram—a way for landowners to share their interests in other cultures or in literature, or to make a political statement, suggests de Bruijn: “The structures needed to be attractive and amusing, but there was always a message somewhere.” (source: Flower magazine).
M. Charles Ryskamp, Director of the Frick Collection, an art museum in New York, described follies in this way:
“Hours of idleness, the pursuit of pleasure and love by persons royal, noble, or other very rich, have in past centuries frequently resulted in astonishing buildings created for casual amusements.”
There are so many wonderful ways to incorporate one of these fabulous structures into your landscape, too. Follies can take the form of a pool house, hunting lodge, boat house, art studio, even a writer’s retreat. They can be traditional, contemporary, open air or enclosed, stately or whimsical.
Here are 21 follies to inspire you to pursue a few hours of idleness in your own backyard this summer. They’re all special…all different…all shapes, sizes and styles. I think you’ll be delighted 😉 .
This temple with its dome ceiling is reminiscent of the classic beauty of Greek and Roman architecture.
Photo courtesy of Haddonstone
(left): This pillared temple on the East Lawns of the Highclere Castle (any Downton Abbey fans out there?) was built by former owner Robert Herbert in 1743. From its vantage point is the most spectacular sweeping view of the estate and main castle.
(right): Thomas Archer’s Pavilion at Wrest Park was built between 1709 and 1711.
The large, circular room and domed ceiling of the Thomas Archer Pavilion is decorated with paintings by Louis Hauduroy, including trompe l’œil columns, niches and statues. The imagery and family portraits are thought to celebrate the elevation of Henry Grey, owner of Wrest Park, to the dukedom in 1710 – the family’s crowning achievement.
This Greek pavilion cottage is a fun twist on classical architecture. The guest home uses the Greek temple form with an organic edge. Traditional Greek Doric columns, interpreted as trellises, support native vines to incorporate the landscape as an architectural element.
Designed for homeowners who wanted a secluded lap pool and outdoor living space for exercising, reading, meditating or getting a massage, this resort-like backyard includes a Balinese-inspired folly carved from solid reclaimed teak.
Not ready to commit to actually building a folly? These beautiful architectural prints area a nice alternative.
(left): Located in the rose garden at the Sonnenberg Historic State Park in New York, this landmark iron gazebo is both decorative and functional with an observation deck that offers views overlooking the flower beds and the Belvedere pavilion at the south end of the garden. This is one of my favorite follies. I really love iron structures…their detail and intricacies are so beautiful. This folly definitely checks all the boxes for me.
(right): The Love Temple is a beautiful part of Longwood Gardens in Pennsylvania. Years before it was a public garden, the land on which Longwood Gardens stands was home to the native Lenni Lenape tribe and Quaker farmers.
These follies are all relatively new but look like they’ve been there forever.
(left): This lovely structure sits in the middle of a rose garden and is the third iteration of the Derby Summer House, a garden folly originally built in 1973 by noted American woodcarver and architect Samuel McIntire in Denver, Massachusetts. This folly designed by Liederbach & Graham Architects in 2012 has been outfitted with a bar and lavatory downstairs and a painting studio up top. This to me is the perfect use of an outdoor folly!
(right): Robert Smith is the gentleman owner of both the antique shop “Au Vieux Paris Antiques” and the owner of this folly, which he built as his primary residence. The tower is four stories tall with a rooftop terrace and a basement. It was designed to authentically replicate life in early 18th-century France. I could so live in this house!
Artist Simon Sinkinson, who lives in an area of southern England known as the New Forest, has been constructing intricately detailed, small scale structures for 35 years that he refers to as “Tiny Things.” But he also has created some amazing large scale follies such as this wondrous, whimsical creation which he calls “The Lantern.”
Not your typical garden/potting shed, this fanciful and functional folly is constructed entirely of willow.
(left): A faux stone dovecote decorates the edge of a natural fish pond which is enhanced by the surrounding water lilies and boulders for stepping stones in this design by Greg Hebert Landscape Architect.
(right): Another charming architectural structure by Greg Hebert, this folly could function as a tool shed but it was actually designed as a doghouse by the owners of the property and resembles the owners’ home in design and materials (slate roof and tumbled Elk Mountain stone).
Called both romantic and madcap by Robert Bevan, the architecture critic for the Evening Standard, Chilean architect Smilian Radic used fiberglass and rough-cut rocks to create his own version of an 18th-century folly. It is on display at the Serpentine Gallery Pavilion in London. I’m not the first one to think it kinda looks like a spaceship 😉 .
Photo by Piero Cruciatti/Alamy | Architectural Digest
This bright orange structure is in beautiful contrast to the pretty green environment. Add a cushion and you have the perfect spot to relax on a sunny Sunday afternoon. And how perfect for social distancing…each person in their own little pod!
Design by Landgoed Fraeylemborg Foundation | Homify
To commemorate the end of World War I, the Belgian architect duo Gijs Van Vaerenbergh created this contemporary reception pavilion for the German Military Cemetery.
Trylletromler combines the influence of traditional garden follies with an interest in contemporary media — specifically, early precursors to film. The pattern created by the structure’s wooden fence imitates the zoetrope, a device which creates optical illusions of movement. Translated into architecture, this design offers a dynamic environment that leads visitors through the labyrinthine space. This reminds me of stiff, lace ribbon winding through your backyard. It’s the perfect place to take a stroll or have a tryst or….
So what do you think of these follies? Which would you choose for your backyard? Each of them brings a smile to my face for so many different reasons. I hope they do that for you, too.
Please CLICK HERE to check out my Pinterest board for tons more inspiration.
And if we can help design a folly for your landscape, give us a call at 314.395.1114 or CLICK HERE to send us an email. We would love to take on such a fun project!
By the way, we’re back running full speed at Marcia Moore Design, but if you still prefer to work virtually, we understand and can do that, too. Whatever works best for you and makes you the most comfortable is great with us.
Stay safe and healthy,