The High Line: Spring Cutback

Will Work for Flowers

—Recently I got the opportunity to do some volunteer work for the High Line Park in New York City. Personally, this brand new park represents a fascinating intersection of native plants, stellar modern design, pragmatic environmentalism, recycling on a grand scale, urban hipness and genuine New York City badassery.

The Highline: Spring cutbacks in the green spaces.
© Native Bergen
High Line staff and volunteers remove the dried plants from last season to make space for the coming Spring growth.

Visiting the High Line Park you will have to deal with crowds and also maybe subtle yet palpable feelings of envy and jealousy along the lines of:

"I want to be a part of this."
"I want my gardens to look like this"
"I want my apartment to overlook this"
"Why didn’t I think of this?"

Well fear not! Once a year the Friends of the High Line takes volunteers to help with their Spring Cutback. One of the tenets of the High Line’s original garden designer, Piet Oudolf is to not cut the dried parts of wintering perennials and dead annuals. This allows visitors to enjoy the understated beauty and muted colors in the landscape during the winter. This also means that come early Spring, all of the dead material needs to be rapidly removed to allow for new plant growth to shoot up unencumbered. This makes for a fantastic once a year volunteer project for all the High Line Park fans. The effort was coordinated by the community stewardship staff from REI Soho and the gardener staff of Friends of the High Line. I was lucky enough to find out about the project by a chance opening of one of the emails I get periodically from REI.

The Highline Garden Staff shows the volunteers how to do it properly.
© Native Bergen
The High Line Park garden staff shows the volunteers how to do it properly.

This particular outing was extra sweet because it had been cancelled twice in the previous weeks due to wintery weather. Just the day before it snow/rained and was annoyingly cold/wet. And yet that Tuesday the weather cleared up and was a balmy 50 degrees making for perfect horticultural spring cleaning. The High Line staff were friendly, gracious and had that weathered look of real professionals. We were provided with hand-clippers, mini-rakes, hedge sheers, sissy garden mats and these way-cool High Line volunteer bibs that were extremely tempting to steal —I confessed the urge and resisted the temptation, for the record. Our job was to cut the brown stalks without scalping the new growth. We also cleared out and straw and leaves on the ground to expose the asphalt gravel beds that look fantastic between the plants that grow up through them. It was great to meet other plant nerds and although the work seemed pointless from the kneeling perspective when we stood up to empty our bins you could quickly see all the nice clean beds that help to make the park so distinctive.

Highline volunteers cutting old plant matter so new growth can emerge.
© Native Bergen
BEFORE: High Line volunteers cutting old plant matter so new growth can emerge. At first glance it didn’t look like we were doing much but when everything was said and done… (See below)

Springtime in the New York tri-state area generally sucks. The cold air from Canada still comes down and gives us wet cold and cloudy weather. Ironically the early sprouting plants are mostly imports coming from places like Asia where warm weather does come in March. The native plants know better and don’t begin to show until later. Despite the weather, now is a fantastic time to visit the High Line Park. The beds are all clear and you can clearly see the buds coming up. Early bloomers like Viburnum and pussy willows look/smell fantastic after 100 days of winter and infect even the coldest hearts with a scorching case of Spring fever.

Very Polished: Cleaned Up Highline gardens ready for Spring.
© Native Bergen
AFTER: The very polished; very cleaned up High Line elevated urban park ready for the 2013 growing season.

Remember one thing: The High Line Park is an urban park; you should not visit it with the same expectations you might have for the Palisades Interstate Park. There is a lot of concrete, tourists/New Yorkers and and intimidating new architecture surrounding the whole park. Don’t let that stop you, however. If native plants are your thing a little more than half the selection of High Line is indigenous. Amidst concrete, steel and a naked city of 8 million people you’ll get a fantastic new perspective on how native plants can be both exotic and hardy. No more excuses. Attention Walmart shoppers there’s a garden special upstairs on 14th Street and 10th Avenue.April 8, 2013|Posted in OUTSIDE, PLACES|Tags: , , , , , , | 1 Comment|Permalink to The High Line: Spring CutbackTrackback URL for this item

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One Comment

  1. The Highline Park is certainly one of the bright spots in the new New York City. Are you familiar with the northern most section of the park? My sincere hope is that they will expand the park all the way over towards the water by way of the train tracks that trail off in that direction. I have to agree with you that walking through there gives you a sense of envy along with wonder. Always felt it but couldn't put my finger on it. Mitchell Kerschner April 9, 2013 at 9:41 pm

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