Friday Idea File: A touch of (garden) folly

A small-scale garden folly can be like this dry stone fountain in Shelagh Tucker’s Seattle garden (see it close up here)

If you watched Mr. Darcy propose dripping wet to Lizzie Bennet in the Keira Knightley version of Pride & Prejudice*, you’ve seen a prime example of a garden folly. Not his ill-done proposal, but the Temple of Apollo at Stourhead in Wiltshire where it was filmed (romantic shot of it on Flickr here).

A folly was a whimsical, new-made garden structure meant to look old, even ancient. Its purpose was decorative not practical – although Darcy found a handy use for it. While the origins around the 18th century had philosophical overtones which I won’t dwell on here, the lasting effect is to give the garden a strong focal point and make it seem much more established than it really is. We can use that.

Examples of sheer or near folly are the subject of this week’s Friday Idea File. As always, we love to hear from you. (*Coincidentally, Pride & Prejudice celebrated its 200th Anniversary in January.)

Salvaged architectural elements, including columns from an old bank, transport Arcadia to the heart of Toronto’s Rosedale.

The garden above was featured in the 2012 Through the Garden Gate (see Sonia Day in the Toronto Star for details and designers). For a fantastic photo tour of this garden, visit Jennifer Connell’s blog Three Dogs in a Garden. (I can’t believe I’ve only just discovered this great Toronto blogger.)

A detail from the scene above.

Even a single piece of architectural salvage can add age and beauty to your garden, no matter how tiny your garden is. Here, the coating of moss and lush ferns complete the patina of antiquity.

In the same garden, a fragment from a sandstone arch is worked into a new wall, like a partially excavated ruin. A few feet over, a double arch is mimicked in bricks.

Building your own ruin or borrowing from the past aren’t the only ways to interject a semblance of history into your garden. Have a look at these ideas. Then tell us what you think.

Shelagh Tucker created this paving mat by setting coloured pebbles in concrete. Doesn’t it remind you of something that would be uncovered in Pompeii? Self-seeded plants emerging from the gravel contribute to the atmosphere of age.
A garage was removed, leaving these weathered brick pillars behind.
If not a building, or the remnants of one, how about an artefact? These distressed urns grace a garden in Victoria, B.C.
This lovely bench is being eaten by the garden, turning it into garden sculpture. In fact, I have a whole collection of photos of benches on this theme – such an easy way to make your garden seem lusher, richer, older.


  1. These are wonderful examples of garden follies and your pictures are super. You must have happened by the ruins in the second garden (Through the Garden Gate Tour) at just the right moment. That little bit of sunlight makes all the difference and brings the mossy covered stones to life.
    This June, I must remember to watch for Sonia Day's column covering the tour. I couldn't make it around to all the gardens on last year's tour and her list of must-sees would have been very helpful. I also think I might get tickets for both days. A single day flew by and I missed more than half of the gardens on the tour.
    Great post Helen. Have a great weekend!

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