Did you know? According to Merriam Webster, a folly is an often extravagant picturesque building erected to suit a fanciful taste.

Ornamental follies

The Rocher Rousseau and the Rocher Delille

These boulders reinforce the picturesque nature of La Garenne, according to François-Frédéric Lemot’s wishes. He was inspired by other folly parks that were very fashionable at the time, such as the garden in Ermenonville in the Oise region. Several inscriptions are engraved on the boulders. For the Rocher Rousseau, located near the pergola, Lemot was inspired by an inscription by English poet William Shenstone (1714-1763) engraved in a grotto in the Ermenonville park.

François-Frédéric Lemot changed the poem by replacing the word "fountain" in the original version with the word "river", thus referring to the Sèvre Nantaise which flows below.

Ô limpide rivière, Ô rivière chérie,

puisse la sotte vanité

ne jamais dédaigner ta rive humble et fleurie,

que ton simple sentier ne soit point fréquenté

par aucuns tourments de la vie,

tels que l’ambition, l’envie,

l’avarice et la fausseté.

Un bocage si frais, un séjour si tranquille,

aux tendres sentiments doit seul servir d’asile.

Ces rameaux amoureux entrelassés exprès,

aux Muses, aux Amours, offrent leur voile épais.

Et ce cristal d’une onde pure,

à jamais ne doit réfléchir

que les grâces de la Nature

et les images du plaisir.

The Rocher Delille bears a quotation from Les Jardins by Abbé Delille (1738-1813) referring to the solidity of the rock :

"Sa masse indestructible a fatigué le temps".

  • The rocher Rousseau
    The rocher Rousseau © M. Dubois
  • The rocher Rousseau
    The rocher Rousseau © M. Dubois
  • The rocher Delille
    The rocher Delille © N. Lescop

The Grotto of Heloise

This grotto owes its name to a 12th century heroine, the young Heloise, who fell in love with her tutor Abelard, a native of Le Pallet.

In her grief, she supposedly took refuge in the grotto to cry in secret, as evoked by an inscription in the granite.

In fact, Lemot invented the story to transform the grotto into a place of legend.

The entrance to the grotto bears an inscription engraved in the rock in 1813 by Antoine Peccot, a scholar and friend of Lemot’s.

Héloïse peut-être erra sur ce rivage,

Quand, aux yeux des jaloux dérobant son séjour,

Dans les murs du Pallet elle vint mettre au jour

Un fils, cher et malheureux gage

De ses plaisirs furtifs et de son tendre amour.

Peut-être en ce réduit sauvage,

Seule, plus d’une fois, elle vint soupirer,

Et goûter librement la douceur de pleurer ;

Peut-être, sur ce roc assise

Elle rêvait à son malheur.

J’y veux rêver aussi ; j’y veux remplir mon coeur

Du doux souvenir d’Héloïse.

  • Towards the Grotto of Heloise
    Towards the Grotto of Heloise © D. Pillet
  • The Grotto of Heloise
    The Grotto of Heloise © M.P. Guillou
  • The entrance of the Grotto of Heloise
    The entrance of the Grotto of Heloise © D. Pillet
  • Inscriptions
    Inscriptions © M.P. Guillou

The aedicula

This aedicula is a small construction typical of Roman antiquity in which a statue, usually a protective deity, was housed. Although we do not know what Lemot's original plan was, old postcards show that it held a statue of Ceres, Goddess of Fertility, which is now located in front of the entrance to the villa. It is a brick and stone monument modelled after ancient structures with a gable roof and a semi-circular niche.

L'édicule à niche
L'édicule à niche © I. David

The ancient tomb

This folly, completed in 1818, is located near the Baths of Diana. It is based on drawings attributed to François-Frédéric Lemot himself.

A Latin inscription, once engraved in the rock but now disappeared, "Et in Arcadia Ego," in other words: "I also am in Arcadia" linked the park to ancient Arcadia, a region in the central Peloponnese celebrated as an idyllic place. This poetic reference encouraged visitors to remember the ephemeral nature of life and to enjoy every moment.

The Baths of Diana

This space was designed by Lemot in 1815. The hornbeams planted along the shore make it a tree-shaded place, conducive to daydreaming. Both aquatic and mineral, it symbolises the place where Diana, the Goddess of the Hunt, used to rest.

  • The Baths of Diana
    The Baths of Diana © M. Dubois
  • The Baths of Diana
    The Baths of Diana © M. Dubois

The Madrid Column

According to historian Édouard Richer (1792-1834), this column is a relic of the royal residence known as the “Château de Madrid,” built by King François I in the heart of the Bois de Boulogne, just outside Paris. This column, like the ancient statues, is supposedly an original statue re-used in the Domaine de la Garenne. François-Frédéric Lemot mentions it in his notes regarding the upkeep of the park, asking the estate manager to “fill the area around the François I column with dry pine needles.” As part of the local heritage conservation policy, the Loire-Atlantique Department recently funded the restoration of this column.

The milepost and the ancient mount

The milestone was erected in the Garenne estate in 1813 based on a drawing by François-Frédéric Lemot. Made by a local stonemason, it suggests the existence of a Roman road traced along the Sèvre during the reign of Emperor Augustus. This folly is in fact a fanciful invention by François-Frédéric Lemot, in homage to the grandeur of the Roman Empire.

Not far from the column is the ancient mount, a large stone that enabled riders to mount their horses more easily. This mount calls to mind the departure of travellers.

  • The milepost and the ancient mount
    The milepost and the ancient mount © H. Neveu-Derotrie
  • The milepost
    The milepost © M. Dubois

The Temple of Vesta

Completed in 1823, the Temple of Vesta comprises a round sanctuary surrounded by 18 Tuscan columns. Tuscan columns can be recognised by their protruding, round capitals and very simple bases.

The temple is located at the crest of a picturesque rocky outcrop, reminiscent of the location of the Temple of Vesta in Tivoli, Italy. One of the first sketches for the temple is attributed to architect Mathurin Crucy (1749-1826). In another nod to the Temple of Vesta in Tivoli, Lemot planned to use water from the ditches running along the Route de Poitiers to feed a small waterfall among the rocks. But this project never came to fruition. The temple recently underwent comprehensive restoration work.

Le temple de Vesta
Le temple de Vesta © M. Dubois

The temple of friendship

Two dear friends of François-Frédéric Lemot, the collector and founder of the Clisson museum and institute, François Cacault, and his brother Pierre-René, an artist, died in 1805 and 1810 respectively. François-Frédéric Lemot decided to build a temple in memory of their friendship. Construction began in 1812, based on a design by Nantes architect Mathurin Crucy. Adorned with a portico comprising four Doric columns crowned with a pediment, the temple was completed in 1824. The Cacault heirs did not authorise the transfer of the ashes of the two brothers to the temple. It therefore houses only the remains of François-Frédéric Lemot and his descendants.

The temple has recently been restored.

Château de Clisson

In 1807, François-Frédéric Lemot, enamoured of the medieval château located across the Sèvre Nantaise from the villa, bought the ruins of the former residence of the lords of Clisson. He wanted to preserve the monument and incorporate it into the composition of his landscape garden. The old fortress became a new folly.

Le château de Clisson
Le château de Clisson © M. Dubois

Ancient statues

Between 1824 and 1825, François-Frédéric Lemot installed four Roman marble statues on the estate, further evidence of his fascination with classical antiquities: Ceres, goddess of fertility, Faustina, Roman Empress, Asclepius, god of medicine and an unnamed Roman senator. The granite bases were created on site by surveyor Joseph Gautret, dotted throughout the gardens to create new perspectives for artists.


  • Ceres © M. Dubois
  • Faustine © H. Neveu-Derotrie
  • Asclepius © H. Neveu-Derotrie
  • Roman Emperor © I. David

Modern additions

Copies of antique statues, added after François-Frédéric Lemot's death, line the large green path in front of the villa.

The Statue of Diana

The statue of Diana the Huntress accompanied by her little stag is a cast iron replica produced by the Val d'Osne art foundry of the antique statue known as "Diana of Versailles".

The original statue of Diana the Huntress was discovered in Italy in the region of Nemi near Rome. It dates back to the 2nd century AD. Pope Paul IV gave it to Henry II in 1556. The statue then decorated the gardens of Queen Catherine de Medici in Fontainebleau until 1602, when Henry IV had it transferred to the Gallery of Antiques in the Louvre.

It was during the reign of Louis XIV that it was moved to the Hall of Mirrors at Versailles. Finally, in 1798, it was returned to the Louvre Museum where it still remains today.

Diane chasseresse
Diane chasseresse © H. Neveu-Derotrie

Atalanta and Hippomenes

In front of the villa, the lawn is decorated on both sides with two cast iron replica statues representing two young adults who seem to be playing with a ball.

They are actually replicas of the figures of Hippomenes and Atalanta produced in 1705 by the sculptors Pierre Lepautre and Guillaume Coustou (Paris, Musée du Louvre), for the park of the Château de Marly. The original statues were installed in a grove in the Tuileries Gardens from 1798 to 1940 before being moved to the Louvre.

According to the legend of the Latin poet Ovid, Hippomenes was in love with Atalanta, but to win her hand, he had to beat her in a race. He distracted her by dropping golden apples as they ran. She stopped to pick them up, lost the race and had to marry Hippomenes.

Atalante et Hippomène
Atalante et Hippomène © H. Neveu-Derotrie

Contemporary follies

The Pergola - Dan Graham

Created in 1989 by American artist Dan Graham, as part of the FRAC international workshop series, this contemporary, pyramidal structure incorporates a trellis overgrown with greenery, a double mirror reflecting the surrounding trees and buildings and an aquatic space at its centre which feels like a visual extension of the Sèvre River. This folly completes the promenade opened at the entrance of the park by the first pergola, designed by Lemot himself. Both simultaneously reflect the natural and artificial aspects of a harmonious, landscaped park. For contemporary visitors, the gardens offer a coherent visual experience which emanates and expands from the historical reveries dreamed up by Lemot more than two hundred years ago.

  • The Pergola - Dan Graham
    The Pergola - Dan Graham © M. Dubois
  • The Pergola - Dan Graham
    The Pergola - Dan Graham © M. Dubois

The Tall Oblique of Ivry - Jean Clareboudt

Initially designed to serve as a study for a monumental installation to be created in Ivry, this sculpture was transferred to the Domaine de la Garenne Lemot in 2010. The tripod uses equilibrium and the power struggle between the elements to seemingly thrust the huge granite boulder towards the treetops. Suspended in the air and yet rooted in the soil, this work evokes a strange sense of proximity between heaven and earth. The desire to create a feeling of movement with a monumental, static installation inspired Jean Clareboudt to use a distinctive combination of natural elements (raw stone, wood) and industrial materials (steel plates, girders).

The Artist's Apartment - Pascal Convert

During his residency in Rome in 1990, artist Pascal Convert was given rooms in the Villa Médicis. During his artistic explorations in Italy, he decided to cover the walls of his apartment in glass panels and trace the underlying features onto the surface of the glass. By taking the imprint of the walls, Pascal Convert shows the "lining" of his living room. Later that year, the work was disassembled and installed at the Domaine de la Garenne Lemot, near the villa.

The result is a compelling dialogue between the neoclassical architecture of the villa and the symmetry and regularity captured in this new structure. The use of glass, and the absoluteness of the black and white colour scheme, establish a crisp contrast between this installation and its verdant surroundings, an interplay enhanced by the reflective surfaces.

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