Georgian Follies Large & Small

A minor infatuation with follies, large and small, started with this.

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You, dear Reader (perhaps a Virginian?) surely recognize this. Lord Dunmore’s Pineapple House.  After being pitched out of the colonies – lock, stock and all barrels following the demise of his rule – Dunmore saw fit to celebrate his inauspicious return home to Scotland with the erection of this magnificent specimen as the centerpiece of his garden house.  Never one to miss the opportunity to make a joke even at his own expense, Dunmore placed upon his “fence” this pineapple in stone as any sailor returning from adventure across the seven seas would with the real fruit.

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Now in the possession of the Landmark Trust in the UK, Pineapple House is available for let to any intrepid traveler at an astonishingly fair price.  One may go on line to access their website.  Please take time upon your visit to peruse the guest book for the entertaining array of entries and noted visitors.  Perhaps the best is one penned over a decade ago:  “Farewell old fruit.”  How magnificently English.

So, in short order, this writer imagined how delightful it would be to occupy any and all follies when possible.  With wife in hand, upon delivery of progeny number 1 to a summer scholars’ program at Oxford,

(note progeny identifying significant architectural details down some Oxford lane)

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We headed over to Norfolk and Holkham Hall, seat of the Earls of Leicester.  Norfolk, being the city of my birth – the more questionably beautiful one in Tidewater Virginia – it was our mission to reestablish communication with english relations somewhat disheartened by Dunmore’s failings.  Once there we were guests not in the Hall – no hard feelings we were told – but the gatehouse as befits those of the lower caste.  Not a bad gatehouse!

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Our home away from home, and that is fair Brooke, wife and consort, peering from the window berobed and revived by a refreshing bath.

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The manner and method of construction plays off some common construction elements unique to those provinces, a manufactory brick of paler tone due to character of some clay there as well as that Norfolk beach flint used for rustication.

An end pavilion…

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An outstanding cornice impossibly simple yet powerful…

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Swags embracing the entry pavilion…

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An aedicule…

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And a wider perspective…

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Can it get any better than this?

The scale is charming and truly house-like.  This writer has no tabulation of square footage but it is smaller than most subdivision houses yet worthy of an Earl no doubt. After a refreshing evening and day on the Holkham estate, we were then off to visit our friend, George Carter, one of the most highly respected garden designers practicing today in England.  George and this writer have had the good fortune to collaborate on some projects and check in on each other now and then.  George’s gardens have been well documented as well as his collecting habits.  In his possession is a cache of great English furniture but there in Norfolk, it is his gardens that shine most.  And in those gardens, George is immensely playful as you will see with follies and garden eyecatchers running amok.

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So, on no more than twelve acres as we recall, George Carter has all sorts of garden rooms with hornbeam walls defining them, hornbeam being one of our favorite hedgerow plants, easily managed as hedge or tree, vigorous and absolutely at ease in our midatlantic planting zones.

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George has crafted allees, avenues and garden rooms with an eyecatcher folly anchoring each…

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Frequently of that same Norfolk flint used in these old barns on George’s property…

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Often framed with amazing sheds – like guardhouses – built out of nothing more than plywood, roughly painted in rich colors, and left to weather.  Always with a wink such as this toy tractor – look closely! – that had us all laughing.

Screen Shot 2015-03-02 at 9.28.38 PMA view back to George’s house.

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We then headed over to Suffolk and Helmingham Hall, home of Lady Xa Tollemache and her husband Tim, and joined them in their gardens for drinks and a walkabout. Xa sometimes partners with George on projects and designs on her own as well.  She keeps a stunning website worth review.

A view from garden to house.

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The formal garden.

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A garden seat tucked off to the side.

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And a shed.

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Then off for drinks.

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With perhaps the best garden seat I have ever seen.

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So, this provided fodder for a talk of sorts on Follies that your writer gave at Dick Jenrette’s historic Baker House on East 93rd Street, New York, this December past. Margize Howell, Co-President of Classical American Homes Preservation Trust, Ralph Harvard, and John Kinnear of the American Friends of the Georgian Group hosted us for that annual Christmas gathering. Here is a view of those beautiful green doors facing 93rd.

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Not being throw out on our ear, an invitation was extended to speak again.  This time, an Ides of March talk, sponsored by the American Friends of the Georgian Group, scheduled for 18 March at the Sotheby’s Institute of Art, 6:00pm.  The topic?


Prompted by my mother in law’s 75th birthday bash held at Edith Wharton’s, The Mount.  Here she sits, queenly in repose, in Wharton’s garden beneath a reconstructed lattice folly built using original photographs and drawings by our old friend, Rick Wyatt of Charlottesville, one of the greatest woodworkers and craftsmen to have graced this earth. Rick died just before Thanksgiving 2013, and we dedicate this lecture to him.

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