I can’t believe that I have reached the final new folly description in the garden blog. I have never run a marathon but I can imagine as one approaches the finish line, a mix of exhaustion, euphoria and anticipation surges through one’s veins. This about sums up my emotional state as April 1st approaches.

Being a gardener connects one to “real time”. We can plan all we want but Mother Nature has the final word. One thing that I really love about the garden department at Winterthur is that we know how to roll with the punches. As I type this, snow and sleet tap at my window screen. Winter’s last hurrah (hopefully) but not what I had planned. As the forecast waffled back and forth then solidified to a pretty big storm, I strangely found a sense of relief. I am not sure why, as I would have thought just the opposite. I think that I just let it go.

Our inhospitable weather is actually a very fitting metaphor for our last featured folly, The Needle’s Eye. We have had quite a journey with this one and it has caused many of us to “rise to the occasion”. So, the story begins…

The idea for the Needle’s Eye came from the folly of the same name in Wentworth, South Yorkshire England. At 46′ tall, this sandstone pyramid, topped with a funerary urn marks the end of a allee. John Carr was commissioned to build this structure in response to a bet; the 2nd Marquis of Rockingham wagered that he could drive his horse drawn carriage through the ogee door.

The Needle’s Eye

Originally, the Winterthur version of this folly was to be placed near the front pond as you enter the estate, announcing the folly exhibition to guests. Further discussion lead to the concept of a boardwalk leading to it out in the water, then the final progression was “what happens if we float it out in the water?” Now at this point I should say that my degree is in horticulture–as are many of the folks in my department. Had it been in engineering, I might not have been so excited about this floating folly. Ignorance is bliss.

A Photoshop of The Needle’s Eye on the pond.

Initial discussion of the framework of this folly was simple. Stick built frame, plywood siding and of course all materials and finishes being weather and water resistant. A faux finish would mimic the look of the sandstone. We tried to gauge the appropriate height for our folly and used what was on hand; varying lengths of pole saws and extensions. The term I love for problem solving by using what is available at your disposal is “applying appropriate technology”. Through the “high-tech” use of our pole saws, we determined that our folly will be about half the size of the original and at 23′, it will still make a statement.

Golf cart with pole saws. Let the jousting begin!

The planning for the floatation aspect of this folly ensued and we looked to the use of a floating dock for inspiration. Floating docks are used in marinas and waterfronts so in theory, if we calculated the weight correctly and tethered the folly, we could float the Needle’s Eye on the water. Sounds plausible, right?

Planning continued on this folly but with no resulting action. An early January snowfall came along with the news that we were going to have to find a new builder for the folly. Pulling the quickest about-face that we could, we spoke with our carpenters at Winterthur about the project but also had to considered the realities of their time commitments with projects already slated. We had discussions with some outside contractors but the director of the garden, Chris Strand, through the powers of the internet, found Tony Caulfield of Caulfield Associates who works in creating floating docks and fortunately for us, his work schedule was light due to the off season. He could create the entire folly but we were unsure of his team’s faux finishing skills so we found a compromise; the structure would be built off site and then finished on site by our carpenters who we knew could pull off the finish. And so it began.

Our carpenters, Benny, Carl & Terry (along with masons John and Dan) figured out the logistics of the finish. Using the Dryvit siding system, they first place on fiberglass meshing then a brown coat, a finish layer, then a paint coat to mimic the original. They gave us choices for the finish and we chose the one closest to a limestone coloring.

The underlayment.

Finish options.

The top of the pyramid was the first to arrive and the gang got to it. Working weekends to fit it into the schedule, we were greeted to the brown coat on the Monday morning.

Delivery of the top of the Needle’s Eye.

First coat.

The pyramid top comes equipped with a chain to be able to place it on the base. The top will then be fitted with the finial. Easy-peasey!

The base was the next section to arrive. It came in 4 pieces and was assembled on site.

Delivery of the base parts.

When pieced together, the base had a rectangular opening. The carpenters had to then artfully cut an ogee opening on both sides.

Base placed together.

Ogee arch cut.

The foam “blocks” had to be cut and fitted and then the outline of the ogee enhanced.

First layer.

Detailing of Ogee and base.

Skim coat and some folly scale…

The base had to then be separated again yet held upright by straps, to allow for the finished coat to cure.

Second coat. Base separated for drying the seams.

The final delivery, which proceeded our second Nor’easter snowfall, was the floatation system. Through many design discussions, we came to the conclusion of making it two floating docks or pontoons that would then be tied together underwater for extra stability.

Delivery of docks complete with the previous night’s snow!

Brackets for underwater guying.

We tried to unload the pontoons with a fork lift but found that it was not adequate to do the heavy lifting. Enter Frank Quinnette, exhausted and sleep deprived from long hours of snow removal the night before, and ready to leave for the day when Carol’s voice beckoned on the radio for help…
Frank came to the rescue with the fork on our front loader and gently placed the docks onto the Visitor Parking Lot for staging. (Frank said that I better mention him on the blog…thank you, Frank!)

Docks awaiting their assembly.

Speaking of docks, there have been many conversations with in-house and outside engineers over how to keep this folly in place. Anchors? Ballast? Tethering? I have to admit here, that Chris has taken the reigns of this folly while I tended the other 6 “folly fires”. Chris sought the help of fellow garden department folks to help with the plan; enter Marlin, John and Kevin. Marlin cares for the natural lands at Winterthur including the ponds and Kevin and John are our arborists. You may question why arborists were brought in for a water project, but if you ever have watch skilled arborists work ropes to maneuver large limbs down to the ground, you’d know why! Chris held a meeting with the three of them to go over the logistics of the tethering. Not wanting to tempt fate with this statement, I trust in the abilities of these four people.

Our plan for tethering.

The ponds had to be lowered to enable the placement of the anchoring systems in the wall and on opposing shores.

Pond lowered to place in anchoring points on shore.

Row boat in place for securing the folly.

So now the day of reckoning arrives. On Monday, Rich from Bob’s Crane Services will be set to task for placing not only the Needle’s Eye together and in the pond but also place the Mirrored Folly at the Pinetum’s edge. In preparation for Monday’s “launch”, Ben, Carl, Terry, John and Dan (plus a few extras, I am sure) will set the Needle’s Eye folly parts in place. The crane will roll in early Monday morning—blocking the entrance into Winterthur, to set the base onto the pontoons and the pyramid top onto the base. From there, the carpenters will attach and secure all of the parts to one another and the crane will move to Garden Lane to place the Mirrored Folly. We will break for lunch and then set up once again at the pond to set the finial onto the top of the Needle’s Eye and then launch the folly out to, well, pond. An initial tethering will occur with further cinching down the following day (by above stated “tethering crew”).

The last detail–the finial.

Our version of the funerary urn.

More urn detail–since it will be 23′ up in the air!

This is a folly that has challenged us in ways different from the rest. It has tested us as far as our timeline is concerned and has taken us to a point of discomfort and ill-ease. It’s at those points where we may want to throw in the towel, because we are confronting the unknown and the unknown is scary. What I am more proud of than anything is (despite some sidebar grumbling I am sure) that when the chips were down we all drew strength from adversity to make this come together. It will be the flagship folly that greets visitors as they come and go from the property and a reminder of making the challenging elements in our lives possible.

Deep gratitude and thanks to all who made the Needle’s Eye and the entire Follies exhibition a reality!

The most likely source of reflection in a garden is water. Caught at the right angle, it can capture the movement of clouds in the sky, flocks of birds flying overhead and provide a dreamlike look at the world around us—especially when captured in a photograph.

Gazing globes have been a part of the garden since the 13th century. Originally created from hand blown glass in Venice, they not only served as reflective ornament but also believed to ward off evil. With time, they evolved to encompass many other reflective materials such as mirror and shiny metal. Now considered by some to be kitschy, they have had their popular moments in garden history.

Reflective exteriors are often on high rises and paired with a very modern, sleek style of architecture. Reflective materials can also distort an image—think convex mirrors or mirrors in a fun house for example. Whether realistic or distorted, our eyes are drawn to reflection—even if it is our own face looking back at ourselves.

Mirrored follies are not common in the landscape. In fact, I have only seen one and it is a mirrored fence at Storm King Art Center in New Windsor, NY.

Alyson Shotz’s Mirror Fence at Storm King Art Center

Mirrored follies offer a surreal way to view the landscape and have an aspect of trickery and camouflage about them.

Mirror House by Ekkehard Altenburger in Isle of Tyree, Scotland

“Restructure” by Harumi Yukutake

Treehotel near the Lule River in Sweden.

“Lucid Stead” by Phillip K. Smith III in Joshua Tree, CA.

Often clean lined, we tried to imagine what would be an appropriate form for a mirrored folly in the Winterthur landscape; something that had unique detail in itself but could be made even more fanciful with reflection. The answer lies within our own property.

The Train Station at Winterthur has a unique history. Created by Theophilus P. Chandler in 1889-1890, it has an architectural style unlike any other on the property, featuring Chandler’s trademark steeply pitched gables, ball topped finials and wooden fishscale shingles. A unique piece of architecture, the only detail it shares with other buildings on the estate is the Winterthur sage green paint color and yellow brick walkways. One of the most prominent features of the Train Station is the porte-cochère or covered porch attached to the house.
A vaulted ceiling, fluted bases, tongue and groove interior, fishscale shingle exterior and a set of unique roof finials—wouldn’t that look cool in mirrors?

Porte-cochère of the Winterthur train station

The porte-cochère is another carpentry feat to recreate so we approached Rob McKeown of Elk Creek Cabinetry (and Chinese Pavilion fame) once again to help us with this project. Clearly, he likes working with us or is a glutton for punishment…but really, I think Rob likes a new challenge. The reason that I come to that conclusion is because at our second meeting, Rob came prepared…with a miniature model.

Set to scale, base of Mirrored Folly.

Base with roof.

Underside of base showing support for the legs.

After retrieving our socks from having them blown away, Rob modestly said that creating this helped him to figure out how to construct the folly. When we started talking about the finial, Rob reached into his bag o’ tricks and pulled out a mock up of that as well. 2 points for Rob!

Finial mockup next to miniature.

Some of the mirrored follies shown above made us question the pattern of mirror on our folly. Would it be better to separate the mirrors, clad them in fishscale shingles or use straight siding? We had some left over mirrored acrylic from an earlier exhibition, so Rob cut out varying patterns and created a prototype of the base to help us decide. We placed the sample outside for staff to come out and see and give an opinion. I think it was unanimous; all mirrored fishscale siding.

Varied shingle patterns for consideration.

We also utilized the mirrored base to position the piece in the sun—or rather out of the sun. The evergreen backdrop of the Pinetum would provide shade for the majority of the day but early morning sunlight shines on this site. We positioned the piece due north and the problem was solved and future eyesight was saved! The flare of the base of the leg will reflect a sky view from ground level while at eye level; it will reflect the meadow behind.

Testing placement with the sun.

This fall saw the installation of the decking for this folly by Bluewing Construction. Like a stage setting for a performance, the platform stands alone, along with its Ottoman Tent “decking cousin” until the folly lands in place this spring.

Where there are footings, there’s Carol with an auger…

Decking for the Mirrored Folly.

View to the Neoclassical Folly from the Mirrored Folly site.

When Rob finished the Chinese Pavilion, (delivered in January) he started the Mirrored Folly. Out of the frying pan and into the fire. Noting my anxiety over the timeframe, Rob was sending me picture updates of the offsite progress. With the help of a son on winter break, he quickly created the frame for the structure—which is beautiful in its own right—and as weather allowed, utilized his driveway again to work on the roof.

Vaulted rafters. I think it would be pretty just as is.

Another view of the structure. Great lines!

Roof with lift hooks on top. These will be covered by the finials.

Rafters. Note Winterthur sage green color!

The interior tongue and groove was installed then painted. Color choices were tossed about but we decided to go a bit traditional and use the Winterthur sage green.

Painted interior.

Now for the pièce de ré·sis·tance, the acrylic mirrored shingles. Initially, Rob was going to cut them himself then quickly came to his senses and contracted that portion out. The installation of the shingles should go quickly. Well, after the plastic covering is removed from the 600+ singles…

“Selfie” with shingle…and plastic covering.

Mirrored shingles getting their start.

Simple, built in seating inspired by the white benches at the nearby Latimeria Gates will provide, as all of the follies will, a place to sit and admire a new perspective of the garden.

White benches at the Latimeria Gates in the Pinetum.

This folly, like its Chinese predecessor, will be delivered in two pieces and then craned onto location; an instant folly. It has been great fun to see the on site progress of many of the follies and it is also a treat to have one magically appear in a day. Perhaps this “pop up folly” is in keeping with the surreal nature of this mirrored spectacle.

Snowdrops brightening a patch of pachysandra

This Saturday, March 10, is “Bank to Bend,” a day that celebrates the year’s first flowers. At Winterthur, those coveted blossoms always appear along the walk leading from the March Bank to Magnolia Bend, where you can literally walk in the footsteps of founder and avid horticulturist Henry Francis du Pont. Be sure to join us at Winterthur for a lecture, garden tour, and sale of rare and unusual plants!

This year’s featured speaker will be Peter Zale, Curator and Plant Breeder at Longwood Gardens. In his talk, “Intrinsic Beauty: Snowdrops, Choice Bulbs, and How They Enrich Gardens,” learn how snowdrops and other early bulbs have been objects of passion and desire, leading plant explorers to remote regions of the world. With many of these bulbs being rare in the wild, be inspired as you hear how they have served as flagship species for conservation efforts. Finally, revel in the beauty of these exotic flowers that provide a sense of place in the garden at a time of the year that few other plants can rival.

The photos below were taken just prior to yesterday’s snowstorm! Enjoy this virtual ramble along the March Bank, which is now shrouded in snow. Saturday’s views will likely be different, but no matter what we will celebrate this special display and no doubt witness the tenacity of these small wonders of the late winter garden.  

Welcome back to the unfolding story of the follies. So far, we have covered the making of the Green Folly, the Chinese Pavilion, the Ottoman Tent, and the Neoclassical Folly with three more to highlight. This week, we are featuring the Gothic Tower. Towers are something that have appeared in our imaginations since childhood, featuring prominently in fairy tales, cartoons, movies and television shows. (Perhaps “Costumes of Game of Thrones” will be our next exhibition.) They are foreboding, alluring and magical all at once. They create a presence in the landscape and offer spectacular views from the top. Though not quite so common as other follies, a few of the gardens that we visited in England featured towers in the gardens. Lord Cobham’s Pillar at Stowe is a 115’ “tower-like” memorial whose circular stairs lead to the top and affords views of the entire garden (and beyond).

Lord Cobham’s Pillar, Stowe. Note few slit windows for light on steps.

King Alfred’s Tower at Stourhead is a 161’ triangular tower, hollowed in the center with a set of spiral steps (205 of them) leading to the top with views of surrounding counties.

King Alfred’s Tower, Stourhead.

Hollowed Center of the tower. Reminds me of the scene from Willy Wonka!

View from atop of the tower.

The 88’ Gothic Tower at Painshill—a mere 99 steps—was a folly that had a bit more functional use in its earlier days. Built in the 1750’s it was first used as a gallery to exhibit antiquities then later became a residence. Open for visitation on limited days (I only entered one of the three mentioned above), the views from the tops of the castles are spectacular but are impressive from the ground as well.

Gothic Tower at Painshill. Note limestone wash from original finish.

The placement of the Gothic Tower at Winterthur mimics the prominent locations of those in England, providing views both to and from them. The perfect spot at Winterthur: Oak Hill. The views atop Oak Hill are stunning on their own but raising them up by another 20+ feet and they get even better.

Using a high lift to see the view from tower height.

The location provides a good sight line from within the glass walls of the galleries as well, enticing visitors to come out and see this ominous black tower on the hill. Its size is proving to be visible from many angles which we did not consider but much like the house, only when the leaves are absent from the trees.

An unexpected pleasant view, making good use of stone retaining walls.

We approached Troy Marino of Michael Marino, Inc. to see if he would be interested in heading up this unusual construction project. Without batting an eye or giving us a queried look, he agreed. As one might imagine, a tall structure on top of a wind-swept hill would have to be well secured. The outline of the tower and wall were sited followed by twenty-two auger holes for footings.

The success of an auger full of soil.


Cleaning up and tamping down each footing prior to inspection.

The tower walls were created as individual panels off site then secured together onsite, creating an instant tower.

The first wall placed. Looks like a monolith, blocking out the morning sun.

Instant tower…with one wall left to go.

The stairwell walls followed and then the structure really took shape.

Tower with battlements and walled staircase.

In the design process, we contemplated the surface of the tower floor and steps. What would be a strong flooring, would let water through and could provide a look that we liked? Samples of fiberglass flooring were on hand from another project and after discussing its merits, we agreed that we liked the look and strength that it would provide. There were several options of this flooring but form followed function; we choose the one that had a tighter weave and would not allow a cell phone or keys to fall through. We also created a working door in the design for the special something that unavoidably makes its way through the holes. From there, we contacted Brooks Bentz from Design Plastic Systems to help with the flooring.

Grating options, tested by cell phones.

The view from below as I retrieve that which has fallen!

Unlike the more historic towers, we chose to make ours from wood and have the steps leading to the top be incased in a wall-like structure (as opposed to spiral interior stairs), providing a bit more girth to the folly. Mixing media a bit here, our Gothic tower has an Asian touch to it, with the charred wood finish to the siding. This is known as Shou Sugi Ban.

Shou sugi ban charring process. Photo courtesy of reSAWN timber

We found a local distributor of this siding, reSAWN Timber Co. in Telford, PA. They met with us and showed the varying degrees of char on different types of wood, each providing its own unique pattern and color. We chose a heavy char to provide a very black look to the finish.

An in house attempt at charring wood!

Our charred finish.

Battlements give the tower that classic fortress look and the crenels, or gaps, will be filled with hand-forged metalwork by Seth Barchowsky (who created the “window” in the Green Folly and the railings on the Troll Bridge in Enchanted Woods)

Unpainted grates that will be placed in the crenels of the battlements.

This week marks the placement of the siding on the exterior of the tower, making the ominous appearance take shape.

Siding on the tower with dark skies behind. Creates a mood!

The placement of this folly not only takes advantage of the views but is also conveniently located near Enchanted Woods. I foresee this folly being a favored one among the children, and like Enchanted Woods, may bring out the child in all of us.

One does not have to travel to Europe to see classically designed structures. Our cities and particularly our nation’s capital, are rife with this style and it is one that lends itself well to the landscape. There is a romance in how the clean lines of this form of architecture blends with a garden setting, whether punctuating the end of a flower border walk or taking advantage of the water’s reflection at a pond’s edge. Although we may refer to them by different names such as rotundas, temples, or pavilions, they are indeed all follies and Winterthur would be remiss by not including such a prominent architecture style in our own exhibition.

The classical genre was by far the most dominant in the English gardens that we visited on our folly/garden tour two summers ago. Stowe and Stourhead were filled with this formal architecture but many gardens, even the smaller gardens, included a Greek-style temple.

Lake Pavilion at Stowe.

Small seating folly at Painswick.

Temple Arbor with a hilltop view at Hestercombe.

The location that was chosen for our Neoclassical folly is probably one of my favorite. It is sited in a rolling meadow at the edge of Magnolia Bend with great views both to and from the folly and wide open skies surrounding it. The strong, sturdy lines of the pavilion will be softened by the wind blown meadow grasses and goldenrod.

Early autumn view (pre-folly). A great site!

We looked to Colorado based (U.S. headquarters) Haddonstone for the framework of this folly. We wanted to see the material up close so we contacted them and asked if there were any gardens that featured Haddonstone products. Tower Hill Botanic Garden in Massachusetts was recommended, so the folly team drove up to see these pieces and their placement in the landscape. The pavilion that we were interested in viewing was made into a ruin so that also allowed us to consider that as an option.

Haddonstone pavilion as a ruin at Tower Hill Botanic Garden

Tower Hill also had a round temple in another finish so we were able to compare colors as well as “new vs. ruined”. We liked the quality of the Haddonstone product and also decided on the “new” look.

Haddonstone Rounded temple at Tower Hill

Coming back home, we decided on a finish and placed our order. Several weeks later, the “Lego pieces” arrived.

Folly parts!

I should say at this point that though we are nearing the opening of this exhibition, the planning started in the fall of 2015. There were lots and lots of meetings and during one of these meetings, the question arose: how were we going to dismantle the follies exhibition? What happens if someone wanted to buy one of the follies or if we wanted to loan out the exhibition to another garden once it was over? With each of the follies, we tried to build the dismantling factor into the planning. Through some engineering and design changes, what would normally be cemented together in the Neoclassical Folly could now be taken apart. (Going back a few blogs, you will notice that the Chinese Pavilion came in two pieces—again, thinking ahead about its disassembly.)

Meeting time to figure out the engineering and design of folly. (One of many!)

John Kastle of EDiS has been the point person behind the many facets of construction of this folly and has given great thought behind each component of its assembly. The foundation was laid. The steel reinforcement for the pillars were placed.

Steel reinforcement for columns.

The pillar “sleeves” were delicately fitted over the steel (in lieu of cement filling) and spacers placed between the various components to again “ease” in the dismantling.

Columns Up!

The architrave was set, then the pediment and at this point the folly form was taking shape. Scaffolding surrounded the building. Walls were erected, the roof was placed and then the shingles came to top it off.

Placement of the Architrave

Pediment forming…

Cedar shakes…and sky beyond.

Lathe was attached to the walls and plastering has begun–as of this writing we await the final skim coat. The exterior wall color will match the Haddonstone pieces. We painted large color samples for the accent color on the back interior wall. Which do you think we picked?

Color panels for the back wall.

Leagrave chairs, courtesy of Currey and Company are waiting to be nestled in the interior. Their “nod to classicism” as they describe the chairs, will fit right in with the design; being made from cement, they will match the solidity of the building and the circle in the center of the chair mirroring the window of the folly.

Leagrave Chair by Currey and Company

Window behind the scaffolding.

The Neoclassical Folly construction began in the September with the meadow surrounding it in its full autumnal glory. Varying shades of brown grasses and perennials provided a quiet color palette through the winter and now as we approach spring, the meadow has been cut and the folly awaits its vernal completion as the green returns to the landscape. We hope that this pavilion allows you to enjoy the views both to and from the garden and perhaps you will venture on the new paths through the meadow to discover and appreciate a different perspective of a familiar landscape.

If you Google “garden follies”, you are treated to some great images from around the world. Often these follies are inspired by classical architecture, sometimes they are whimsical, but rarely seen is a tent folly. Perhaps because a tent by nature is ephemeral. Many of the tent follies that are in gardens are much more permanent in nature—fiberglass or painted metal—but with the flow and feel of fabric. These solid structures are truly works of art as they recreate the delicate nature of textiles. Part of the fun of a folly is the element of surprise when encountered up close; who would guess that this ornate tent pictured below was made from painted metal?

My visit to England introduced me to two tent follies, one at Painshill and one at Hestercombe. The Turkish Tent at Painshill has an interesting history. The original structure dates back to 1760. The support was made of brick and plaster and covered with white painted canvas with blue fringe. In any “normal” landscape, especially a moist, English landscape, that covering would be fleeting and so it proved to be. When it was recreated, the structure was again covered in white painted canvas, like the original, but lasted only 18 months. It was then fabricated from fiberglass, holding up better to the public and to the English weather.

Turkish tent folly at Painshill.

As far as I can tell, the tent at Hestercombe was created in 2009 and is a canvas tent. It is much more diminutive in stature than the tent at Painshill and thus easier to recover when the need arise.

Smaller stature of Hestercombe tent–but real canvas.

Interior of Hestercombe tent.

Since our tent—and our follies exhibit—are temporary fixtures in the landscape, we had the luxury of going with the “authentic” use of fabric but finding that fabricator was a feat within itself. Most tents used in the modern landscape are both vinyl and white; elaborate Turkish designs fall a bit out of the norm. We found someone whose designs were edging nearer to our aesthetic when they graciously pointed us to someone who they thought could better fulfill our needs: California based Raj Tents. A quick call from my boss Chris Strand (the author of this exhibition) to the owner, Dominic Mitchell and it all came together.
Chris excitedly shared this information with me to which I replied, “I guess I will have to fly out to California to check it out.” Chris’ answer, much to my astonishment was “I think that is a good idea.” It pays to think aloud sometimes.

Moroccan styled tent from Raj Tents. One of hundreds of choices.

If you look at the Raj Tents website, there are many frame and fabric options and before I flew out we had to narrow down a design scheme. After several meetings, we reigned in the options while leaving some room for flexibility and sent along that information prior to my arrival. I packed my bags, headed out to LA last April, and met with the folks to make those options come to fruition.

Sorting through the options.

The nature of what we were asking for veers from the normal business model for Raj Tents. They traditionally rent out tents for temporary occasions in the sunny and dry landscape of California. We are neither temporary nor sunny and dry so some thought had to be given to the types of fabric we used. What colors would work best in our landscape? What will help resist fading? What can help keep the fabric from getting dirty? How do we guard against some of the violent “pop-up” gusts associated with our thunderstorms? These are questions that a rental company does not often have to wrestle with so our meeting dealt much on these logistics.

The Grand Pavilion tent frame was assembled for my visit to give me a feel for the size and how the fabric was fitted on the frame. I also was able to see up close some of the amazing hand detailing on these custom-made tents. In talking over the exhibition with Dominic, some design changes were made to make for a more “permanent” tent covering for our needs (rather than one that is designed to go up and down in a matter of days) and the fabric patterns and colors were chosen.

Tent set up in parking lot.

Hand stitching detail.

An example of block print pattern on fabric.

Back at home, we assembled the top of the tent frame to mark out the location for the decking posts. We have few flat areas here at Winterthur and the location chosen for this folly fit that mold. The tent frame was leveled to the slope and then marked.

Tent Frame leveled out on location.

Tent frame from a distance with Bristol Summerhouse as scale.

With our toolcat and auger, I set out to auger the first of many footings. Comfortable with the toolcat but never using an auger bit, I started out as a novice and ended up feeling capable (after 42 total holes for 3 different folly foundations, I certainly would hope so!).

Toolcat with auger attachment.

Holes for footings.

An octagon decking foundation was put in place and at present, grading work is being done to help soften the existing level of the deck to the surrounding area. Our intent at this moment is to find an artful way for the meadow to encroach toward the structure. Our desire is to have the meadow envelope the folly from a distance but when in the tent, provide pathways for either the eyes or body to meander out into the landscape. This will develop into its full potential when the grasses and forbs awaken in the late spring. I almost can’t even think that far ahead…

Grading work surrounding the Ottoman tent deck.

In December, a trip up to Material Culture in Philadelphia with Winterthur interior designer Sandra Brown was in store to help select furniture that would fit the style of an Ottoman tent. Having never been there before, I wandered around a warehouse of imported and unique furniture and accessories; I could have stayed for hours! We went in with one mindset for furniture design and came out with another, which is part of the fun and certainly an ongoing theme with the follies exhibition.

Sandy then set out to find appropriate fabrics for the outdoor pillows. Looking at all of the options, for me, was half the fun then decided on a fabric and color that helped pick up on an accent in the tent pattern.

Tent panel with fabric swatches for pillows.

With all things in place, we now wait for the opening day to draw a little closer before assembling. It’s like having the nursery all decorated and waiting for the due date to arrive!

To me, February is about as deep in the thralls of winter as one can get.  Even with the spring-like weather we’ve been having, the threat of snow and freezing temperatures still hangs in the air.  I, personally, cannot wait until our gardens come alive with spring ephemerals, budding trees, and carpets of bulbs in just a few weeks!  In the meantime, I like to look back on our trip to the New York Botanical Gardens we took in the fall.  The colorful and unique Chihuly glass pieces provided bright accents to natural fall color, and cheerful distraction from the impeding winter.  Enjoy these pictures from our trip to ease the winter blues!



Recent walks on the Winterthur Estate have proven to me the subtle variation of winter’s beauty, often vacillating between two different poles in the blink of an eye. Here are sights from two of those walks.

A gentle snow was falling as I traipsed beside the reservoir near Armour Farm in late January. A patch of still-standing grasses and weeds drew my eye, like a new world in its dusting of white. The view over the water towards the woods gave glimpses of future walks, the snow illuminating pathways yet to be explored. A flock of Canada geese soon wrested my attention from the land: how fun to watch these hardy creatures paddle their way in the open places, waddle through the slushy margin of ice, and stand tall and proud upon the frozen surface of the pond! A sudden movement along the shore (did I step on a twig?), and the geese took off into a third element, leaving behind in their flight two lone, bewildered birds.

Only a few days later, as the month skipped into February, my ramble in the Old Cutting Garden area introduced colorful fireworks of just-blooming witchhazels. The blossoms were the complete inverse of the brown, dreary edge of the field where I walked. Two very old shrubs (probably different varieties of Hamamelis x intermedia) put forth blooms in hues of crisp yellow and golden yellow-orange. How lovely the flowers against the blue sky! With eyes upward, I noticed yet another “flower” — the dried remains of tulip-tree flowers. Their little cups reminded me of their namesake flowers, which will burst into full color in only a couple more months.

Week 7 of the Folly Frenzy Countdown! Featuring: the Chinese Pavilion.

I am very fortunate to have been able to do some folly reconnaissance in England two summers ago. It was a whirlwind tour of 18 gardens in 16 days and it was pure heaven! All but 2 of the gardens featured at least one folly while five of the gardens were devoted primarily to follies in the landscape. One of those such gardens was Stowe Landscape Garden in Buckinghamshire.

One important and historic folly that we wanted to replicate for our exhibition was the Chinese House at Stowe. Built in 1738, it is folly with historic relevance and to an historic garden attached to a museum of American decorative arts, that is a win-win!

Overall photo of the Chinese House at Stowe. Filled with detail!

This folly is an example of Chinoiserie, or the European interpretation and imitation of Chinese and East Asian artistic traditions. A folly of this age has also seen some sights; originally, sited in water, it moved around in England and Ireland to return to Stowe in a new location, restored…, and now has moved, in spirit, to the US for an even more western interpretation of its design.

Close up of a painting with the Chinese House (in water) in the background.

After copious documentation of the Chinese House (photos, drawings and measurements), we approached Rob McKeown of Elk Creek Cabinetry to see if he wanted to recreate this folly and Rob was up for the task! So as Rob was busy building the structure, we had to come up with how to decorate it. The original folly is embellished with hand painted pictures, evoking the look of Chinese paintings on glass. We knew that we could not replicate that artistic talent but used some techniques implemented by our exhibitions team to create the effect that we desired.

And so it begins…framing of the folly base.

Unfinished lattice.

Finished lattice and interior paint colors.

A template was created of the placement of the paintings on the original folly and then we looked within our own amazing collection for inspiration and found it. The outside images are taken from scenes in the late 18th century, hand-painted Chinese wallpaper in the Chinese Parlor, and the interior is wallpaper from the Port Royal Entrance Hall.

The Chinese Wallpaper in the Chinese Parlor.

Nat Caccamo with paint swatches against the wallpaper in the Port Royal Entrance.

High quality, close up photography was taken of images of the Chinese wallpaper that could be used in our interpretation of the exterior paintings. The interior of the Chinese House was less distinctive and appeared to not have been fully restored so we opted to draw inspiration yet again from our own collection and replicate the wallpaper in Port Royal Entrance Hall, but still use the molding pattern from the interior of the Chinese House. All of the photographs are then placed on weather resistant, 21st century materials. Where science and art meet.

Template for an exterior wall using images from the Chinese Wallpaper.

Template for the interior back wall using images of the wallpaper from the Port Royal Entrance

The designs on the exterior molding of the original folly were all done in free hand. We replicated the “dot molding” as we ended up calling it, by Rob routing out the molding and painting it to create the outer lines followed by me “going to my happy place” while stenciling dots.


Dot molding complete and no, I wasn’t seeing spots!

The ribbon molding (as we refer to it on the original) went beyond our stenciling expertise and after much consternation, we came to the conclusion that this is our interpretation of the Chinese House and since we were changing other aspects of the original design, why not that? Again, the solution was the routing out and painting of molding to create another complimentary repeat pattern.

Close up of molding details. “Dot and Ribbon Molding” as we refer to it.

Unlike many of the other follies which are being built in situ, this folly was created off site in two different locations; the base in a barn and the roof in Rob’s driveway (Did I mention he has a patient wife?)

If you can’t beat ’em, join ’em. Folly with Christmas lights!

Delivery day came and the follies made a trek from their locations, up I-95 to the West Side of the Galleries. Can you imagine the quizzical looks as drivers passed this on the highway? The next day, a crane came on site to place the two pieces together.

Base of the folly being delivered on site.

Crane placement of the base of the folly with the roof waiting in the foreground.

The stylized dolphin finials on the original were changed again to a more Winterthur-style aesthetic, the Hippocampus. The current Hippocampus in the Reflecting Pool was replicated from the original lead sculpture that sustained damage over the years. We reused the mold and with the help of objects conservator Adam Jenkins, a graduate of the Winterthur/University of Delaware Program in Art Conservation, two new lightweight, gold-tone finials were born!

Hippocampus mold off to make us some finials!

Unpainted Hippocampus getting fitted for attachment brackets.

A viewpoint that most won’t see.

Hippocampus in their new home!

As of this writing, the interior wallpaper and exterior pictures await installment and the final touch will be the Chinese calligraphy on the red side panels of the exterior. We are working on the content so brush up on your Chinese characters to see what it says!

If you haven’t caught folly fever yet, that’s ok, there is still time. You saw how Rob strung lights on the roof of the Chinese Folly and folly fever even worked its way into our gingerbread contest at Yuletide…who knows how it might inspire you.

The Chinese House served as an inspiration for our Yuletide gingerbread contest!

We have entered the countdown to the April 1st opening of the Winterthur Garden’s first outdoor exhibition, Follies: Architectural Whimsy in the Garden. It has been a day that I have been dreading for a while but as it moves ever so closer, the anxiety has lessened, being replaced by a mix of anticipation and adrenaline and, on April 2nd, a chance to catch my breath.

As with all construction, some follies are ahead of schedule, some are behind, but all are progressing forward and for that, I am thankful. So, to get this “folly train” movin’, in true countdown form, a new folly will be featured each week, which will take us to the week of March 18th, and the week preceding the opening, March 25th, we’ll feature the reason behind this exhibition; our own historic follies. I will start with the folly that is closest to completion but will intentionally leave out some of the finishing elements because, well, they are not all finished but also to entice you to come in and see the follies for yourself.

I will start the folly-frenzy countdown with the Green Folly. This is a concept that we swirled around in our heads for a while; what would this folly be? In the conceptual phase, we spoke of this folly reflecting the garden yet it took a trip to England to come up with the bones of this folly. It was a visit to Prince Charles’ garden Highgrove that a spark ignited our Green Folly imagination.

Folly at Highgrove that served as inspiration for our own.

The appeal of this folly, for me, was the use of the massive tree trunks as the pillars holding up the roof. Anyone who has walked the Winterthur Garden and wider estate marvels at the size of our trees and in fact, we have several state champions on our property. Trees are both the bones and the soul of the Winterthur Garden and this Highgrove folly captures the grandeur of trees.

Bringing the concept back home and flushing out some details, we came up with the framework of our green folly. For the pillars, we chose to go with a tree that is throughout the property: American beech. The smooth, grey bark contrasts the darker, furrowed bark of other species in our forests and no trunk flair is as consistently dramatic as beech. For the roof, we could have gone with thatch but we already have two thatched roofs in Enchanted Woods. Cedar shingles are used on two of our featured historic follies, the Umbrella Seat and the Bristol Summerhouse, but we don’t have any bundled twigs featured anywhere…so in came that idea.
Free-form furniture and wall options were inspired by a trip to West Dean and also by Martha Stewart! (Sorry West Dean, but Martha won.)

Seating and wall at a folly at West Dean.

Original wall inspiration courtesy of Martha Stewart.

We approached Hugh Lofting Timber Framing with the concept of helping us build the folly. Over 40 years in the business, they never have built something quite like this. They accepted the challenge so our arborists scouted the grounds, looking for trees with the right dimensions and evenly-flared trunks that were also easily accessible for removal by a crane. Brandywine Tree and Shrub had all the right equipment to gently remove the trees and move them to the location.

Skillful cutting of the beech.

Setting of the two front pillars. Not your average timber framing project!

Months of planning got executed in 2 weeks, from cut to assemble, to create the bones of the folly in time for Truck and Tractor Day. We did not want to miss that opportunity to whet the folly appetite at that event!

Green Folly structure completed. Now for embellishments.

At the completion of the timber framing, we decided to not fully “twig” the roof but leave the top portion open to look at the canopy above and the wonderful pattern of the framing. A decision inspired by the moment.

Roof design highlighting canopy. Too pretty to cover completely.

Illuminated at Winterthur After Hours.

Branches from the removals were piled in our fields. The original thought was to use bundled branches without leaves but the removals occurred while in full leaf and true to beech, the leaves persisted. That would be a lot of leaves to remove by hand…and beggars can’t be choosers so the design changed to include leaves on the twigs! Those piles were sorted and then later bundled.

Branch sorting begins…

A sidebar of this story, Enchanted Woods had a lot of improvements this past year: the installation of a new hand pump and plumbing, reworking of the stone pathways, replacement of the exposed timbers on the Faerie Cottage and some thatching repairs. Fortunately, for me, the thatching was the last to occur and William Cahill extended his stay to help in our “twiggery” (our made up name for twig roofing!) We placed grapevine and bittersweet vine down as the “rafters” and then attached the bundled twigs (with leaves) to it.

Twisted vine rafters.

A piece of braided vine did not make it to the rafters but instead comes out of a stump and provides the illusion that the rafters stem from this living connection to the ground. Again, some decisions made in the creative process.

“Living vine” sprouting from a tree stump.

In conversations with architect Bob Grove and engineer Gary Gredell, both involved in the follies exhibition, the cut-disk wall idea morphed into stacked wood. I think it came by a very practical observation of my description that the wall would be made of disks that looked like stacked wood. The response was simply, “why don’t you just make it out of stacked wood?”


The seat design evolved with the stacked wall idea, with two pieces of the wall being longer, forming a cantilevered seat. Then came, “Wouldn’t it be neat if there was a window in the wall?” Enter blacksmith Seth Barchowsky who created the oval framework (embellished with leaves) for the window.
Oh, did I mention that the wood for the wall came from river birch trees removed earlier in the year from my property? At the time of their removals, I was not sure how or if we would use the logs but I figured that the ornamental bark of the birch logs had folly potential.
As of this writing, the wall is not yet completed but one can get a picture of what it will look like.

Cut wood for walls and vines for rafters, courtesy of our arborists!

A not yet finished wall and seat prototype.

The finial is the last piece to go on. We approached Ron Brown, who turns bowls from Winterthur wood for our gift shop, to turn a piece for us. (check out his work in our Clenny Run Museum Store!) We chose an urn whose contents we could alter seasonally to reflect the changes in the garden.

Finial turned from Winterthur wood.

As you can see, there have been many hands involved in the creation of this folly: in all of our follies, really. Each person who has been involved has had a bit of a twinkle in the eye about their particular part in its creation. A collaboration of professionals and craftsmen with years of experience, but not on a project quite like this. The construction of each folly brings out the kid in us and that unbridled imagination is just the inspiration that is needed to create these whimsical structures.