Going to Innisfree

The Hudson River Valley gardens saga continues . . . (if you’re bored, please let me know. On second thought, better not. I still have one post to go.)

As a child of the 60’s, one of my favorite songs was “Innisfree,” as sung by Judy Collins. It still is. So when I became a gardener, and learned that there was a famous garden in Millbrook, New York, by that name I had to add it to my Hudson River Vally garden itinerary.

Innisfree, Hudson River Valley gardens

The 40-acre lake at Innisfree is glacial. The views, however, are anything but.

From 1930 to 1960, Innisfree was the private garden of Walter and Marion Beck. With the help of landscape architect Lester Collins, the Becks used Chinese garden design techniques to guide the development of the garden. Drawing on the history of Chinese paintings and gardens dating back a thousand years, Walter Beck devised the term “cup garden” to describe the concept behind Innisfree: that of a garden area or vignette that draws attention to something rare or beautiful by setting it within an enclosed or discrete space, to enable to viewer to enjoy it without distraction. A cup garden can be a meadow framed by trees, a lotus pool, or a single rock covered with lichens and sedums. Thus, there has been no attempt to relate any of the planting design, for example, to the stone remnants of the foundation of the original house which are still on site.

Innisfree, Hudson River Valley gardens

Berberis 'Helmond Pillar' and sedums provide dark red contrasts to the chartreuse and green plantings in this terrace area at Innisfree.

Innisfree, Hudson River Valley gardens

One of the many garden terraces at Innisfree

A mist fountain on an upper terrace, near fastigiate Gingkos

At Innisfree, I strolled through a series of carefully framed views, seeing terrace gardens, a meadow stream, carefully placed massive stones (most of which came from the forested areas on the site), and a series of waterfalls, mist fountains, water sculptures, and pools. The garden is 150 acres in all, including a 40-acre glacial lake. Most of the plantings, however, are native.

Innisfree, located in Millbrook, NY, is open from May 7 to October 20 Wednesdays through Sundays and on legal holidays. For more information, visit its website.

See the other Hudson River Valley posts:

Wave Hill
Opus 40
Stonecrop Gardens

Explore posts in the same categories: landscape, Travel

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11 Comments on “Going to Innisfree”

  1. Sarah Says:

    I’ve owned the book by, I think, Lester Collins on Innisfree for years and have always wanted to visit. One day. And I visit Wave Hill often, used to be on the way to visiting family in CT, now on the way to Cape Cod. Anyhow, just discovered your blog through Jane Berger’s; I too belong to LDG and have come across you name though I don’t think I’ve ever met you. I have been a part-time gardener for more than 12 years in DC area– first at the Nat’l Arboretum and now on my own in a few private gardens. Work for a book publisher they other 3 days. Your photographs are wonderful; I suspected you did the Chanticleer Workshop and I was right. ANother thing I hope to do one day. Will visit your blog again. One I enjoy is Chris Upton’s (works at ARboretum)– 1003 Gardens. Sarah
    cheers, sarah

    • Melissa Says:

      Hi, Sarah – nice to see a fellow member of LDG on site and thanks for recommending the 1003 Gardens blog, which I just checked out. My next post will be on Stonecrop Garden, which Jane B. just wrote about! Have you visited there?

  2. gardeningasylum Says:

    Oh oh oh – I need to go there! Beautiful pix – I love that it’s got such a distinctive identity – looks like Asia meets upstate New York. Stunning.

    • Melissa Says:

      It is an amazing place. And when I visited, I met a volunteer in the parking lot who said the “garden areas” are primarily maintained by people like him. Don’t know if that’s still the case but if so, wow.

      The mist fountains are really arresting. I’d love to go back.

  3. noel Says:

    aloha melissa,

    it looks like a beautiful place to take a tour, far away from my world, and you have quite an assortment of fantastic places to visit…i’m looking forward to more pics, more, more, more please 🙂


  4. What a gorgeous, gorgeous garden. Another one to add to the list!

  5. fairegarden Says:

    Hi Melissa, thanks for showing us the beauty of Innisfree. These cups are truly well designed within, the terraces took my breath away.
    Frances

    • Melissa Says:

      Just today I looked at Innisfree’s own website photos. There are some great views of the lake, much better than mine, and some of the same views of the terraces as I shot. So be sure to look at those as well. Thanks for all the kind words and I hope to return there some day!

  6. ukhostland Says:

    Hi ya,
    Thanks for visiting the humble blog of a Gardener in France.
    I’ve just spent a very enjoyable few minutes reading through some of your posts.
    It left me smiling quietly, so thanks for that.

  7. Desiree Says:

    Could this be any more beautiful?


  8. […] ‘Princeton Sentry,’ a fastigiate (narrow) cultivar. I first encountered this variety at Innisfree, in New York, on my Hudson River Valley trip, and have since planted it in a few client’s […]


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