My mother lived alone on 97 acres in Upstate New York. It was an old farmhouse that had been added onto over the years and generations. On that property, there had once been a barn, but it had fallen or been torn down years before, leaving a cracking concrete slab, some steps, and a silo.
One of her many dreams was to transform the space into a folly, complete with special plantings, tables and chairs, and a spiral staircase to the top of the silo, where she would use a telescope to look at the stars. That particular dream never materialized, but we can use her idea to inspire some ideas of our own.
What is a folly?
The word folly refers to someone lacking in good sense. Architecturally, a folly is an outlandish building or other structure built primarily for decoration. These structures are more extravagant than would normally be seen in a garden.
Follies were first created in the 16th and 17th centuries but became popular in the 18th century. People added decorative Roman temples, pyramids, and medieval castles to their gardens and surrounded these structures with a wide variety of plants. Follies were often named after their creator, as in so-and-so’s folly. Follies have certain characteristics that can guide you in creating your own folly:
Each area of your landscape has its own set of characteristics: wind and sun exposure, soil structure, moisture levels, and plants that thrive. What if you were to look at each of those spaces with an eye to creating a folly, or adding a touch of silliness? That’s one of the nicest things about gardening – there are no rules. We can create whatever we’re willing to invest the time in
One of those characteristics, the “fakeness” of follies, opens up several possibilities to the home gardener. You may not be able to recreate a full-scale stone castle next to your tomato plants, but nothing says you can’t use that curb-scored iron headboard or plastic kiddie climbing toy to create a folly of your own.
If you could build any sort of folly in your yard, what would it be? Personally, I’d love one of those Baba Yaga houses with the chicken legs, but that’s just me.
You can grow a surprising amount of food in your own yard. Ask me how!
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