Garden Designers Roundtable | Follies

I have a taste for the absurd, the wildly impractical and the creative.  Add to that real or imagined historical context and VOILA! you have my favorite type of garden folly.  It’s really too bad that there’s little interest–both economically and aesthetically–in follies any more.  I love me a tumbled down ruin that really isn’t.  The Garden Designers Roundtable is posting on Renovation and Restoration today so I thought I’d take the contrary approach!

Yes, I did.

Build something that looks like it’s falling down–and has been for years, and years, and years.  Why?  Because it gives you pleasure.  We don’t do that enough in life.

Folly by master stone artist Dan Snow

Last Saturday I took some time and a 45 minute detour to visit my favorite folly.  The Ruin at Chanticleer is only ten years old.  It was built on what was left of the foundation of another house.  It is witty and intelligent. It is without a doubt one of my favorite garden spaces…ever. Chanticleer, a pleasure garden outside of  Philadelphia is a place of incredible imagination and  inspiration.  It is open to the public and if you are ever within shouting distance it is well worth the trip and the incredibly economical $5.00 entrance fee.

The ruin

On a small hill planted with Carex appalachia, the ruin begs further exploration.

The main entrance

And just inside the ‘door’…

A bit nutty...

There is so much to look at in the folly and so many convergent deas here that I’ve chosen to only feature a few.  It’s really one of those places that needs to be experienced in reality rather than via photographs and text.

The reflecting pool in the 'Great Room'

Espalier and succulents on the wall are reflected in a huge black granite sarcophagus like water feature.

Planting detail
Stone carpet

The library is adjacent to the ‘Great Hall’ complete with books…

A heavy read...

Through another opening is a slightly disturbing water feature with carved stone faces by sculptor Marcia Dohahue.

Floating faces

There are also planted fireplaces, containers,  gardens run amok and hundreds of little details.  No matter how many times I’ve visited, each time I could stay for hours.

View across the lawn

So next time garden restoration and renovation is a topic of discussion, why not take the opposing view and think about follies as a place of discovery and wonder.  Follies aren’t really a folly, they are a place to experiment wildly with the unexpected, the uncommon, and the undone.

The rest of the Roundtable posts can be found by clicking the links below.

Andrew Keys : Garden Smackdown : Boston, MA

Carolyn Gail Choi : Sweet Home and Garden Chicago : Chicago, IL

Genevieve Schmidt : North Coast Gardening : Arcata, CA

Jocelyn Chilvers : The Art Garden : Denver, CO

Lesley Hegarty & Robert Webber : Hegarty Webber Partnership : Bristol, UK

Rochelle Greayer : Studio “G” : Boston, MA

Susan Morrison : Blue Planet Garden Blog : East Bay, CA

14 thoughts on “Garden Designers Roundtable | Follies

  1. I think this is fabulous. But a ruin that is false doesn’t have the poignacy of a real ruin does it. That is where I want the chance to create a garden! Stunning ideas here tho and a fresh approach on a subject title is always fun.
    Best Wishes

    I’ve been looking for property with a proper ruin for years for the same reason. As for real vs. not so much…gte thing is that this one actually does. It stands on the foundation of one of the property’s original buildings. Not really anything like an ivy covered abandoned 15th century monastery…but just about as close as we can get on this side of the pond…–s

  2. You contrarian, you! I LOVE this! Chanticleer is on my list – I HAVE to go and you’ve made me want to hurry up and go ASAP! I am on the folly fence – some I love and some I find silly … but THIS is fantastic! It’s all in the careful hand of the designer. Thank you for pointing this out – a must see for sure!

    There’s so much more than this. I took a photo specifically for you and will post it on my FB page of an espaliered tomato on a picket fence…so front yard food.–s

  3. Your post made me smile. I can always count on you to introduce me to the most beautiful and intriguing of designs. Thanks you!

    I hope you get to visit some time. It’s a spectacular pleasure garden…happy to make you smile this afternoon!–s

  4. What a fun post, Susan! A few years ago Pam/Digging went to Chanticleer & took her readers along. I liked Marcia Dohahue’s bowling balls, but am not so sure about the faces.
    Chanticleer is on my someday list, too- will think of you if and when I get to the folly garden.

    Annie at the Transplantable Rose

    Hey Annie–I will look up Pam’s post. I’d be interested in what a Texan has to say about this very east coast garden…–s

  5. Gosh, I’m just speechless. The giant acorns! The succulents on the wall!! Amazing stuff. Yep, I definitely want to go visit Chanticleer now. I’d heard of it, of course, but your post really brought it alive.

    The Ruin is just one of many delights in the garden. It is one of the most inspiring and wacky places I’ve been.–s

  6. Ever since I visited, by happenstance 2 years ago, I’ve not stopped raving about the place to my gardening friends. It is all the things you say about it and more, but mostly I remember the wit and playfulness and superb planting combinations. Yes, I’m a Texan now, but I grew up on the East Coast (S.C.) and have never gotten over my love for a lush, temperate-zone garden. Here’s a link to my first post about Chanticleer. I wrote several, but each one is linked to the next:

    I was actually teasing you in that other comment, Pam! I will be reading your take on Chanticleer for sure. Thanks for the link.–s

  7. On my Facebook Page, Vermont Flower Farm and Gardens I recently pictured an album of Goddard Mansion in South Portland Maine. This is a ruin within Ft Williams Park and is adjacent to the Portland Head Lighthouse. I wish, oh I wish, someone would restore that place as the ruin you pictured and add historical recreation of the gardens that don’t exist now but must have been glorious. It was one of the first summer homes on the Maine coats and then “turned” military during the Civil War and on.

    Five years back I heard a great lecture by dry wall stacker Dan Snow from Vermont. He had built a stone structure much like you picture up top and after a few years the frost heaved it a little. He felt badly and was prepared to rebuild it but the owners liked the “ruin look” that could not be recreated again and it was left. For those who enjoy stone as much as I do, Dan has two books on the market about his work.

    I have been a fan of Dan Snow’s work for years. Are you familiar with the Stone Foundation? It’s worth a look.–s

  8. You took great photos for this one, Susan! I don’t think I’ve ever had a site that was large enough and culturally suited for a project like this, although I’m sure living in California has something to do with that. We consider buildings from the twenties as being historically relevant and worthy of preservation status, after all, so our sense of old vs. new is a bit skewed. Robert’s comment was interesting, and I think reflects that he comes from a country with ruins and follies that are hundreds of years old, so sees less of a need to mess with anything that isn’t the real thing.

    Thanks for sharing.

  9. I love the faces – anything a little bit disturbing gets my vote! I wish we could install more follies out here in our small, residential plots, but somehow they rarely turn out quite as intended. Beautiful photo, and another garden to put on my Bucket List!

  10. We agree on Chanticleer; feel blessed to have had some time there with APLD tour a few years back. Keep sending people there who are fortunate to live in your area. Suzanne and I just bought an old farm in WI and it has the foundation of an old farm house. We plan on salvaging some of the stone for some garden walls. Will send photos after we make some progress. Great post. Very inspiring!

  11. Great perspective on this topic Susan! I love the look of “old”, as in the ruins you have shown off. Old barns, old stone walls and old buildings have captured me since childhood. Thanks for the treat!

  12. So INSANELY cool. I so wish I had the site, context, and means to build a folly on this scale for myself. I think as a grownup I deserve places that are as transportative as places I played in as a child — mysterious woods, disused outbuildings, quiet creeks and such. They’re much harder to recreate on small (comparitively) suburban lot, but I’m not giving up.

    Never give up Andrew. It’s so important to create magical spaces where imaginations can soar, be they garden or folly…-s

  13. The Three Sisters Sanctuary ( isn’t really a ruin, but it will thrill people who love stone. Eighteen years later it is still a work in progress, a garden of circles, the Dance of Life, but it does have a dragon which I mistook for a sort of ruin at first. The artist/gardener Richard Richardson even got in a massage therapist to help him get the musculature in the astounding head right. It will even breathe smoke, not fire.

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