One Tank Trip: Garden at Winterthur


Sometimes things are exactly as they seem: Easy, beautiful, delightful, like when you're driving along and something catches your eye. This time, it's a pyramid in a pond. We wondered what it was for, but it's for nothing really. It's just for your fancy. That's how follies are.

"They can have a use, but they don't have to have a use," said Carol Long, the garden curator at Winterthur. "Sometimes, it's just to draw your eye to the landscape such as this one."

A folly is an ornamental building created for no particular purpose. The buildings were popular in 18th- and 19th-century French and English gardens. You'll find 13 follies at Winterthur, the sprawling 1,000-acre estate in Delaware, former home of collector and horticulturist Henry Francis du Pont.

There are big sky views around the pyramid we first saw. It's called The Needle's Eye, and it sits on two floating docks like a catamaran. There are others you can walk right through.

Some are unexpected, right in the middle of a field. This is a new one, built just for this exhibit, but others have been here awhile.

HF du Pont collected them from other gardens.

A 1750s smokehouse is a hideaway for the estate's HVAC system. You can hear the hardworking hum of the air conditioner.

The follies tell a story about the man who lived here.

"I think it's attention to detail," Long said. "He was a very detailed man, and you see that through many aspects through the garden and in the museum."

We don't always take the time to explore all the details. The follies are invitations to do just that. Walk the path, open the door, go inside. Before this exhibit, Long said most didn't even know what was in here.

"It's really about exploring the landscape," Long said. "A lot of times, I think we walk through a garden with an agenda, but these kind of make you pause and think and explore the garden a little bit."

You can explore by foot. A one-mile walking loop takes about 45 minutes at a leisurely pace, or take the garden tram. Either way, you won't miss them. Some are simply too inviting to ignore.