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Alex Mitchell
Written by Alex Mitchell 20th March 2018

Garden Follies: A very British eccentricity

If you’re looking for a new project that gives free rein to your artistic tendencies, why not consider having a folly built at your property? Nobody needs a folly, but that’s just the point. If it provided a useful purpose, rather than just looking charming, elegant or downright eccentric, it simply wouldn’t be a folly. At a time when the news is full of Brexit and presidential antics across the pond, a folly is a welcome distraction from more serious matters. At Michael Graham we’re always charmed by a property with a folly, but what is the history behind these magical buildings?


The garden folly is commonly associated with English and French landscape design of the 18th century. At that time, landowners built miniature tributes to the exotic and the ideal and were partial to Roman temples, Chinese pagodas, Egyptian pyramids and Indian pavilions. The buildings were typically built for decoration rather than function, although years later towers were sometimes repurposed as dovecotes and miniature castles as weather stations. National Trust property Stowe in Buckinghamshire is famous for the iconic temples and monuments in their 250 acres of gardens, including the Gothic Temple, the Temple of Friendship and the Palladian bridge.


These examples may be historical, but there’s nothing to stop anyone adding a folly to their property today. For a classical look, Chelsea Flower Show award winners Haddonstone offer elegant temples, columns, pillars and pavilions that can be fitted with benches and placed in your favourite spot for quiet contemplation of the view. If you’re an admirer of more contemporary structures, a modern monument of timber or steel, brick and flint or Perspex is just as much a folly as any traditionally romantic construction. The key is to find the spot, then find your folly. Even better, create it yourself from scratch using metal or seasoned timber, even cement and concrete. You will need planning permission for a larger structure, but smaller ones are considered temporary and don’t require council involvement. Today, follies are still built around the world in the same spirit of indulgence, tribute, or pleasure that has inspired them for centuries. Maybe it’s worth considering. The only limit is your imagination.


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