Tag Archives: Folly

Come to think of it, the folly I am wanting to appreciate in this post is the second folly I’ve made on this property.

Let’s dispense with the first. It was a practice effort really, at spending money on a project few others could seen any value in. The first folly was built by the other Susan’s then boyfriend, now ex, Michael. For the record, he never returned to the Kennel House after that assignment. It still stands, however. This first folly consists of pressure treated 4 x 4s that form a low retaining wall signifying the edge of the meadow under the wild cherry tree. When Michael built this folly, the tree was a sapling; today it’s 50 feet tall. The wall runs along where a segment of the old split rail fence line used to divide the grass from the meadow but, after years of service, was in a state of dilapidation. Every summer, I took more segments of the fence out of commission as the meadow delineator, re-adapting whatever pieces were salvageable as vegetable garden fence or, for a while, a backdrop to Winkie’s Rose of Sharon from the Great House.

The second folly is the one I want to commemorate here. Today was to be its first public engagement. A book discussion for the RI Wild Plant Society was to convene on its platform at 3:00 pm. Predictions of dire weather and a small number of registrants figured into the decision to cancel the event.

But the folly has proved its mettle with the family this summer. Silently, almost imperceptibly, it furnishes the electricity for the main house all summer. I paid a small bill in April but no payment has been due since then. (The bills will return as the sun moves closer to the horizon for a shorter day and the household demands for electricity to run the geothermal heating system return.) My economist friends point out the folly of boasting about this since the initial cost of the construction of the structure and installation of the PV system will not soon be offset by the null electrical bills. But my practice is not to let such nay saying diminish my happiness with what is much ore than some utility infrastructure, although it is that too.

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How many pupae fortified themselves in those hammocks (there is a hint below)?


How many berries to do you need to pick to take a snack to the folly?


How many babies got rocked to sleep?

Rockabye baby

How many naps were taken in the folly?


How many afternoons passed while reading a book in a hammock surrounded but not enclosed?


How many flora and fauna could be observed from the “blind” of the folly?



Neither of my follies fit within the tradition of French, English or even American follies, although I discussed that here before. The newer one comes closer to fitting into the tradition of garden temples, despite its utilitarian, exposed structure design, because of the way it is used as a haven, a retreat, a place of quiet (unless you happen to be joined by pupae and berry pickers).

I’m drying the hammocks out in preparation for bringing them inside for the winter, in case the folly hammock season is over. It has been a glorious summer, made more so by the latest folly.


…considered to have shown folly in the builder. That’s the second definition originating in the 16th century according to the Oxford Dictionary of English Etymology, That’s also exactly the sense in which I apply the term to the auxiliary structure very slowing taking form in the meadow.

The Oxford Companion to the Garden gets more tongue tied over a definition of the folly. The entry authored by the book’s editor Patrick Taylor calls folly “an unfortunate expression, with a pejorative ring to it.” Well, yes! The first definition in the etymological dictionary is “quality or state of being foolish.” The term has been used since the 13th century.

I have my birding friend Katherine to thank for this bit of investigation. Although I have known what I meant by folly (second definition in the etymological dictionary) since the first email I sent to the architect asking her to draw it up for me, Katherine said she was going to look up folly so I thought I’d check too. I did not know that someone named Barbara Jones wrote what Taylor calls a “wonderful” a book on follies. Ms. Jones says a folly can not be defined as a useless building erected for ornament on a gentleman’s estate because garden temples could be described the same way! (my emphasis and explanation mark) Instead, according to Taylor she writes that “the folly is only built by rich men, is replete with some sort of mood or emotion, is fragile, is often cheap and ephemeral and is personal is a way no great architecture ever is.” Really, can Ms. Jones’ book be wonderful?

After some dithering of his own, Taylor writes: “It is hard to avoid the conclusion that any garden building described, often rather dismissively, as a ‘folly’ could be more precisely and usefully described in terms of its exact role or genre.”

My folly will be a meadow viewing platform with a roof to hold 5000 kWs worth of photovoltaic panels. From its roof supports. I’ll hang hammocks for extra sleeping places in good weather. The electricity generated by the panels will be stored in batteries in the basement for use when the grid is down ( a zero emissions generator). Extra electricity will be sold to the grid.

I hope my folly will not be fragile or ephemeral. It certainly is not cheap. It will be personal as all my architectural undertakings are; it will not be great architecture. Maybe it will have emotion. Here’s the platform under construction.

Building the platform or all hands on deck

Building the platform or all hands on deck