In the UK, a land of ruined castles, watchtowers and country gardens, there is such a reverence for 18th-century follies – whimsical and sometimes charmingly unnecessary buildings – that an organization called Folly Fellowship was created “to protect, preserve and promote follies, caves and garden buildings. In the southern United States, land of vegetable gardens, pleasure gardens and aperitifs, follies have also enchanted landscapers for generations. “The first American follies were fashionable follies, copies of English country garden structures,” says Gwyn Headley, architectural historian and Fellowship co-founder. “You see, in Britain we usually break it down into splurges of fashion and the follies of passion.” The South lacks no type, whether it’s a gracious gathering spot in Georgia, a stately potting shed in a Texas vegetable garden, or the spunky, funky folk-art mansion of two antique dealers. of South Carolina built for their sneaky chickens. “I believe there has to be some degree of eccentricity for a building to be considered madness,” Headley says. Eccentrics, creatives, gardeners, all are welcome to peek inside these three Southern follies.
the Skyline Sanctuary
When former Hurricane Irma swept through Atlanta as a tropical storm in September 2017, winds of over forty miles per hour downed a large old red oak tree in Michelle and Leon Jones’ backyard, leveling a garage little used in the process. “I felt sorry for the tree, but the garage was old and too small,” Michelle says, “so I thought, Now we have a clean slate.” The family’s yard in historic Brookwood Hills, changing from shady to sunny, allowed the couple’s landscape architect, John Howard, to reconfigure it with a lawn surrounded by hydrangeas and a view of Midtown Atlanta.
Working with architect Hoyte Johnson, the Joneses came up with a design for a versatile folly as the centerpiece. The new structure has three sides of windows and doors and a pyramid-shaped copper roof; small clerestory windows let in even more light. Its classic yet modern design features copper lanterns and wooden plank storage walls, as well as rear space to store garden tools. Rosemary, creeping thyme and immortality iris in the adjoining garden add texture but don’t overwhelm.
With Atlanta’s mild weather, the doors stay open most of the time, even though the madness has heat and air conditioning. “We use it almost every day,” Michelle says: as a workspace for their 20-something daughters (“The setting is perfect for a Zoom meeting”), a lunch spot for a tennis band, a cocktail spot for friends, and as the scene of special occasion dinner parties, including the Jones’ annual Christmas brunch. Michelle just loves hanging out in the garden, now that she has a place to relax afterwards. “I’m going out to pull a weed,” she said, “and the next thing you know, it’s been eight hours.” -Lisa Mowry
The vegetable garden shed
In a small town north of Dallas, Paige Bingham and her two brothers commissioned plans for a vegetable garden anchored by a custom potting shed and presented them to their mother as a remarkable Christmas present. “She was thrilled,” says Bingham, “and even more so because she could be involved in the collaborative process of where we put the trellises and what vegetables to plant where.”
The family enlisted the help of Dallas interior designer Lisa Luby Ryan, who considered installing symmetrical raised beds to direct the eye. “The shed is the focal point,” Ryan explains. “That’s what makes the garden so cozy and picturesque, and yet it works. The family stores their tools, bulbs and string, everything they need in the garden.
Ryan hired Hillbrook Collections, a garden shed builder in Pennsylvania, to create a curved-roof structure and deliver it on a partially unfinished set. Then she added the final Texas touches of a Granbury limestone back wall, Waco wood beams, and a textured roof in paint, bonderized steel that looks pleasantly weathered. “I wanted the cabin to look like it’s been there forever,” Ryan says. She turned old tobacco drying sticks into a rustic fence, and the family sowed zinnias and lavender and planted onions, tomatoes, tomatillos and cilantro – whatever they might need to make a batch of pico de gallo to share.
The Poultry House of Folk Art
Greenville, South Carolina
“Omelette is overbearing; Checkers isn’t too bright, but she’s classy; and Camilla, she’s the queen and the mastermind,” says Michael Greene, describing his three chickens and describing the schemes they hatch to sneak into his antique store, Artifacts Greenville. Greene can’t understand why they want to go inside so badly (perhaps to browse the shop for feather-rimmed trays or gold-rimmed deviled-egg plates?), especially after he and his partner , Scott Johnson, have built a mansion for the birds. “Well, it all started as a chicken coop,” Greene explains, “and then the devil and the bourbon got involved.”
The Greek-inspired bird villa features columns, a ramp, a porch and a pergola. “Once we built the structure, we talked about cutting it into traditional molding,” says Johnson. “But then we decided to do it in a folk art style, layering found objects to create patterns and shadows.” They glued rows of alphabet blocks around vintage bird figurines and glued on rows of bottle caps and seashells and toy soldiers and golf clubs from South Carolina thrift stores. “And then,” says Greene, “we painted everything a brilliant lavender, because the color played so well with the greenery,” which includes banana trees, boxwood, cabbage, and other passing plants that customers share. “We’ve had visitors from Charleston in China stop by just to see the chicken coop,” Johnson says. Artefacts opens its doors every day except Sunday and Monday and regularly organizes outdoor art gatherings in the garden. Keep an eye on Camilla, she’s always on the lookout for accomplices who leave the back door open.