Innisfree Garden

362 Tyrrel Rd,
Millbrook, New York, 12545

I will return when going up to the Berkshires.

This garden is the life long project by Walter Beck and his wife Marion Burt, an avid gardener and heiress. It’s named after Yeats. The Becks envisioned it to be something like Dumbarton Oaks in Georgetown. In 1930s, Walter discovered Tang poet, painter and gardener Wang Wei (王維 699-759) and copied some of his techniques which Beck termed as cup garden.

Getting there: once off the Taconic Parkway, route 44 to 82, the South Road becomes narrow and Tyrrel Rd is narrower. $10 pp parking is free.

The bathroom.

What you’ll see: creeks (mini waterfall), stones, greens and flowers. Flowers here are more as accent than the center piece as the flowers would in a garden. But Innisfree Garden insists that they’re a garden, not a park. A small board at the ticket booth lists which flowers are blooming. After picnic, we stayed about two hours and saw chipmunks, and one gray heron.


The East and West share different views and approaches in designing a garden. Lester Collins wrote:

Western gardens are usually designed to embrace a view of the whole. Little is hidden. The garden, like a stage set, is there in its entirety, its overall design revealed in a glance. The traditional Chinese garden is usually designed so that a view of the whole is impossible. [It] requires a stroll over serpentine, seemingly aimless arteries. The observer walks into a series of episodes, like Alice through the looking glass.

Here is one of Wang’s poem

Mountain stream birdsong
Idly I watch the flowers fall.
The night is still and the hills are empty in Spring.
As the moon rises the mountain birds are disturbed.
Now and then in the Spring stream they sing.

王維 (699-759) 粉丝可能会有兴趣

这个花园是Walter Beck和他的妻子Marion Burt的终生努力,Marion Burt是一位狂热的园丁和女继承人 – 有点像乔治城的敦巴顿橡树园。 20世纪30年代,贝克发现了唐诗人,画家和园丁 王维(699-759)并复制了他的一些技巧。

东西方在设计花园时有不同的看法和方法。 Lester Collins写道:

西方花园通常设计为拥抱整体的景观。 很少隐藏。 花园就像一个舞台布景,完整存在,整体设计一目了然。 中国传统园林的设计通常是不可能的。 [它]需要漫步在蛇形,看似漫无目的的动脉上。 观察者走进一系列剧集,如爱丽丝穿过镜子。

In the Garden of Yin, Yang and Yeats: NYT by Ellen Maguire
July 1, 2005

IN April, Petronella Collins, 85, made her annual spring move into a cottage by Tyrrel Lake in Innisfree Garden, 150 idyllic acres hidden away in the verdant horse country of Dutchess County, N.Y. Ms. Collins, who will stay until November, maintaining the garden with the help of nine part-time assistants, is matter-of-fact about her enviable, if rustic, lodgings and her position as curator of Innisfree since 1993. “I’m an old lady,” she said. “I’m lucky to have a job at all.”

Innisfree Garden, 75 years old, is named for a poem by William Butler Yeats, “The Lake Isle of Innisfree,” that used imagery of an island in Lough Gill in Ireland.

The garden was created painstakingly over 20 years by the late Walter Beck, an American painter inspired by the work of Wang Wei, an eighth-century Chinese artist. Mr. Beck originated the term cup garden for the three-dimensional asymmetrical images he composed of rocks, streams, plants and flowers of varying sizes and shapes around his 40-acre natural lake.

He was befriended by Lester Collins (Ms. Collins’s husband, who died 12 years ago), a landscape architect and student of an ancient Japanese gardening handbook called Sakuteiki or Sensai Hisho, usually translated as Secret Teachings. Mr. Collins connected the individual gardens with a meandering path to form one large cup garden, made up of the grounds, water, sky, cliffs and surrounding low hills. The result of this cultural cross-pollination is a sanctuary that prizes its balance of yin and yang as much as its extensive botanical collection.

Ms. Collins warms to her daily tasks (“The composting soil looks good enough to eat, a dark chocolaty brown,” she said one day in mid-May), but she plays down the mystical aspect of her work. “Mr. Beck was forever coming up with new philosophies,” she said. “I just figure out the best way to get things done.”

It’s possible to make a cursory tour of Innisfree — now administered by a private foundation — in about an hour, but at the price of missing carefully planned detail. “Every nook has a different look,” said Don Briggs, mayor and a lifelong resident of the nearby village of Millbrook.

The basic path, a walkway around the lake, allows for detours to linger in inviting settings. The sound of rushing water from the meticulously designed falls and streams, originating at a six-acre reservoir on a hill above the grounds, is a constant companion, as is bird song.

Beginning to the right of a picnic area near the parking lot, take the path under a wisteria-covered arch, past a tall tree native to China called a metasequoia, to one of the first cup gardens: a 30-foot rock cliff waterfall surrounded by slate sculptures and an abundance of luxuriant large-leaf petasites and blue forget-me-nots. At 2 p.m., the ideal viewing time, the sun illuminates the mist, providing a striking backlight to this primer of Eastern philosophy: upright rock is yang, or male, and water is yin, or female.

Farther west, past Dumpling Knoll, with its unusually tall cucumber magnolia tree and excellent view of the marsh plants in the bog garden, wooden planks zigzag over a serpentine stream lined with ferns to a series of long stone planters where pink and white peonies and some uglier relatives bloom in spring. “I love alliums with their great purple balls on tall stalks,” said Ms. Collins. “But they have genuinely hideous foliage, so we hide them in the back.”

Bloom chasers will find plenty to admire as summer progresses: white yucca, orange butterfly weed, clematis in a variety of colors, a hillside of yellow day lilies and masses of pink and white lotuses in the lake.

Purple loosestrife, a frequent interloper in Northeast landscapes, will not be visible if Ms. Collins can help it: Marion Beck, Mr. Beck’s wife, hated its color, and Herculean efforts are taken to eradicate it. “It’s the only plant in the garden the deer don’t like to nosh on,” said Linda Ahlin, one of the part-time gardeners.

But Innisfree’s beauty rests in its curative effect, no matter the season. “It’s a place of great spirit,” said Mish Tworkowski, a jewelry designer from Manhattan who has a weekend home nearby. “An astringent for city life.”

On a brick terrace, chairs sit under a pergola covered with knotty trumpet vines in a cup garden where trees, not rocks, are the sculpture: beeches, gingkos, a Japanese maple and six towering 125-year-old oaks. On an adjacent patio, visitors can try out the iron garden furniture Ms. Beck selected in the 1930’s. The chairs were once blue, but Mr. Collins had them painted bright yellow. “A much more swinging color,” Ms. Collins said.

Beyond the terrace, a meadow stretches north to six-foot Tip Toe Rock. “My favorite rock, if I had a favorite, for its sheer elegance,” said Ms. Collins, adding that it was probably dug up from the south end of the property by Mr. Beck.

On hot summer days, garden regulars know to slip under the nearby stone bridge, where a cool bench awaits them alongside a rushing waterfall. And at the south end of the property, a 60-foot-high fountain jet mists passersby on a forested peninsula in the lake.

ALONG the way, there is ample opportunity to look for wildlife: Innisfree is home to gray herons, chipmunks, a surfeit of groundhogs and ravenous three-foot water turtles, which have no predators and feast on hapless baby geese. The walkway continues east through a storm-damaged hemlock forest and a meadow with smoke trees (named for their ethereal puffs of foliage) to five slender maples whose branches are just eight inches long, specimens that Ms. Collins considers the most fascinating in the garden and possibly the most columnar trees in existence anywhere.

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