In the Garden:
Mid-Atlantic
April, 2010
Regional Report

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New York City's High Line - from weedy rail yard to vital plant-filled, West Side city park.

Highlights of the High Line

Plants can heal. We know that viscerally, as our pulse slows and our body relaxes when we stroll through lush woodlands. Studies show hospitalized people in rooms with windows facing green space feel better faster than counterparts without plants in view. Trees in a community lower the incidence of violence, reports a renowned Chicago study.

Last June, Manhattan Island experienced a chlorophyll infusion that's healing the landscape, energizing people, and building community. It was the opening of the High Line Park on New York City's West Side, with a breathtaking view of the Hudson River and New York Harbor.

What's so special about a park? High Line is a huge, hard-fought, and still-in-process transformation of an unused, elevated, slated-for-demolition 1930s railroad yard into a vital urban mecca; a change from weedy, abandoned railroad tracks to living art through horticulture and architecture.

For months, people have been urging me to see The High Line. I visited on a sunny March day, expecting to be fascinated by the landscaping. Which I was. Handsome native Heuchera americana, swirls and stands of ornamental grasses, 'Pallida' hybrid witch hazel in golden bloom, crab apple and quince budding up, Echinacea seed heads that had defied winter accented an ever-so-clever use of tapered concrete planking as broad walkway with intermittent grass planting spots.

The WOW factor, though, was the dynamic, diverse, colorful mingling of adults and children walking the Line from Gansevoort Street to 20th Street. Or lounging on the spacious double wooden riverside park chairs. Or watching the Statue of Liberty from the elevated 10th Avenue Square. Or sitting and chatting in the south Plaza.

The High Line is a park to savor, not hurry through. Its open-air design and elevation made it feel infinitely spacious, even as New Yorkers and tourists like me seemingly filled the walkways. People milled around 14th street sundeck- an entry spot with elevator and stairs- maybe in hopes of others vacating the generously-sized wood benches and chairs. On the streets below, the meatpacking district is now hip with trendy restaurants and bars, art galleries, select clothing and decorative home goods stores.

More on the Landscape
While the human scene shifted like a kaleidoscope, the plant world held steady in various themed walkway beds, surrounding railroad tracks, even between concrete planks. Though many plants were dormant, front and center were the tried-and-trues we sustainable gardeners depend on for winter and early spring interest. Coral bells- 'Dale's Strain' and two H. villosa cultivars, 'Autumn Bride' and 'Brownies.' Ornamental grasses from short, clumpy sedges(Carex )to upright swathes of big and little bluestem and switchgrass. Early-blooming Viburnum bodnantense 'Charles Lamont' and 'Midwinter Fire' red twig dogwood.

James Corner Field Operations and Diller Scofidio + Renfro designed the landscape in consultation with planting designer Piet Oudolf. More than 200 species of perennials, grasses, shrubs and trees were planted in the first open portion of the High Line. Many are natives; all were selected for their hardiness, sustainability, and textural and color variation. They bloom in succession from late January to mid-November. Some species are original to the High Line's rail bed. For more, see www.thehighline.org.


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