Contrary to the popular opinion, mans greatest asset is not his ruthless ambition, nor his dexterity, nor even (dare I say it?) the ability to garden. No, mans greatest wealth lies in his capacity for happiness. There is no commodity that spreads so widely or so quickly as happiness, or that brings so much good with it. As my old friend Robert Louis Stevenson often remarks ‘A happy man or woman is a better thing to find than a five pound note. He or she is a radiating focus of goodwill; and their entrance into the room is although another candle had been lighted.’ Quite so Robert. Who cares how talented you are? How many millions of pounds you pocketed last month? How magnificent your beard is, and how well you wear it? If you spend your life radiating misery you are of far less value to mankind than the common or garden grinning dolt.
Now I realise that shouting ‘come on be happy!!’ into the electronic void is not the answer to the world’s problems. People need to be made happy, and people are made happy by different things. From a vigorous and empirical period of self-study I have discovered these different things are follies! Lots of different types of folly! Can there be any greater joy than in planning a Greco-Roman Temple to go next to the tool shed? Or sneaking a 100ft pagoda-cum-vulture-house past the planning officers? Could there be any better or happier way to spend your retirement and all your savings than on a three-quarter-size replica of a ruined medieval castle for your front garden? I genuinely think not.
I plead with anyone who is reading this and feeling slightly miserable, unloved or pointless to start planning a folly. You will be doing yourself a huge favour, but more importantly you will be doing me a favour by making the world a slightly more cheerful place.
But where to start? Hard landscaping is something that has come to the fore in garden design recently, sleek materials and stylish surfaces abound, take a look round Chelsea Flower Show and you will see that there are a lot of talented people taking great care over shiny finishes, but these features are just the fodder of the hard landscaping world, they are its lawns. It is important to have a nice lawn, a bad lawn can even ruin your garden, but no ones going to come round just to look at your lawn, no one is going to sit for hours writing poetry about your lawn, no celebrities are going to name their children after different varieties of your lawn, we’re in it for the flowers!! It is the flowers that bring us happiness, and the folly is the flower of the hard landscaping world. It has no purpose but beauty, there is no vulgar practicality about the structure to sully it with worldly concerns, it is a monument to the imagination alone. Don’t look to the gardens shows for inspiration on what folly to use and what to build it with; instead look at your own secret and probably quite embarrassing perversions.
Similarly when planning your garden folly make sure you do not simply run out and buy an off the peg folly, that will not make you happy, that is not even a folly, its a stone Wendy House. Your folly must be yours and yours alone. It must be a testament to your own quixotic obsessions. Like Man United? Then build a replica of Old Trafford. Like Spinal Tap? Then build Stonehenge. This must be something that you can spend decades pottering about in, modifying and muttering about, to the eternal despair of your family. Your models in this endeavour should be Uncle Toby and Corporal Trim from Laurence Stearn’s Tristram Shandy who spend their dotage happily building replicas of great European fortresses of the 1680’s on a bowling green behind their cottage.
I myself do not even have a corporeal folly; I have nowhere to put it. But have a mental folly (several mental follies) and it is in these that I delight. Join me as I wander around with an idiotic beam, my head lost in the forests of Renaissance Germany and I can guarantee the world will soon be a slightly better place.