Having finally visited the Innisfree Garden in Millbrook, NY last month, I was sufficiently intrigued by the beautiful garden to do some research on its history. Built on a large property owned by Marion and Walter Beck, it began in 1922 as a formal English garden and was transmuted into an American version of a traditional Chinese garden.
In London in 1930 Walter Beck happened upon references to a scroll painting of the garden Wang Wei created in eighth century China. Beck studied Chinese landscape paintings and decided to create his own Chinese garden based on Wang Wei’s precepts.
Returning to America, the Becks collaborated with Lester Collins, a Harvard trained landscape architect, to create a garden centered around a lake on their large property. The garden is a series of planned “cups” that create many different vistas – some large and some quite small. Each cup garden emphasizes a particular feature of the landscape – a rock, tree, planting, or water.
Not having children, the Becks chose to establish a charitable trust to maintain their garden for the public. It opened in 1960 and fifty years later continues to be a spectacularly beautiful place to visit. Lester Collins wrote a book about the history and creation of the garden: Innisfree: An American Garden. It is a fascinating short read and is illustrated with many photographs of sections of the garden. Reading it may inspire you to visit Innisfree in the spring. The garden is open from May through October.
Marie King teaches 5th through 8th Grade literature at Mizzentop Day School. A resident of Pawling for thirteen years, she has also led book groups for adults, children, and parents and children at the Pawling Library. Ms. King has edited and published The Voyage of the Hougoumont, Life at Fremantle: The Life of an Irish Rebel and John Devoy’s Catalpa Expedition.