By Anna Lynn Sibal
One of the most endearing and enduring works of the poet William Butler Yeats is the poem The Lake Isle of Innisfree, written in 1892. The poem, which begins with the line, “I will arise and go now, and go to Innisfree,” speaks of longing for home and for inner peace and tranquility. In celebration and homage to the author and his poem, the artist Walter Beck and his wife Marion named their estate Innisfree.
It is said that Innisfree Garden, located in Millbrook, New York, is the best backyard secret of the Hudson Valley. But it could hardly be called a backyard and neither do most backyards look like Innisfree Garden. It is not easy to get to, but once you reach the site, you will be immediately awed by the beauty and serenity of the place.
Innisfree Garden is a 150-acre property that embraces the shores of Tyrrel Lake. In designing the garden, Walter Beck drew inspiration from the landscape paintings of the ancient Chinese poet and painter Wang Wei. However, while Walter Beck applied the principles of Chinese landscaping to his garden, he took painstaking care in ensuring that his Innisfree will not end up a copy of a typical Chinese garden. Thus, Innisfree Garden is not an imitation of a Chinese garden, but rather an American garden created using Chinese elements and Chinese techniques.
The result is spectacular. Innisfree Garden does not put out all her beauty on display, to be enjoyed in one glance. Instead, visitors to Innisfree Garden are enjoined to discover the secret wonders and mysteries of Innisfree Garden as they wander about and explore. Innisfree Garden is a cluster of smaller cup gardens, with each cup garden intimate and drawing the eyes to its own object of focus. Each cup garden, though forming a picture of its own, is connected to the others to create a sense of harmony and motion.
The plants and flowers of Innisfree Garden are native to Hudson Valley. The stones that were used to form its retaining walls and rock placements are also native to the property, not quarried from somewhere else. The rocks themselves are like natural sculptures crafted from combinations of granite, quartz, sandstone and limestone. The water that supplies the waterfalls and streams found in Innisfree Garden come from a reservoir that is supplied by Lake Tyrrel itself, using a complex pumping system comprised of underground pipes.
Upon the death of Walter Beck by the end of the 1950s, the property passed on to the care of the Innisfree Foundation, formed by Walter Beck’s friend Lester Collins, a landscape architect who then acted as curator of the Innisfree Garden until his death in 1993. Lester Collins is prominent in the field of landscape architecture, known for his work at the Hirshhorn Sculpture Garden of the Smithsonian Institute, among others. He, however, considered his work at Innisfree Garden to be the most significant of his career. Innisfree Garden, then a private sanctuary of Walter and Marion Beck, was opened by the Innisfree Foundation to the public in the 1960s.
The Innisfree Garden is a 90-mile drive away from New York City. A long trip it may be from the city itself, the long drive is worth the effort if you wish to have a taste of peace and tranquility, as W.B. Yeats expressed in his poem.
New York City Guide