Sweet (day)dreams are made of these
I have a dream. In it my angelic children frolic happily in clean clothes on a perfect lawn before helping to serve afternoon tea with perfect manners to guests as we sit in an ornate white gazebo. Reality is that the kids are brawling over control of the TV as I sit on a rickety old garden bench staring at a patchy expanse of grass. I resume my gazebo daydream …
Adam and Eve probably didn’t have one in Eden, but gazebos have been adorning gardens for thousands of years. Known variously as rotundas, summer houses, screen houses, kiosks, pavilions, belvederes, pergolas, arbours, grottos, follies or pagodas; gazebos (pronounced gaz-ee-boh by the way) provide a space to sit and admire the surrounding landscape.
Wealthy ancient Egyptians had them in their gardens 5000 years ago, as did the ancient Romans and residents of Pompeii. Tenth century Persians had elaborate and colourful silk tents, while the Japanese teahouse is an enduring part of their culture to this day. The Louvre, of course, had four, and in 17th century England the craze for all things Chinese led to oriental-style summer houses dotted across the country estates of the wealthy.
These days, gazebos are no longer the province of the wealthy, with designs and styles to suit every taste and budget. Hardware and department stores have canvas tent-style gazebos that drape over metal or plastic frames. Then there are the ready to assemble kits of timber or decorative metal and, at the extreme end, gorgeous confections of metal lacework that recall the bandstands or yesteryear and lattice clad shelters bedecked with climbing roses.
I’m particularly fond of the idea of follies. While gazebos and other garden structures such as those mentioned above serve a specific purpose (generally a place to escape the summer heat while remaining outdoors) follies serve no other purpose than to be picturesque.
Follies began as decorative accents on the great estates of the late 16th century and early 17th century. They were important features in English and French landscape design and took the form of Roman temples, ruined Gothic abbeys, Egyptian pyramids, farmhouses, mills and even hermit’s retreats (complete with a real hermit).
Follies often symbolised the virtues of ancient Rome, or the virtues of country life. The temple of philosophy at Ermenonville was left unfinished to symbolise that knowledge would never be complete, while the temple of modern virtues at Stowe was deliberately ruined, to show the decay of contemporary morals.
The Irish Potato Famine led to the building of several follies as a means to create employment. “Famine follies” were construction projects that were not needed and filled no other purpose than to create jobs. These included roads in the middle of nowhere, between two seemingly random points, screen and estate walls and piers in the middle of bogs.
At our house there’s a folly called the “Grecian Temple”: a nod to my husband’s Greek ancestry. Unfortunately the pile of concrete Corinthian columns he picked up for $80 about 10 years ago resembles more of a Grecian ruin. But I’m assured that it will be an engineering marvel if it ever gets built. (We’re moving soon, but I’m told the columns are moving with us.)
Meanwhile, I continue to imagine sipping tea in one of the summerhouses pictured here, as I watch my angelic children frolic on that perfect lawn.
After all, a girl can still dream.