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Walking the Line

December 20, 2010

Whilst in New York back in November we made a trip over to the trendy Meatpacking District in Manhattan to visit the city’s new High Line park. It had been recommended to us by some friends of ours. Elevated 30 feet in the air it was originally a track, constructed in the thirties, to lift freight trains off the busy roads of Manhattan’s West Side. The last train rumbled along it in 1980 (carrying frozen turkeys incidentally) and it stood disused until it was saved and opened in June 2009 in its new reincarnation as a public park.

High Line, New York. Once an elevated freight railway reinvented as a public space

Being a fan of seeing the old and industrial rescued, reinvented and re-loved, I was already predisposed to liking this park. And when it has been done with such sympathy and evident support what is there not to like? It was great to see the space being used – visitors strolling, chatting, resting, enjoying the atmosphere; gardeners out planting; school kids on educational trips. We felt at once removed from and a part of the bustling city. Our enjoyment was certainly helped by the glorious autumnal sun and blue skies overhead.

Of the section of park that has been completed the planting was naturalistic and predominantly of grasses with herbaceous perennials, trees and shrubs thrown in*. It reminded me of Piet Oudolf’s planting – so I was unsurprised to later discover that he had been consulted on the design. I have been wondering whether the shine is starting to come off the recently-popular prairie style. There has been some chatter to this effect and I was interested to read Alan Titchmarsh in the December issue of Gardeners World confessing to not being much of a fan. But I feel, as with most plants, they have a time and a place and for me it worked in this landscape. Planted en masse and in rivers – or in this case literally in rails! – they have elegance and impact. At that particular time of year they were shimmering, dancing and golden. The planting was inspired by the naturally self-seeded plants that had established themselves on the tracks in the 25 years that they had stood derelict and there has also been an emphasis on using native species.

Planting up section 2

We spent a happy morning on the High Line. Floating above the city we contentedly ambled, photographed, lingered, sat and contemplated the art installations. The Hudson glinted to the west. Liberty stood guard through the distant haze to the south. The Empire State loomed in the east. We walked to the northern end and peered through the railings at the gardeners planting up the new section (section 2 is due to open in 2011 and will include a lawn area and an elevated woodland flyover). Making our way back down the length of the park to Gansevoort Street we reluctantly returned to ground level where we climbed into a yellow taxi to our lunch reservation**. I’m looking forward to returning, hopefully in the not-too-distant future, to see how the new section turns out.

Planting in the rails

Loungers on the track

High Line from the road, Meatpacking District

Hard landscaping merges with the soft and echoes the lines of the track

*If full plant lists are your thing, find it here

**We had lunch at the Union Square Cafe. Recommended to us by friends we would highly recommend it too. It’s best to book.

For more information on the High Line visit here

7 Comments leave one →
  1. December 22, 2010 11:47 am

    Such an evocative description and great photos. Have you visited the Garden Museum exhibition on the Dutch Wave? Fascinating. I’m not sure I’m entirely won over myself, but I can see how well it works here.

    • December 22, 2010 12:11 pm

      Hi Lia – No, I haven’t been to the Garden Museum since its refurb was completed! It’s on my long list of To Dos for 2011. Thanks for letting me know about the exhibition – will make a beeline for it in Jan!

      I have to say I have a bit of a soft spot for grasses but I think they are very easy to get wrong and can end up looking a bit messy!

      Sui Kee

    • December 22, 2010 12:12 pm

      Oh – and THANK YOU for your kind compliments! It means a lot coming from someone whose blog I have been enjoying reading the past few months 😀

  2. February 18, 2011 1:06 pm

    Let’s face it, roses look awful in far too many gardens too.

    I haven’t read Alan Titchmarsh’s piece but I do think a good garden has to be all about the skill of the designer and the way plants are used sensitively in context.

    I have seen awful borders displaying collections of grasses -that is no way to use them at all. And the average town garden wouldn’t obviously lend itself to a prairie.

    It is so good to feel able believe the praise of a garden, as with the High Line!

    • February 21, 2011 11:39 am

      Exactly – any plant can look rubbish if used wrongly or badly. I have seen some sad-looking, plonked grass borders too. Can’t wait to see the High Line at a different time of year. It was definitely autumn when we visited. Ah, what a shame I can’t be there to check it out more frequently ;o)


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