Jill Kleinberg, a Douglas County Kansas State Extension Master Gardener, has created one of the most unusual private gardens I have visited. Although art is displayed throughout the garden surrounding her modern designed home, I was most taken with the folly.
According to Jill, the folly was actually a solution for a really “big” problem caused by her home’s construction where the architect-builder had hollowed out a section of hillside to use the heavy clay soil to level the ground upon which the house rests. This resulted in an eyesore visible from the home.After months of contemplation, the solution began to take shape. She realized this was the perfect place for a folly. Her “introduction to the notion of a ‘folly’ came from reading British historical novels, in which the estates of the wealthy not infrequently were described as being adorned with decorative garden structures meant to amaze or delight the beholder.”Jill is captivated by art comprised of recycled metal pieces such as industrial or farm machinery, discarded architectural elements, or junked home appliances.
Working with artist Ardys Ramberg, the two chose pieces from their own metal collections as well as scouting many local purveyors of junk metal to provide the materials for the project. Ardys spread the chosen pieces out in her yard and then imagined and designed the folly. Jill’s first response to the design was, “It looks like a dragonfly,” thus giving the folly its name.The folly provides interest as the seasons change, especially now that the native plants on the hillside are reaching maturity. It is a fitting adornment to a garden of mainly native grasses and forbs.I particularly love the lines displayed by the folly covered in snow. The result indeed amazes and delights many people as they walk through it or view it from afar.According to Robert Khederian in his article The Whimsical World of Garden Follies, follies were popular in 18th-century gardens, as a means to “delighting the eye and sparking conversation. “ He explains the decorative structures were built on the estates of the wealthy to create a surprise in the landscape. Follies are not often seen in American gardens but a couple of public gardens I have visited integrated such structures.Longwood Gardens has a castle that I was not expecting as I rounded the bend in the path. I was so delighted and surprised, I could not wait to explore.When designing the garden, Chanticleer, it was decided to tear down one of the houses on the estate. But, instead of removing all of the structure, they left a ruin. This area is my favorite part of this fabulous garden with the fireplace, reflecting table, and windows and doors with trees and other plant material vining through.The important thing to keep in mind when planning a garden folly is that follies are eye-catching, whimsical, and fun – usually with no real function. But, they can be used in a practical way to hide an unattractive shed, composting bin, or a barbecue grill, for example. Or, as Jill has done here to fix an eyesore!If you can’t get a folly of your own, Winterthur Museum and Gardens in Delaware has an exhibit of thirteen garden follies now through January 5, 2020: Follies: Architectural Whimsy in the Garden. I hope you get a chance to visit.