Innisfree Garden in New York’s scenic Hudson Valley is a unique, mid-twentieth century landscape of carefully designed vignettes within a larger naturalistic glacial setting. The mission of the Innisfree Foundation is to preserve the important heritage of this inspiring oasis and to share it with the public.
Created in the Hudson Valley from the 1930s to the 1990’s, Innisfree Garden merges the essence of Modernist and Romantic ideas with traditional Chinese and Japanese garden design principles. Yet it is a distinctly American stroll garden—a sublime composition of rock, water, plants and sky achieved with remarkable economy and grace.
Encompassing 185-acres of designed and natural landscapes around the serene Tyrrel Lake, this landmark is listed on the National Register of Historic Places with exceptional significance. The garden’s remarkable choreography invites exploration, contemplation, and renewal. Each visit a unique experience of vibrant cultural and natural heritage.
“Innisfree is like no other garden—as with origami, it unfolds, surprises and delights.”
(Charles Birnbaum, President and Founder of the Cultural Landscape Foundation)
Innisfree Garden is the masterwork of landscape architect Lester Collins, FASLA (1914–1993), with important contributions by his clients, artist and teacher Walter Beck and gardener and heiress Marion Burt Beck. Collins designed Innisfree Garden to be a place of experiential art, which, according to Lester’s close friend and frequent collaborator the architect Charles W. Moore, is how humans perceive and respond to places and ideas. Open/closed, bright/dark, quiet/noisy, high/low, vast/minute, these are the building blocks for all places. Collins purposefully employed them at Innisfree Garden to bring visitors to a different place, not just physically, but emotionally and intellectually.
Collins’ sweeping landscape evolved over decades of design refinement through subtle handling of the site and slow manipulation of its ecology. By preserving the legacy of Innisfree Garden’s inspired founders, sharing poetic design, nature-based landscape practices, and engaging its community, the garden encourages visitors to connect deeply with essential qualities of nature and fundamental cultural ideas of peace, awareness and beauty.
Human Experience and Wellness: We offer an outdoor destination where people can find beauty, inspiration, mental respite and healthy activity surrounded by art and nature.
Stewardship and Sustainability: We preserve the integrity of both the art and science of Lester Collins’ landscape design. We maintain the visual qualities of this landmark landscape and follow the sustainable, or nature-based, gardening practices that Collins developed on site and which are central to the Innisfree Garden ethos and aesthetic. Innisfree Garden is maintained with much less labor than typical gardens require. We share these concepts and techniques that can be applied with similar effect anywhere in the world.
Authenticity and Restraint: We preserve the essence of Lester Collins’ design that draws on many traditions including his practice as a modernist, his Quaker beliefs, and his scholarly understanding of Asian and European design history. Innisfree Garden celebrates the authenticity of natural objects and processes as well as the concepts of economy and simplicity.
Global Perspectives and Inclusiveness: Taking cues from Innisfree’s global design inspirations, we welcome and respect all individuals and celebrate cultural diversity in our programming.
Integrity: We act ethically, inclusively, respectfully in our relationships.
Community: We contribute to the cultural life and economic prosperity of our region by offering a place for people to enjoy nature as fine-tuned by a master landscape architect.
Jean Parker Phifer, President
Jeffrey Priest, Vice President
James C. Cornell, Treasurer
Lynden B Miller, Secretary
E. Peter Krulewitch
Mark C. Winmill
George Wislocki, Emeritus
Innisfree Foundation, Inc. is a New York 501 (c)(3) nonprofit corporation founded to preserve the important heritage of Innisfree Garden and to share it with the public. Innisfree Foundation, located at Innisfree Garden, 362 Tyrell Road, Millbrook, New York 12545, may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 845-677-8000. Our mailing address is PO Box 970, Millbrook, NY 12545. To obtain a copy of our annual report and audited financial statements, as well as other information about our purpose, programs and activities, please contact us directly. Your charitable contribution to the Innisfree Foundation is very much appreciated and is tax deductible to the fullest extent allowed by law.
Innisfree is perhaps unique as the creation of a single landscape architect in two incarnations, a private and then a public garden.
Walter and Marion Beck had created Innisfree as their private landscape garden, with Lester Collins the renowned landscape architect. After Walter Beck’s death in 1954, Marion Beck asked Lester Collins to actively help her plan a non-profit foundation. Inspired by Dumbarton Oaks, in Georgetown, a former private estate given to Harvard as a public garden, museum, and study center, she decided to endow a foundation in her will for the “study of garden art at Innisfree,” that would create a public garden and study center much like Dumbarton Oaks. She planned an endowment of $1,000,000 and designated Lester Collins as the foundation president. This nonprofit, Innisfree Foundation, was to transform Innisfree into a public garden, create a study center for scholars and students, and sponsor exhibitions, symposia, and publications on garden art and related subjects.
Marion Beck died in 1959 after a long illness that consumed her financial resources. Without the expected endowment, the newly formed nonprofit had to raise money to settle the Becks’ debts simply to secure ownership of the property, opening to the public in 1960. In the early 1970s, Innisfree sold land surrounding the 185-acre garden core to Rockefeller University for use as a research station and preserve, allowing a measure of financial security funding a small endowment.
Organizationally, Lester Collins helped the Becks craft the original mission for the Innisfree Foundation and then shaped the nonprofit that exists today. Physically, after helping create a private retreat for the Becks, Collins orchestrated its material transition to a public space that would “both hold and survive public attention.” Collins focused on developing and refining the design and maintenance of Innisfree. The garden was maintained with extreme thrift on admissions income and a limited drawdown from the modest endowment.
After his death in 1993, members of the Collins family carried on garden management until 2017, so his remarkable maintenance practices were perpetuated, and the landscape is remarkably intact. However, money was thus not available for certain major repairs that are inevitably needed over time, like rebuilding of stone walls and updating utilities. In 2013, Innisfree added a part-time landscape curator to the tiny staff. Public programming and community outreach as well as a membership program and fundraising events were started. A five-year grant from New York State was secured, as well as several smaller grants.
The research and documentation forming the National Register listing of 2019 are now being used, as funding allows, as the basis for a preservation maintenance plan. The nonprofit is professionalizing, creating active committees and fine-tuning its organizational practices. New professional staff members have been added, including a property manager and an administrator. Work has begun cataloguing archival materials at Innisfree. Planning is underway for Innisfree’s first major fundraising event celebrating six decades as a public garden on September 12, 2020.
The significance of Innisfree and Lester Collins’ large body of work is now documented, but this important landscape is still seriously underfunded. Innisfree Foundation has taken purposeful and effective steps toward appropriate preservation and organizational development. With support from landscape lovers everywhere, it will be possible to secure the future of this remarkable place for another 60 years and more.