Innisfree: An American Garden
Innisfree is a unique garden in which the techniques of Oriental design are disguised as an enchanted natural landscape. Open to the public yet hardly advertised, it is a secret garden everyone may share.
Set in 200 acres in Millbrook, New York, some 90 miles from New York City, Innisfree was the private preserve of Walter and Marion Beck from 1929 to 1960. It was then bequeathed to The Innisfree Foundation, under the trusteeship of landscape architect Lester Collins.
Inspired by the scroll paintings of eighth-century Chinese poet-painter Wang Wei's garden, Beck created a series of self-contained landscapes using natural elements to frame and fill exquisite pictures. Collins followed the practical directives of the Sensai Hisho, or Secret Garden Book, an ancient Japanese handbook, to transform these individual gardens into a stroll that allows the visitor to move seamlessly from one scene to the next. By the time he died in 1993, he had doubled the size of an already vast and elaborate private garden, needing 20 full-time gardeners, while converting it into a public garden that is maintained by a staff of five.
In this volume, beautifully illustrated with his own photographs and others specially commissioned for it, Collins reveals the magic of Innisfree, from its underlying Eastern philosophy of landscape art to construction details that cause subtle variations in the sound of water. He describes how water sculptures are powered by gravity to combine Chinese art with 20th-century technology and how the rocks and natural features of the whole environment are used to create beauty. An art form, normally seen only in stylized images of pagodas and dragons, is reinterpreted here in a natural landscape in which maintenance has been reduced without compromise to esthetics. Built with the wisdom and principles of the East, Innisfree remains a completely American garden.
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