…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.