Tag Archives: Piet Oudolf

completion of the High Line September 21, 2014

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Before it was constructed, the New York Central Railroad had operated a rail freight line at grade, or street level, along Tenth Avenue, and men on horseback (“West Side cowboys”) had ridden ahead of the train with red flags or lanterns to warn pedestrians of its coming; yet even with this picturesque alarm system, so many careless, inebriated or simply unlucky citizens had gotten run over that the street acquired the notorious name “Death Avenue.” For over 70 years, since the mid-19th century, public outcry had agitated against this danger to life and limb, demanding a safer solution: thus, the High Line.” (Here.)

Completed September 21, 2014, the High Line park has now become many things to many people, its Rashomon effect hashed out in the comments section of the many articles written about its success. It’s been five years since the first phase opened, with the third and final phase finished this fall. Over that span of time, my unadulterated delight at the railway’s rebirth into a park with plantings designed by Piet Oudolf has become complicated by learning of many other divergent reactions, and quite a few outright hostile ones, including accusing the park of being a Trojan Horse hiding rapacious developers. Because of the unimagined success of its new life as a beloved city park and tourist destination, drawing 5 million a year, it’s easy to forget its humble origins in community activism. I’ve seen neighborhood activism up close, and it isn’t always pretty. Contentious, divisive, disillusioning, these are what come to mind. Semi-contemporaneous with the grass-roots conversion of the disused railway line into a public park in NYC, my neighborhood association in Los Angeles was also involved in a grass roots effort concerning a property suffering from extreme landlord neglect, a property that slipped in and out of drug dealing. After years of frustrating engagement with the city at all levels, code, police, planning, the property seemed to magically accelerate on a fast track to a “pocket park,’ a cherished pipe dream of neighborhood activists. All of a sudden, the long-sought grant money was there, the city’s will was no longer wobbly but strong, and after years of dead-end efforts, the pocket park was a go. Plans were approved, the troubled property was sacrificed on the altar of eminent domain, and the park is now a year old. (I had nothing to do with the process, only attending a couple meetings and ceremonies.) The differences in scale between the two projects couldn’t be more stark, but I have to admit I had my doubts that either project would ever get off the ground. Another difference is that, unlike the High Line project, everyone in our neighborhood is wildly enthusiastic about our result. But then our neighborhood is in no danger of developers rushing in to build luxury penthouses to take advantage of views of our pocket park. (Some might say more’s the pity!)


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The High Line experienced a similar acceleration when Giuliani and his pro-demolition sympathies left office, replaced by Michael Bloomberg, whose new agenda included finding innovative ways to include more parks despite the seemingly maxed-out density of NYC. The dream of a park in the sky found a powerful champion. With the completion of the final phase, and housebound with a sore throat, I dug a little deeper into the formation of the High Line, and what I found was a mulligan stew of community activism, timely rezoning, and a strange concept called “air rights,” mixed with insatiable appetites for high-end real estate development. The gentrifcation of this former manufacturing neighborhood was going to happen with or without the High Line. As with so many American cities, manufacturing had long decamped. Art galleries and designer ateliers had already moved in. Businesses directly under the disused structure were agitating for its removal to develop their valuable properties skyward. Ultimately, what came to the rescue of these disgruntled businesses as well as park proponents was ingenious manipulation of TDRs (Transferable Development Rights). And built into plans for the High Line’s redesign were considerations for unopposed views and open space that arguably wouldn’t have been a vision for this neighborhood’s growth had the High Line been demolished.

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High Line Adjacency Controls: Required Open Space
A minimum of 20% of the lot area would be required to be reserved as landscaped open space. To provide a visual extension of the High Line, the required open space would be located adjacent to and at a height not to exceed the level of the High Line. The required open space could not front on Tenth Avenue and could be used as a public or private space
.” (Here.)


But back to the inception. The owners of the railway, CSX, who acquired it from Conrail in 1998, resisted the swelling outcry for demolition and opted instead to commission a study of potential uses. (Bless CSX for that.) Rail banking was a proposal that intrigued neighborhood residents Joshua David and Robert Hammond, both in attendance at that meeting unveiling the results of the study. (My community garden lies in a disused railway easement, and I wouldn’t be surprised if it’s also a beneficiary of rail banking.) After that momentous meeting, David and Hammond formed the nonprofit Friends of the High Line, fully in support of a park use for the railway.

Along with requisitioning the potential use study, CSX fortuitously hired photographer Joel Sternfeld, whose evocative photos were just the boost the proposed park needed.


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photo by Joel Sternfeld 2000

One of the single most important things that happened to save the High Line in the very early days was when CSX made it possible for Joel Sternfeld’s project to photograph the High Line,” says David.
“They basically made it possible for the world to see what was on top of the High Line.
” (Here.)

In the beginning, we didn’t know what the High Line should ultimately look like. We didn’t know exactly what the design should be. We always thought the community and the city should decide what it should be. Over time, people coalesced around Joel’s photo and when you asked them, “What do you want the High Line to be?” they’d point to Joel’s photos and they’d say, “I want it to be like that.” In some ways, that was the biggest inspiration behind the design, Joel’s photos of the landscape.” (Interview with Robert Hammond Here.)

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Now when I see pictures of just the High Line without any people, I realize it wasn’t as good.
It’s really beautiful when you have people interacting with the new landscape of the High Line
.” — Robert Hammond Here.

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What was striking is that in all my reading, not once was the amazingly complex plantsmanship of Piet Oudolf cited as part of the appeal that lures so many to the High Line.
Through his plantings, Oudolf matched the spirit of Sternfeld’s photos of the abandoned railway recolonized by plants.

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Where once there was a clang and clamor of industry, the noisy, physical manifestation of America’s 20th Century manufacturing might, the old railway has been repurposed for another kind of movement that seems to strike some as aimless, idle, purposeless: people making multivaried use of a park.

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The fact that this new amenity sprang from older industrial infrastructure says a lot about the current moment in New York’s evolution. A city that had once pioneered so many technological and urban planning solutions, that had dazzled the world with its public works, its skyscrapers, bridges, subways, water-delivery system, its Central Park, palatial train stations, libraries and museums, appears unable to undertake any innovative construction on a grand scale, and is now consigned to cannibalizing its past and retrofitting it to function as an image, a consumable spectacle. Productivity has given way to narcissism; or, to put it more charitably, work has yielded to leisure.” (Here.)

I would argue that instead of cannibalizing the past, the past has been honored and included in the present moment, which is a continuum that the wisest cities respect.
I would argue that the High Line gives all of us, not just the 1 percent, million-dollar views of New York.
And the fact that funding was found for a park (a park!) and not another sports arena still strikes me as extraordinary and reason enough to celebrate.

I’ve included photos of one of my visits to the High Line in June 2013.

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Railroad lines crisscrossing the country move freight, delivering everything from coal to cars.
But one rail line running above the streets on Manhattan’s West Side moves your soul, delivering sanctuary amid coneflower and pink evening primrose
.” (Here.)


Reading for this post can found at these links:

http://www.thehighline.org/

http://www.governing.com/topics/transportation-infrastructure/gov-nyc-mayor-bloombergs-urban-planning-legacy.html

http://journalism.nyu.edu/publishing/archives/portfolio/subramanian/HighLine_Resident.html

http://www.asla.org/ContentDetail.aspx?id=34419

http://www.hraadvisors.com/featured/the-high-line/#&panel1-4

http://artsbeat.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/02/03/under-the-high-line-a-gay-past/

http://www.preservationnation.org/magazine/2005/july-august/taking-the-high-line.html

Developers Want Easier Access to High Line Air Rights; But Should City Fix Something That Doesn’t Look Broken?

http://www.mnn.com/lifestyle/responsible-living/sponsorvideo/improbable-journey-the-story-of-new-yorks-high-line

http://www.nyc.gov/html/dcp/html/westchelsea/westchelsea3b.shtml

Amsterdam houseboat gardens

Can you string together three other words that conjure as much bliss as those?
Perhaps you can. But having been obsessed with some garden or other most of my life, and having lived with a boat captain most of my life as well, I’ve had more than a few daydreams about living on a houseboat — where there must be plants too, of course. I’m using the word “garden” liberally here — that irresistible impulse to keep the plant world close at hand, responsible for it, bound to it.

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Calm down…surely not the houseboat of that Piet. Remember, it’s a very common name in The Netherlands.

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MB Maher left Iceland and has been roaming the canals of Amsterdam the past week. He sent these photos along with a little note:

there seems to be some unspoken agreement that houseboat decks will
function as the city’s metaphor of green space. all dutch houses have
extensive gardens but all are hidden by the inner-courtyard structure
of the city blocks…there are also certain visual
jokes like papering the portholes and skylights with plant-themed
wallpaper to maintain an illusion that the entire houseboat is filled
with greenery. not sure if the weber grill and garden gnomes are in
earnest or jest as well.


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High Line in late November 2012

Must I really squeeze in one more post on the High Line in 2012? Have we become bored and cynical already about this dream of a garden on an abandoned railway trestle made real against seemingly insurmountable odds? (Yes to the former and a resounding no! to the latter. Not on my blog anyway.) I don’t know if the hipster doll left on the High Line a few weeks ago was meant to allude to recent controversies revolving around accusations that the runaway success of the High Line park was responsible for “Disneyfying” the surrounding neighborhood.


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At least I think it’s a toy. The photographer didn’t say. Left purposely or simply forgotten, I just hope there was no anti-hipster voodoo involved.
MB Maher was in NYC last week and grabbed a quick portrait of the High Line in early winter, including this well-dressed hobo debating whether to ride the rails. (Possible caption: Is relentless pursuit of the hip a train to nowhere?)

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More signs of affection for the High Line.

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The High Line without Oudolf’s emotional planting would still be worth visiting for the great views, similar to strolling across the Brooklyn Bridge or Golden Gate Bridge.

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Giving us access to views previously granted only to birds.

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Nourishment for us, nourishment for the birds.

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Laying down new tracks in urban garden design: Is it a garden threaded through a city, or is the city now threaded through a garden?

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Because urban parks aim for creating utilitarian space, they are oftentimes monocultures, stripped of species diversity. A garden aims for the transformative, urging us to escape into another world. I think the High Line successfully merges urban park and garden, simultaneously intensifying the appreciation of both the built and natural world by immersion in both.

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Tidy, formal parks, with their authoritarian focal points, can seem like bon-bons attempting to satisfy ravenous, denatured urban appetites. I find that the shifting perspectives, stark contrasts, and wildly rich plantings make the High Line a four-season feast.

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Last post on the High Line for 2012, I swear.


Edited to correct photo attribution; photos 2, 3, 4, 5, 6 and 9 taken by J. Mericle/threadandbones.

August water bill

20 percent less water usage this past August compared to August 2011. That wasn’t too terribly painful. The back garden is fairly torn up right now, but that’s all me, Edwina Shovelhands, not a result of any water rationing. The Lobelia tupa did perish under the August sun, just crisped away, but not for lack of moisture. A couple of the Canary Island foxglove relatives, isoplexis, are hanging on. I caught one in a severe state of wilt yesterday morning and rushed a hose to its base. By afternoon sun, it was fine. It’d be lovely to see it bloom next summer. Did you know Thompson & Morgan have crossed isoxplexis with Digitalis purpurea? T&M have named their creation Foxglove ‘Illumination Pink.’


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We haven’t cooled off yet and the forecast is for more of the same for the next couple weeks at least. The hot, rainless months of August and September are always the winter of my discontent. I’m already planning for next year, and as usual I aim for the garden with the most cake but easy on the resources. Might as well aim big. Depending on how much of the *smoke tree is cut back, the sun/shade equation will change. For sun, there’s some nice honey-colored yarrows like ‘Marmalade’ and ‘Inca Gold’ I’d like to try for next summer. Thinking along these lines had me wondering if Piet Oudolf has done any mediterranean planting. Still on the reading bench for occasional inspiration is his book ‘Landscapes in Landscapes,’ and a quick check confirms, yes, he has done one such garden, in Barcelona.
Photo from the book, taken from the Oudolf website:

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Lots of calamint and grasses. I haven’t grown Calamintha nepeta in a very long while, and it’s a good plant here, if a little overenthusiastic as a reseeder. Calamint and yarrow? A definite maybe.

If Orlaya grandiflora seedlings turn up again in spring, it might look something like this Hampton Court garden show exhbit. But no foxtail lilies/eremus in zone 10 of course. A write-up on the blog Flowerona has more photos and identifies some of the plants used.
(RHS Hampton Court Palace Flower Show 2012, Catherine MacDonald, awarded Best Summer Garden.)

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*So many projects squeezed out blogging time and left posts like this half-finished. Cotinus coggygria x obovatus ‘Grace’ has been removed. Her hybrid vigor translated into a lethal combination of gigantic cutback shrub/tree in my garden (and the neighbors too). 25-feet tall, 40-feet wide, brought down by chainsaw, ropes, and loppers. All fingers and toes accounted for. As Marty summed it up, “We tried to be patient with her, but she just didn’t know when to quit.” Now there is the shock of the new, a garden without ‘Grace,’ the sun/shade areas completely upended. Big sky country here again. It’s been…emotional. My little Acacia baileyana ‘Purpurea’ is topping the list of trees to follow ‘Grace.’

High Line jeremiad

Some interesting Sunday reading to be found in another nuanced, contrarian view of the High Line Park in New York City. I know, not another post on the High Line! I can’t help it, I’m utterly fascinated by this subject. So many twists and turns down those old railway tracks. Jeremiah Moss, who blogs at Jeremiah’s Vanishing New York, had his Op-Ed on the High Line, “Disney World on the Hudson,” published in the New York Times on August 21, 2012.


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Some sample paragraphs:

Not yet four years old, the High Line has already become another stop on the must-see list for out-of-towners, another chapter in the story of New York City’s transformation into Disney World. According to the park’s Web site, 3.7 million people visited the High Line in 2011, only half of them New Yorkers. It’s this overcrowding, not just of the High Line, but of the streets around it, that’s beginning to turn the tide of sentiment.”

Originally meant for running freight trains, the High Line now runs people, except where those people jam together like spawning salmon crammed in a bottleneck. The park is narrow, and there are few escape routes. I’ve gotten close to a panic attack, stuck in a pool of stagnant tourists at the park’s most congested points.”

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The High Line was certainly on this out-of-towner’s must-see list when visiting New York. In fact, it was the prospect of walking the High Line Park that finally induced me to stay a few days in this astonishing city and have my first look around, a trip I had put off year after year. Just the first section was open when I visited in the autumn of 2010, and there were no stagnant pools of tourists to be avoided at that time. It was fairly empty. Who could have imagined that the High Line Park would be so successful that it would stir up some New York nativist blowback? Rezoning the surrounding Chelsea neighborhood to allow for an influx of expensive, fish-bowl high-rises adjacent to the High Line seems to be the cause of much of the animus. (“Close Quarters,” New York Times 8/1/12)

Gain a park, lose a neighborhood?


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Unintended or otherwise, one of the consequences of the repurposing of the abandoned elevated railway trestle into the High Line Park has been to spur a juggernaut of gentrification, a fate the city of Los Angeles has long been praying will be visited upon its downtown. We’re finally getting a park, too, the 12-acre, much-delayed Grand Park, scaled back from pre-recession ambitions.


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Los Angeles is woefully in need of public parks, found to rank 17th among major U.S. cities in public space devoted to parks. Yes, we have our public beaches, but there’s currently no Metro Rail service that runs to the beaches.

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Image from LA Times
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A tale of two cities, a tale of two parks: As a park, the High Line brilliantly captures the innovative optimism and skyward character of New York, taking up no new space at the ground level, whereas Grand Park is an awkward fit around parking garages, interrupted Los Angeles-style by streets breaking it into sections, just as our freeways isolate neighborhoods. But for now it’s all we’ve got. From Christopher Hawthorne’s review in the LA Times 7/24/12:

Mostly what we’ve had is a collection of thousands upon thousands of privately owned and miniature Central Parks, one for every suburban backyard. Grand Park represents something else: an attempt, imperfect but encouraging, to chip away at the rigid infrastructure of the car-dominated city and make a private city a little more public.”

Like the newly gentrified Chelsea neighborhood surrounding the High Line, Los Angeles developers originally had big plans for the area surrounding the Grand Park:

Under the original plan, which backers said would help create a “Champs Elysees” for Los Angeles, a dramatic Frank Gehry-designed complex of high-rise towers, shops, upscale condos and a five-star hotel should have been completed by now.”

Unlike the grass-roots efforts that got the High Line Park rolling, big-money developers have always been in charge of Grand Park, and developers will always aim for the Beverly Hills jackpot.

During the height of the real estate boom, developers unveiled numerous luxury projects, believing the downtown revitalization was so strong that it could support Beverly Hills-level retailers and residences.”

Then there was that pesky 2008 recession. At least New York got the High Line out of their devil’s bargain. We did get some nice hot-pink chairs though.


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And who knows? In the big picture, maybe we’re actually lucky that the recession knocked the glitz out of our park and left us with a modest, workday space instead of a tourist magnet like the High Line. I do have to warn Mr. Moss, though, that I plan to once again join the throngs of tourists clogging the High Line Park to see the completion of its subsequent phases. The High Line’s success is just another example of the price that great cities — London, Paris, Venice, New York — pay for their daring, walkable beauty.

Anemone japonica in Southern California

A rare sight in Southern California. There’s a garden on a bluff near a popular dog walking spot that has big, established clumps of this anemone blooming in fall, along with giant stands of Romneya coulteri, the Matilija poppy, in spring and summer. I’m sure there’s got to be other plantings of this anemone around town, but no others come to mind at the moment.

These are photos MB Maher took of this great fall-blooming plant in Battery Park in New York City last September, a planting designed by Piet Oudolf.

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Yesterday I was working in Beverly Hills, a city with an impossible parking situation. I scribbled myself notes to feed the meter every two hours and did manage to avoid a parking ticket. On the third and last trip to feed six quarters into the meter, a short walk further down the street to stretch the legs brought me up against the front garden of a house planted with seemingly nothing but huge, overgrown, woody roses and enormous clumps of Japanese anemones in bloom, both pink and white. Stopped me in my tracks.

Single white anemones, my favorite, in Battery Park, NYC, September 2010.

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There was a friendly dog in a wicker bed leashed to the front gate, and we silently flirted, which amounts to me making Harpo Marx faces, him wagging his tail. A woman in the distance looked to be tying a vine up to the front of the house, her back to me. After a few moments I heard myself blurting out, “I love your Japanese anemones!” And then instantly cringed. What would she make of such hooliganism? But she whipped around before I had time to flee the scene, and without hesitation rushed over, unleashing the dog so we could cement our budding friendship, and then she and I chatted anemones like old friends.

No wonder there’s so many garden blogs — we’re all starved for plant talk. She said she was astonished that I knew the daisy’s name, that no one else had shouted “I love your Japanese anemones!” from the sidewalk before, impossible as that seems to believe. I asked her opinion of why they’re rarely seen locally. She was inclined to attribute their rarity to the difficulty in getting them established. (That’s certainly true, but what’s also true is that there’s very little actual gardening going on in Southern California. One-time landscaping then ongoing maintenance of it, yes; gardening, no.) And then pointing to the pink-blooming ones in her parkway, she observed that, once established, they’re impossible to eradicate. The parkway anemones were flourishing in some fairly mean and dry conditions. I told her I’ve yet to have success getting any established. She pointed to the pink blooms and asked, “Do you like that color?” I really prefer the white, but nodded yes, whereupon she nipped back to the porch, returning with roots wrapped in paper and handed them to me. At that point, I wanted to hug this woman and her little dog and spend the rest of the afternoon helping tie up vines, but I had to get back to work, so left the house of anemones and roses, stopping to deposit the package in the car. A rather nice unintended consequence of the lousy parking situation in Beverly Hills.

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Foreword to Piet Oudolf Landscapes in Landscapes

I didn’t dare take this beautiful book on the recent camping trip, so it sat waiting in a quiet house. A couple pages behind the cover’s brisk Helvetica type is this arresting foreword by Robert Hammond, co-founder of the High Line in New York City, which is as far as I got into the book. I think the entire foreword is worth posting here:

The High Line should be preserved, untouched, as a wilderness area. No doubt you will ruin it. So it goes.’

“This comment was handed in on a public input card after our 2003 High Line Ideas Competition and I’ve kept it pinned above my desk ever since. It scared me because I believed it could come true.

“The High Line was a serendipitous wildscape when Joshua David and I first walked on it in the summer 1999. Grasses, wildflowers, and small trees had taken over the surface of the abandoned elevated rail line. It was unplanned and untended, and that’s what made it so special. My biggest fear was that turning it into a park would spur the loss of a magical, accidental landscape thriving in relative secret above the West Side of Manhattan. At first we hoped to keep it as it was, to preserve that wild state and to simply run a path down the middle of the railway. We soon learned that would be impossible. In order to open it to the public we needed to make repairs, and that meant removing what remained of the ties, the rails, and the ballast — and everything growing on top of them. I knew we could not replicate what had taken nature decades to unfold. Even after I saw the plans that Piet Oudolf developed with our design team, led by James Corner Field Operations, schemes that drew inspiration from the palette of volunteer plants found growing there, I was anxious that the new plantings would fall short of that romantic original landscape. It was not until after the park opened in the summer of 2010 and I could see how the High Line’s blooms, grasses, and foliage changed every few weeks that I realized that Piet had not only recaptured that original magic, but that he had also created a new landscape that had the ability to alter the way people feel and how they act.

“People do not walk slowly in New York. They rarely stroll. But they do on the High Line. Couples hold hands. Parents remark upon the various plants as they use the High Line to walk their children leisurely to and from school. Piet’s landscape allows people to breathe easier — not for its manicured beauty, but for its ability to change as nature does.

“The range and complexity of Piet’s plantings give visitors reasons to come back again and again. Week after week, month after month, they are lessons in discovery. Where many garden designers think of landscapes in terms of the four main seasons, Piet’s seasons are broken into seasons. His aspirations may be ecological in nature, but he works like a painter. He dials color up, and then back, sometimes massing bold swatches of color that lead your eye through the landscape, at other times subtly dotting little spectral islands into larger seas of grasses. The complexity of these combinations is heightened as he employs various and distinct aspects of a single plant’s annual cycle for various purposes through a single year. His plants are actors playing multiple roles — the blue stars that entertain with small, pale blue flowers in May return with a bold statement when their foliage turns a brilliant gold in the fall.

“With Oudolf, it’s not just about flowers. His landscapes, while certainly floral, are meant to confound the “what’s-in-bloom?” mentality that drives much of the garden world. Plants are prized for their flowers, yes, but also for their height — and the gradual pace pursued to achieve their eventual statures — for their foliage’s texture and color in spring and summer as well as fall and winter, for their fruit or seedheads, and even for the color of their stems. Whether the plants are ascendant or in decline, all of their features have roles to play, through the year. And it all appears so disarmingly simple.

“Or course, you do not need to think about any of this when you walk through one of his landscapes. But I suspect that you will be moved, or inspired, or maybe you will just feel better — even if you don’t know why. There is something at work that will, I think, connect you to the kind of feelings I experienced when I walked on the High Line that first time — a belief in the ability of such spaces to change the way we see the world, and perhaps each other, season after season, all year long.

Robert Hammond
Co-founder
Friends of the High Line.”

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Dim View of the High Line

Yesterday 5/15/11 The New York Times published in their Opinion section “Bringing The High Line Back To Earth” by Witold Rybczynski, professor of urbanism at the University of Pennsylvania. Professor Rybczynski feels compelled to warn us that the brilliant success of the High Line park on Manhattan’s West Side is probably not replicable elsewhere and not a viable model for urban parks. He warns us not to put our trust in urban design, which has “failed” us all too often.

The professor also deems the planting designed by Piet Oudolf “relentlessly hip.” As opposed to bedding out begonias? What exactly does that mean? The professor continually breaks down this magical experience into units, planning board units, yet this park was born out of a love of neglected places and nurtured (with private money) into something astonishing. Personal, historical layers such as these cannot be dissected and pinned to a planning layout. The very act of retaking a neglected place, that historical narrative alone, brings immense vitality to a neighborhood. If not an elevated railway, perhaps an abandoned military fort. Or, as in the case of my own neighborhood, an unused armory (first meeting tonight). The High Line is not an exact blueprint but a brilliant suggestion.

I visited what’s now known as Phase I of the High Line in autumn 2010, which was probably the major impetus for finally spending a few days in NYC rather than just a flyover. Phase II opens in June.

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In attempting to persuade us that the High Line is a one-off phenomenon, applicable only to New York, there’s some circular logic at play here, as in his assertion that “In no other American city do residents rely so much on communal green space, rather than backyards, for relaxation.”

Perhaps the word “enjoy” should be substituted for “rely.” The great legacy of Olmstead’s Central Park has become grafted onto New York’s identity, and, like its iconic buildings and neighborhoods, is inseparable from its allure, just as Golden Gate Park is for San Francisco. Both parks are intrinsic to these popular cities’ livability and have become interwoven among the reasons why young people will always leave home to squeeze into tiny apartments with multiple roommates. These vast urban parks that course through cities, lapping up against multiple neighborhoods, soaking up a myriad of personal, unique experiences, are a far cry from suburban parks with their predesigned activity layouts — clearly marked areas for sports, picnics, playgrounds. Great parks, great cities.

The professor lists several cities contemplating elevated parks and advises against it. I say go for it.

Dutch Wave Breaks Over New Amsterdam

At the Battery, Piet Oudolf has written another glorious fall chapter to the story of the renaissance of urban gardens in New York City.
Here at the Battery Bosque, the emphatic sweep of plants is at times even more dramatic than the High Line, in deeper soil with broader planting beds.
With just these two gardens and now the new Goldman Sachs headquarters, the Dutch Wave gains force and continues to break over New Amsterdam.

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I had seen the prototype of the Statue of Liberty in the Luxembourg Gardens in Paris years ago, but this was my first glimpse of this wonderful gift from France on her island home.

These World War II memorial pylons, rising out of a mist of Anemone japonica and grasses, align on an axis that leads the eye to Liberty Island.

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Surrounded by grasses bending and tossing in the winds blowing off the Hudson as it meets New York Harbor, the Battery is a splendid backdrop for ferry gazing.

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You will not find municipal plantings of the dwarf chrysanthemums seen elsewhere throughout the city in fall, but plants of great line, body, and character sheltered under plane trees.

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The High Line in Autumn



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Crocus sativus, the saffron crocus


I first became intrigued by the High Line when it was in its derelict state. I’d read a New York Times piece about an abandoned elevated railway in Manhattan, its purpose as a rail line to the meatpacking warehouses long forgotten by the citizens who walked oblivious beneath its struts and girders. That the trestled railway had been designed to run directly into the maws of cavernous warehouses, relieving the city streets of the congestion and danger of rail traffic, only added to its allure. Of course, one of America’s greatest cities would invent such an elegant solution! Closed down since 1980 as highway trucking replaced rail, accessible now only to the birds and the wind, soil and grit sifted down amongst the tracks to support an improbable habitat for native plants and nesting grounds for agile urban creatures of all legs except the two-legged. When my oldest son first visited New York, I encouraged him to trespass, hop fences, whatever it took to visit the abandoned railway and bring back photos, which no doubt makes me a very bad mother blessed with a very good (and agile) son, because he complied.

I kept up with news that the railway was being considered for preservation and that a park was contemplated but lost track of the story. And then sometime last year I was presented with the challenge of absorbing the astonishing fact that not only was the High Line saved, but the park was being planted by Piet Oudolf. In recent memory, when has something as thrillingly, ecstatically wonderful happened in furtherance of the creation of a public space?


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Continue reading The High Line in Autumn