I who e’re while the happy Garden sung,
By one mans disobedience lost, now sing
Recover’d Paradise to all mankind…

Milton, Paradise Regain’d



Having made some caustic remarks on the great Goethe’s art of gardening and his silly Folly, a little hut of bask beams, I decided to visit again one of my favourite landscape parks, if only because it is so close to my home. Elswout, on the edge of Haarlem as well as on the rim of the Dutch dunes. Specifically these little sandy heights figure large in its design.

Plan of Elswout Park

The plan gives you a good impression of what has happened to the grounds over quite some years. On the left you see a few straight paths, now enclosing a little deer park, once the realm of a small geometrical French garden inside its own walls.

This was designed as well as used at a time when the house was still of 17th-century architecture.


Elswout in the 17th century, dunes in the background

Later it has been demolished and changed for something less attractive. But when still of 17th-century allure, the terrains were transformed in the 18th century into an English Style garden. This was done, using dig offs made into the dunes, the sand being used for house building in Haarlem. In the upper part of the drawing we see anther bit of straight line, the former canal for shipping off that sand.

As utilitarian leftovers those few straight lanes are the reminder of the original French garden. Yet, a master piece was expressly arranged. In the middle of the map below one observes one bit of straight line cutting as it were right into the serpentine setup of it all. Entering it, this is what it looks like.

One is unsure, but at the end of it there may be something standing up. Walking on, we now indeed see is something.


And indeed!


From up close we meet a hunter and his dogs – an ugly piece of sculpture, but beauty is not always what is at stake in a folly.


And a folly of allure it is, a self-referential folly – the only one I ever saw on all my garden journeys throughout Europe. It took also some time to figure it out, many a visit before I gathered its plot.


First one thinks of sounds that the hunter listens to, more or less from the direction his two dogs seem to be looking at. Then it becomes clear that the dogs don’t give a damn. At ease they are, not interested in what the master is interested in. And so right they are, it’s all about something utterly human.

Also both ear and visual attention of the hunter are directed in quite another direction. Looking at him, one wants to turn around and look back along the straight path to see what he is observing.

Yesterday I went to Elswout, to make these photos. It was a miserable, humid day – the air was misty, so not all was that clear.



That was the reason why today, clear skies and frost, I went back and took all pictures again. Now we can see what it is all about:


We now see and I also could hear what this hunter is always seeing and has always been listening to: The spire of the mediaeval church in faraway Haarlem, ringing its bells for service.

The Hunter listens whether the Lord is calling, whether he should perhaps hasten to get to the church in time.


So, what a folly it is – this small path digging straight into its curvy surroundings! Contrasting with the serpentine paths it highlights their relevance and by way of its French formality brings out the Park’s English style – per contra.

It is also a folly in itself, for a semiotics man almost a trail referring to the hunter who then refers back to the small road, which then in turn suddenly becomes the moral Path that leads to heaven. The only garden folly, then, which also comprises the very essence of a neighbouring town, bringing a grand church out there within its own scope. And why not – could this mysterious interplay of references even include the whole cosmos, make it look a little foolish?

This, then, seems to me the lay of the land. A self-referential garden.

A Folly is always a Folly in the eye of its beholder.

Sierksma 15.1.16


Author: rjsiersk

Sierksma was born in Friesland, a 'county' in the northern part of the Netherlands with its own language which he does not speak and with an obstinate population to which he both belongs and does not belong. A retired Professor of Social Philosophy and Aesthetics, as a Harkness fellow he taught at Rutgers and Berkeley Universities in the USA, and at GUAmsterdam and TUDelft in the Netherlands. In 1991 he was awarded his PhD from Leiden University on the subject of 'Surveillance and Task: Labour Discipline between Utilitarianism and Pragmatism'. His books include Minima Memoria (1993), Lost View (2002 with Jan van Geest), and Litter Scent (2013). He has published poems and articles in Te Elfder Ure, Nynade, Oasis and the Architectural Annual. Half the year he lives in Haarlem, the other half he spends in la France Profonde, living ‘in his own words’ as the house out there was bought with the winnings from his essay Eternal Sin, written for the ECI Essay Prize (1993). In this blog, Sierksma's Sequences, written in English, he is peeping round his own and other people’s perspectives. Not easily satisfied with answers nor with questions, he turns his wry wit to a number of philosophical and historical issues. His aim in writing: to make parts of the world light up in his perspective - not my will, thine! Not being a thief, he has no cook, one wife, some children, one lover and three cats.

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