Last week I took the train up to Connecticut to visit a friend and caught this view approaching Manhattan. I like how this photo plays with scale, the skyscrapers of lower Manhattan dwarfed by the towers in the forefront, and all of it seemingly floating on a frozen marsh. Nature below, manmade above. You can see the Freedom Tower catching the sunset. I think the design is simple but very elegant, and I really like how the light plays on its different sides.
From Connecticut, we took the train into Manhattan for a day and our first destination was the High Line, a public park and garden with planting design done by my favorite garden designer, the Dutchman Piet Oudolf. The High Line used to be an abandoned, overgrown elevated railway until the Friends of the High Line got together in 1999 and garnered enough public support for the park that in 2004 New York City granted $50 million for the project.
The park has been completed in sections since then, and it’s achieved worldwide recognition for its success at transforming urban blight into public greenspace, and revitalizing a formerly decrepit area of the city. Chicago, Philadelphia and St. Louis are studying the High Line as a potential model for their cities.
All this to say that although I’ve followed this project for years, I hadn’t actually gotten the chance to visit until last week. And I was so impressed. The hardscape materials—steel, glass and concrete—were combined with enough weathered wood to warm up the garden without losing touch with its urban environment. I loved the little alcoves that jutted off the main path. They formed garden rooms that would give a gathered group of friends a sense of intimacy while still allowing them to be part of the action.
And of course, the plantings were awesome. I know enough about Oudolf’s work to expect a lot of grasses and dried seedheads this time of year, and the High Line didn’t disappoint. Oudolf designs for four-season interest, and I suspect that the dried plant material and stark, berried bushes we saw in winter might be even more interesting than the abundant but overplayed flowers of summer. A blanket of snow threw all the plants into beautiful relief and was an extra bonus.
I know “naturalistic,” “new perennial,” and “meadow” planting are so trendy in garden design right now, and I also know just how much work and knowledge it takes to put together a garden design that replicates a natural meadow. But I was really struck, as I walked the High Line, by how it looked like one could have just transplanted a section of my front yard right into Manhattan. If that was Oudolf’s intention, and I believe it was, no doubt he succeeded. And maybe I succeeded too, by setting up my home in a natural, beautiful meadow without having to plant it first! Art imitates life, life is—if we keep our eyes open—art.