Eight design ideas for follies

James Alexander-Sinclair gives eight design ideas for a folly - the garden structure that has no particular purpose beyond looking good in the landscape. 

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Eight design ideas for follies

 

Follies started appearing in gardens during the 17th century and, at the beginning, were simply the remains of previous buildings that just so happened to be loitering picturesquely in the grounds of large estates. Homeowners who envied the crumbling relics in their neighbour's parkland then started building their own. The term 'folly' came to mean a building that has no particular purpose beyond looking good in the landscape: a sort of architectural Kardashian. They manifested themselves in many forms and here are eight examples of folly designs so you can see for yourself how varied follies can be. 

 

Mountain view
This fabulous modern folly designed by Philipp Baumhauer with Karoline Markus is made from planed larch and set in sight of the Barvarian Alps. There are cushioned niches in the sides and on the flat roof, which make it and outsize (outside) sofa. When not in use, the windows are covered by stainless steel shutters.

 

 

 

 

Bridging the gap
Dunsborough Park near Ripley in Surrey has a particularly handsome folly-cum-bridge combo - dual purpose is the way to go. It is beautifully placed at the bottom of a series of cascading ponds that culminate at Ockham Mill Stream. The folly was built just before the Second World War by the architect W Braxton Sinclair.

Notable landmark
The Broadway Tower, which sits on the edge of the Cotswolds, was the brainchild of our old chum 'Capability' Brown and built by the architect James Wyatt. It is visible as an eye-catcher from miles away and, from its top, provides spectacular views across many counties. Described as 'Saxon', it features a conglomeration of battlements, gargoyles, balconies and turrets. William morris and Edward Burne-Jones used to holiday here.

Temporary delight
No one said follies had to be permanent: This is an intricate construction of timber and air. more sculpture than shelter, by British artist Aeneas Wilder. He has created several similar installations across Europe.

Deep meaning
Ten thousand pieces of ten thousand trees make up this folly by Katie Peterson with the architects Zeller & Moye. She has trawled the globe to gather together a miniature forest of samples from the world's trees, including the banyan tree under which the Buddha sat, and the ginkgo that survived Hiroshima. It can be seen this summer at Royal Fort Gardens in Bristol.

Pure pleasure
The Painswick Rococo Garden in Gloucestershire is the country's only surviving Rococo garden. It was made by Benjamin Hyatt in the 1740s for one purpose: pleasure. The whole garden is dotted with follies. There is a struttingly icy plunge pool, the Red House and this exedra (a classical reference to a lecture theatre or high-backed bench) that stands at the top of the hill addressing the valley below.

Glass act
A folly at Westonbury Mill Water Gardens in Herefordshire was made by Richard Pim from 5,000 empty wine bottles which glitter like stained glass in the sunshine. Mr Pim describes all his follies as being "large and completely useless". Perfect.

 

Animal houses
If you were a sure-footed goat used to skipping along precipices and leaping ridges then you might be a tad bored confined to the rolling fields of Britain. Not the goats at Cholmondeley Castle in Cheshire though, as they have their own folly with a suitably precarious outside staircase provided for them. This is a noble tradition of building architecturally distinguished animal houses. There is, for example, a two-storey tortoise  house in the grounds of Wotton House in Surrey and a pigsty based on the lines of a Grecian temple in Yorkshire (now a Landmark Trust holiday let).

 

 

 

Useful information

The Folly Fellowship was founded in 1988 to promote 'follies, grottoes and garden buildings'. follies.org.uk

The Painswick Rococo Garden in Gloucestershire has a collection of follies. Open from January to October. rococogarden.org.uk

For something very grand and symbolic, go no further than the great gardens of Stowe in Buckinghamshire. nationaltrust.org.uk/stowe

Westonbury Mill Water Gardens in Herefordshire has a series of garden follies, including the wine-bottle dome (above), and a giant cuckoo clock. westonburymillwatergardens.com

To really immerse yourself in the folly experience, why not book a stay in The Pineapple lodge in Dunmore, Scotland? landmarktrust.org.uk

 

Further reading

Contemporary Follies by Keith Moscow and Robert Linn (Monacelli Press, 2012).

Follies of Europe: Architectural Extravaganza by Caroline Holmes (Garden Art Press, 2008).

Follies: Fabulous, Fanciful and Frivolous Buildings by Gwyn Headley (National Trust Books, 2012)

 

Words James Alexander-Sinclair

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