Streams • Waterfalls
What They Are about
In the late 1920s, Walter Beck and his wife, avid gardener and heiress Marion Burt Beck, began work on Innisfree, their country residence in Millbrook, New York. Walter Beck’s fascination with Asian art influenced his painting, the collecting he and his wife pursued, and their ideas on garden design. In the 1930s, Beck discovered the work of 8th-century Chinese poet, painter and garden maker Wang Wei. Studying scroll paintings of his famed garden, the Wangchuan Villa, Beck observed that Wang created carefully defined, inwardly focused gardens and garden vignettes within a larger, naturalistic landscape. Wang’s place-making technique — christened “cup gardens,” by Beck — influenced centuries of Chinese and Japanese garden design. It is also the principal design motif in the Innisfree landscape. Like his Chinese predecessor, Beck created three-dimensional pictures in the garden, incorporating both rocks from the site and horticultural advice from his wife. Unlike Wang Wei, or perhaps more familiar figures like Lawrence Johnston, who used his cup-like rooms at Hidcote in England to draw one through a sequence of events and create an overall sense of place, Beck focused more on individual compositions. Relating these to each other and to the landscape as a whole was the genius of Lester Collins. Like his traditional Chinese and Japanese counterparts, Collins used his deep knowledge of the site and clear ideas for the garden to design in situ at Innisfree, instead of on paper. This methodology was unique in his oeuvre. In this way, he experimented with and refined his design from 1938 until his death in 1993. All the while, Lester Collins maintained the cup garden concepts of Wang Wei and the spirit that he and the Becks envisioned for Innisfree — a contemplation on the joyous union of man and nature.
We ask that guests leave the garden by closing time.
It takes about 90 minutes to explore the garden at a leisurely pace, longer for the enthusiast, so please plan your visit accordingly.
Come ready to be outdoors. Wear walking shoes. The terrain can be rough, paths are not paved, and the garden is large. Plan accordingly for sun exposure and insects.