Innisfree Garden Is the Jewel of Millbrook

All photos by Emma Denes

Innisfree Garden is one of America’s largest modern landscapes–and that is perhaps Millbrook’s best-kept natural secret.

Dutchess County’s Millbrook is a nature lover’s paradise. From the Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies to the Trevor Zoo, there’s plenty of environmental work and beauty to appreciate. But for those searching for a hidden backyard getaway, look to Innisfree Garden

@hudsonvalleymag A visit to Innisfree Garden in Millbrook, NY. Have you been to the Dutchess County garden before? // #innisfree #innisfreegarden #millbrook #millbrookny #dutchesscounty #dutchesscountyny #hudsonvalley #hudsonvalleyny #hvmag #nature #garden #inspiration // Video by @sabrina.sucato ♬ Storytelling – Adriel

Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, the 185-acre garden is named after the W.B. Yeats poem “The Lake Isle of Innisfree.” Innisfree is the work of Lester Collins (1914-1993), a famous Fellow of the American Society of Landscape Architects—he also had commissions for projects for the National Zoo and the Smithsonian in Washington D.C.

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innisfree garden

After his time as the Dean of Harvard’s landscape architecture department, Collins turned the estate of 20th-century artist Walter Beck into a stroll garden inspired by Asian design and filled with Modernist and Romantic influences. Innisfree opened to the public in 1960, and it allows visitors to channel their inner Alice in Wonderland as they explore the naturally curated collection of flowers and formations.

innisfree garden

Before you enter the grounds, pack a lunch and enjoy your own personal garden party at one of several picnic tables overlooking Tyrrel Lake. Right away, a unique photo opportunity awaits you with wooden frame installations, encouraging you to linger for an impromptu photoshoot.

innisfree garden goose

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Collins designed Innisfree Garden to be as self-sustainable as possible, employing techniques of horticultural editing and self-sowing to allow desired native plants to emerge. In fact, 40 percent of the flora at Innisfree are wildflowers, while wooded forest envelops the entire landscape. In addition, this advanced landscaping system draws on rainwater to supply the workings of the garden’s diverse array of water features, from architectural fountains to mist waterfalls.

innisfree garden lily pad water lilies

Collins even managed to figure out how to remove the possibility of harmful algal blooms in Tyrrel Lake. By pumping out the lake’s lowest layer, which was the algae’s primary food source, he handed over the nutrients to the garden’s plants, thereby removing the algae and supplementing Innisfree’s flora.

a stunning lake landscape in Millbrook

Throughout the landscape, Innisfree Garden emphasizes the cup garden design first utilized by the ancient Chinese designer Wang Wei. A cup garden is one that encloses an object in order to draw attention to it, highlighting nature’s three-dimensional qualities and creating a living picture.

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Chairs by Tyrrel lake

At its heart, Innisfree Garden is a place of exploration—feel free to wander where your mind and spirit take you, whether that be crossing bridges, meandering along streams, or simply appreciating the beauty of all the garden has to offer. 

If you wish to further interact with the garden’s natural charms, you can take an introductory tour (offered twice a week) or a monthly landscape curator’s tour. The foundation supporting the garden often hosts a variety of special events, from talks with authors and artists to meditative walks. 

Indeed, you would be smart to follow Yeats’ advice: “I will arise and go now, and go to Innisfree.”

Innisfree Garden is open Wednesday–Sunday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Advance online reservations are required.

Related: Millbrook Is a Quaint Country Village for Hudson Valley Residents

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