Friday, March 2, 2012

A Winter Rail Excursion

Grove of grey birch (Betula populifolia) growing among the tracks

Evergreens add winter interest
On a rather hot day last summer, I visited the New York High Line, a spectacular New York City park built on an abandoned elevated freight rail line.  At the time of my initial visit, the plantings were lush and filled with large sweeps of colorful blooms.  I went back recently to see what the plantings looked like in midwinter.  I was pleasantly surprised to find quite a lot of sights to enjoy.

For those not familiar with the High Line, I thought I'd share an abbreviated history.  The construction of the High Line was part of a major city infrastructure project during the 1930's called the West Side Improvement Project.  By elevating existing freight lines above street level, dangerous trains would no longer threaten pedestrians or cause traffic.

The first trains started rolling on the High Line in 1934 and the last train was in 1980.  With threats of demolition, Friends of the High Line, a community-based group, worked with the city to save the structure and establish it as a public park.  The elevated park runs from Gansevoort Street to West 34th Street.

The design of the park was a collaboration between many architects and landscape firms.  One of my favorite designers, Piet Oudolf, did the planting schemes.  The park's design merges old structures with modern ones connected by abundant plantings.

 Pennsylvania sedge (Carex pensylvanica) creates a green background for winterberry (Ilex verticillata)

Witch hazel (Hamamelis x intermedia 'Jelena')
So what did I discover on my winter tour?  I was excited to see that the park had really good bones.  Sculptural tree trunks and evergreen plantings provided significant structure and interest even though the perennials were dormant. The golden leaves of the ornamental grasses were still tall and adding drama (one benefit of limited snow).  Many bright red berries remained on the native hollies.

Revitalizing the winterscape, witch hazels and viburnums were in bloom, adding splashes of yellow, orange and pink.  These fragrant shrubs were pleasantly perfuming the city air.  I also spotted several drifts of gold crocuses that were popping up among the grey gravel.

I enjoyed my winter walk and will be back again for the spring show.  However, I realized that I never posted photos from my summer tour.  Come back tomorrow and I will share some.  You'll be amazed how beautiful this park can be during the summer season.

Crocus ancyrensis 'Golden Bunches'

Viburnum x bodnantense 'Dawn'
A grass-filled pathway crosses under
The Standard Hotel



Brenda said...

Its so inspiring what can be done in the midst of a city when passionate individuals get involved - this is one my favourite project that Oudolf was involved with, it would be amazing to see it in person some day.

Jeff, Gardener in Chief said...

Brenda, I totally agree. I'm so thankful we finally have come to respect our need for green spaces. No longer do you have to escape urban areas to enjoy lush landscapes. These fabulous urban parks are both calming and convenient for city dwellers. Check back tomorrow for some photos of the High Line during peak season.


Form and Foliage said...

Nice shots and thanks for illustrating how much can be admired in a winter garden!

Jeff, Gardener in Chief said...

Thanks for your comments. I started seeing some green buds today so I think the winter garden is going to transform into a spring garden very soon.

Ellen Honeycutt said...

I enjoyed this winter tour. I love that they have created this.

Jeff, Gardener in Chief said...


I definitely want to plant more bulbs next year. Crocuses, like the Golden Bunches, really brighten the winter landscape. And that Dawn viburnum was a new one for me. Love that color so early in the season.

Thanks for reading!