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The result of decades of passion and dedication, Innisfree is a 200-acre preserve situated 90 miles north of New York City. A masterpiece of Eastern influence on a distinctly American landscape, the garden is the creation of painter Walter Beck, his wife Marion, and landscape architect Lester Collins, beginning in the early 1930s. Rather than surround their newly completed Queen Anne-style mansion with typical English gardens, the Becks went on a yearlong sojourn searching for an alternative. In London Beck discovered the scroll paintings of the garden of eighth-century Chinese poet and painter Wang Wei. The paintings inspired Beck to create a series of self-contained landscapes using natural elements such as rocks, streams, and plants to compose and frame nature. The three–dimensional compositions that he termed “cup gardens” are intended to be both viewed and more deeply experienced.
Upon Beck’s death in 1954, landscape architect Lester Collins reinterpreted his work at Innisfree. A student of the ancient Japanese gardening handbook Sensai Hisho, or Secret Garden Book, Collins incorporated Beck’s many cup gardens into a larger, more unified design, allowing visitors to gracefully traverse the space along paths of gravel, grass, or brick that surround the 40-acre Tyrrel Lake. Following Marion Beck’s death in 1959, responsiblity for the garden transferred to the Innisfree Foundation, which was created to preserve the property and continues to maintain it today. The garden opened to the public in 1960. Innisfree was listed in the National Register of Historic Places in 2019.