Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Friends of the High Line Metro Hort Tour Explores Garden in the Sky

Let me just get it out there.  This is one sexy garden park.

Not unlike a defining fashion statement in complete simpatico and homage, the couture boutiques and artisanal restaurants that now embrace it like style supplicants, the elevated park can be considered a Manolo on come-hither stilettos; kissing the clouds, embracing the sky-high neighborhoods nearby and flirting with the nearby Hudson River’s majestic vistas.
But would anyone expect anything less dramatic from a city of romantic glamour and garden passion?

Not on your High Life.

The early October evening was an auspicious start for the enthusiastic, over-subscribed Metro Hort tour.
It was rainy, kinda’ gloomy and a bit dark.  It was the beginning of autumn, after all. 
Yet the 65-plus New York Metro-area horticulturists paid no mind to that.
They couldn’t wait to gather at the High Line Park for a much-anticipated garden tour led by the High Line’s expert gardeners.
It’s embarrassing to admit, but this was my first tour of the private/public park. 
I guess you could say I am a “virgin” High Liner.

Rest assured, as any newbie would be, I was critical enough to see if all the hype and press were indeed warranted. 
In fact, I was enchanted, seduced and in love.
With Eden-like abandon, I will return to this garden in the sky so frequently, I hope it becomes second nature…

Sabine checked in the MetroHort gardeners
With hushed, barely concealed eagerness, the “cohort of metro horts” huddled under the Highline overpass, some with umbrellas, some with hoodies, at several access points.  

Mine was 23rd Street.  MetroHort's Sabine Stetzenbach checked us in.

Soon enough it was announced the garden tour was to begin. 
There is a palpable thrill climbing the steps up, up, up to --- to who knows what kind of garden paradise in the clouds. 

Friends of the High Line Gardener Maeve Turner
Our group’s masterful garden guide was Maeve Turner: she is articulate, knowledgeable, personable and oozes pride of place about her Park.   
Standing on a curvaceous park bench to talk to the cohort metrohorts, xx provided a quick, broad overview of the High Line’s story – the miracle of how the park got made.
It was a decades-long odyssey.  But community fortitude and love and a pursuit of preserving an unique historical, mise en place ultimately came resulted in success.

In fact, post Metro Hort tour, the Diller-von Furstenberg Family Foundation announced plans to help fund the final segment of the Highline to the tune of $20 million – on top of the $15 million they already donated:

Wowsy – that is some fashion statement!

Gardener Maeve Turner told us about the landscape architect: Javier Thorer Fuller and Piet Oldolf, noted Dutch landscape architect who provided the garden design and planting elements. Piet borrows from Midwest or prairie landscapes to design public gardens to incredible accolades.  
Maeve also noted that Kilco does all the plantings in NYC Parks and here too. Including the Brooklyn Bridge Park and the 9/11 Memorial. 

Our tour started at Section 7. The Highline needs more name monikers.
These section number/metrics sounds too like Area 51ish.
We journeyed up nine blocks to Gansevoort – 20th to 30th Street.

Everything is astonishing here. The plantings, the hardscapes, the design, the maintenance challenges and solutions – all guidance for urban gardens everywhere.

The Highline is undoubtedly sensory overload: the expansive sky (that city dwellers too often do not observe), the shimmering lights of the city, the trees, the variety of perennials, the spare hardscapes, mixed in with the history and the future and the sublime bliss of unlimited achievement and possibilities.

The utility of the elevated railroad tracks have been thoughtfully preserved – and incorporated in a creative, artistic way.  The tracks run throughout the park in a marked, subdued, elegant way.  The pathways undulate.

Not surprisingly, the Piet Oldof design uses a lot of self-seeding perennials and grasses.

The High Line’s garden sections or rooms, are charmingly labeled with names like the Meadow and the Chelsea Thicket.
The Chelsea Thicket provides a tunnel-like effect across the park’s path.
The drama is further amplified when the plantings seem to span the space between the buildings’ beckoning outreach.    

The verdant lawn area is sod, stretching green and lush like the first putting green at the country club.  

Gardener Maeve Turner says the urban park guests just can’t resist sitting or sunning on blankets there, like so many lawn jockeys.   
There is tiered, redeemed teak seating next to the lawn, ideal for reading, sitting and enjoying entertainment events.
Love the Vitex chaste tree there too.  

There is a charming, whimsical design element feature that includes a giant Frame, backed by a pretty big garden seat.  It was explained that for so long everyone took pictures of the Highline – a defining neighborhood streetscape.
So the concept is one of turning the tables, if you will. Visitors can now view the throbbing cityscape below and beyond, within the frame.  

The plantings include juniper, amelalchier – (that had some apple rust) and lots of native plants.
The entire plant list is available on the Highline web site

Gardener Maeve Turner said the Highline is really like a giant container garden. 
Sweet. And yet so apropos for an urban garden!

“There is the ‘Bridge freezes first affect in winter,” said Maeve  when referring to the park’s unique challenges.
And it’s extremely hot in the summer.  
Extreme weather is the norm despite the moderating influence of the Hudson. 
Harsh conditions are punctuated by the city’s concrete and oh-so-near buildings' radiant body heat. 

There is crushed gravel and sand and filter fabrics below the inches of soil for a sandy, loamy soil structure; 7% of the water runoff flows into the beds and so far there has been no flooding.

The Park leaves the seed heads on the perennials throughout the winter (birds like rose hips and hyssop) and cut it all in the spring – further contributing to a way too busy spring season. 

Maeve noted because the Highline Park is so new and unique, it’s all a learning process.
It is all rather amazing to learn there are only seven full time gardeners, three seasonal gardeners and two interns.  Thank goodness there are 75 volunteers. 
Sign up to be a garden volunteer. 
And say hello to my smart, lovely, talented garden friend, Pat Jonas, who volunteers as a Friend of the High Line.

All the MetroHorts met back at the starting point and chatted up the highlights of the High Line garden tour and many headed out for cocktails to further talk about – gardens and plants. How glamorous!

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