A walk along the High Line in April

The High Line, NYC/enclos*ure

I want to share my photos from our walk along the High Line in New York City last month.

It was actually our second walk — I left my camera behind on the first. It’s such a remarkable place that my husband, who has limited patience for garden tourism, readily agreed to go back with me.

The High Line is a meadow and woodland park on top of about a mile of abandoned elevated railway line.

It trails through an crowded urban landscape and rather than offer you a retreat from the city, it puts you right up in the city’s face — with apartment windows and construction sites almost within touch and noisy traffic moving below.  The juxtaposition is thought-provoking, and the raised views are fascinating.

The High Line, NYC/enclos*ure

In early April, of course, we weren’t seeing most of the plants at their best, but it was interesting to see so clearly the arrangement and spacing of the grasses, some emerging perennials, and the shrubs and small trees — as well as the features of the built structure.

The High Line’s planting plans were designed by Piet Oudolf, and  I found a good summary of his approach to the meadow areas in an article by Tom Stuart-Smith in The Telegraph.

For Oudolf, planting has always been about creating moods and eliciting emotions. But the [High Line] gains an extra weight by connecting us to how plants grow in the wild. The design becomes much more about creating a plant community rather than a collection of individuals. To take one section of planting . . . , the plan shows a loose matrix of grass species planted throughout; in this case a mix of Panicum virgatum ‘Heiliger Hain’ and Calamagrostis brachytricha spaced about 1-1.5m apart with about 20 other varieties of perennial flower spread through in different-sized groups, from one plant used just singly to another planted in generous groups. The flowers therefore are always seen within a matrix of grasses, just as they might be in nature.

The full article — related to the recent publication of the book Planting, A New Perspective — is very interesting about Oudolf’s technique and influence.

The High Line, NYC/enclos*ure

I found my photos weren’t very useful at a few inches wide, so please click on the first thumbnail below to scroll through full-size images.

(The plants of the High Line aren’t labeled, but, you can download a list to take with you here.)

Our garden: blue hills, yellow flowers

The landscape in the distance can provide one of the colors in a planting bed combination.

That’s come home to me this week as I’ve noticed how great the yellow daylilies in front of our terrace look against our view of the blue Kigali hills and sky.

Classic blue and yellow are working really well in this open, bright area.  (The columns of the terrace are pale yellow too.)

Below are yellow abutilon and yellow foliage in the same area. I need to bring some cream into the mix.

As the garden comes back from our  all the changes we made this summer, I’m starting to think more comprehensively about structure/color combinations in the planting beds. In June, as my two temporary helpers were fast digging up swathes of shrubs and flowers, there wasn’t a lot of time to get too prissy about perennial placement — I knew where I wanted the shrubs and grass, my main concerns for Phase One.

Quickly, I tried to direct the placement of the other plants into something like the ever-advised drifts, but as things fill in, I’m not getting the overall “clarity” (the word that most comes to my mind) that I want. So I need to get the shovel back out. (But these daylilies are good.)

I’m thinking about this observation on the relationship between plant color and form by Piet Oudolf:

Different shapes + different colours
There is a danger that there will be too much contrast. The eye may be overstimulated, and there may be no common ground.

He goes on, however, to say that “this is only a suggestion to be cautious. . . as even outrageous contrasts may work!”

He indicates that easier approaches may be:

  • Related shapes + related colours
  • Different shapes + related colours [Think Nori and Sandra Pope — I am.]
  • Related shapes + different colours

(from Designing with Plants.)

In September, we visited Chicago, and I spent some time in the Oudolf-designed* Lurie Garden.  In the large section in the photo below, fading shades of purple predominated.

Seed heads in dark brown, below, provided contrast.

OK, that works.

Above, in a yellow section of the garden, an ornamental grass is a transparent curtain across the city buildings.

*with Gustafson, Guthrie, Nichol, Ltd., and Robert Israel.