High Line Part II


Photo: Iwan Baan, 2011

LAST WEEK, another 10-block section of the High Line, the ongoing re-invention of an unused elevated railroad line through Manhattan’s Chelsea neighborhood, opened to the public. The innovative park now stretches all the way to West 30th Street from Gansevoort in the West Village (you can enter at either end, or at an approximate halfway point at West 18th Street). The whole ambitious project has been more than a decade in the making.


Before the renovation. Photo: Joel Stern, 2000

The park, landscaped by Dutch designer Piet Oudolf with a naturalistic feel that recalls the original industrial use of the line and even the great era of American railroads, became instantly popular with strollers, picnickers, and sunset-watchers. I’m looking forward to seeing this new spur; meanwhile, Garden Design magazine has published some great pictures on its website.

Below, a 1934 photo of the High Line when it was still in use as an industrial rail line between wharves and warehouses


Go here to see the rest of Garden Design‘s photos. To read my own post about the High Line from my first visit there, go here.

BOOK REVIEW Garden Guide: New York City

M-Greenacre Park 2NEW YORK in 2011 is truly a great garden city. World-class, I’d venture to say. Yet, as Nancy Berner and Susan Lowry point out in the newly revised edition of Garden Guide: New York City (W.W. Norton, $22.95), as recently as 10 years ago, people were puzzled to hear they were writing such a guide. Gardens in New York City? Really? Are there enough to fill a whole book?

<-Greenacre Park, East 51st Street

Irish Hunger D8Now there can be no doubt. In the past decade, there’s been a great flowering, if you will, of gardens and landscape installations all over the five boroughs. There are the obvious, most impressive recent ones, like Chelsea’s High Line — the conversion of rusty elevated rail line into a well-used planted park — and landscaping efforts at the Battery in lower Manhattan, where Dutch designer Piet Oudolf has brought a naturalistic new aesthetic to the riverfront.

High Line D11The book calls attention to gardens that have been around a long time, but that I’ll bet a lot of newish arrivals to the city (and maybe some oldish ones) don’t quite realize are there, including the attractive, well-maintained botanic gardens in Queens and at Snug Harbor in Staten Island, where they are interspersed among picturesque Greek Revival houses.

Even I, a NYC resident of 40+ years, just ‘discovered’ what the book calls “the crown jewel” of New York City gardens — the Conservatory Garden at 105th street and Fifth Avenue, six acres of romantic magnificence in all seasons — within the last few.

Irish Hunger Memorial, Battery Park City ->

<-High Line


Conservatory Garden

Garden Guide: New York City covers more than 100 gardens open to the public, including the Lotus Garden on West 97th Stret, the only rooftop community garden in New York City; urban farms from the Bronx to Red Hook; and the small plots around such historic houses as the Morris-Jumel Mansion, the Dyckman Farmhouse Museum, and the Mount Vernon Hotel on East 61st Street (formerly known as the Abigail Adams house).Noguchi Q5

Isamu Noguchi Garden Museum ->

Many of NYC’s gardens are concealed in some way — inside museums, hidden behind skyscrapers, up on rooftops. Probably none of us knows New York City’s gardens as well as we might. This chunky little guide feels good in the hand, fits neatly in the glove compartment, and insures that no weekend need pass without discovering some new-to-you refuge of green.

White is a Color


OH BOY, I’m all over the Internet today. Remarkable, not having left the house in two days, to feel so widely published, and instantaneously, too.

Two pictures of my snow-logged backyard, taken yesterday at the height of the blizzard, are up on Curbed Hamptons, the real estate website focused on the high end of the spectrum (“Most Expensive Summer Rentals,” for instance. I don’t know a soul who could afford them.)

And I have another guest post on Garden Design magazine’s website, a version of yesterday’s post about terrariums.


To understand my excitement, you have to know that, over the course of my long print journalism career, it has sometimes taken TWO YEARS for a story I’ve written to be finally published.

I heard Loudon Wainwright on NPR today talking about his father, who was a writer for LIFE magazine, and why he himself chose not to become a writer: “It seemed hard, boring, and above all, lonely.” Spot on! I would add sedentary and not particularly good for one’s mental health. Music is far more joyful.

But this Internet thing has eliminated the terrible sense of isolation. And even some of the “hard” part, since the ephemeral nature of the medium diminishes the pressure to sweat and struggle over each word (maybe it shouldn’t, but it does).

Back to the snow. A few days ago, gazing out at my backyard, I was musing a statement made by landscape designer Piet Oudolf ,“Brown is a color.” What he meant was, embrace the dying phase of plants, and skip that pesky fall clean-up in favor of leaving dried perennials and grasses standing through the winter. I didn’t have any to leave this year, not having been here long enough to plant them; all I had was the brown of dirt and fallen oak leaves.


So today, I’m reveling in white. It’s worth staying in another day to watch the long shadows creep across the snow, and the birds flit around the back porch, pecking away at my seed bell and suet.

Garden Stalker


IT’S ONE THING to be a garden voyeur, checking out places that are open to the public or that I’ve wangled an invitation to. Now I’ve gone a step further and become a garden stalker, sneaking looks into yards whose owners are unaware of my presence.

More than once I’ve parked my car (or left it running) and stealthily crept around to peek over a hedge or fence at a house whose roofline promises something interesting, scurrying away guiltily when a door opens or a voice is heard.

The latest object of my stalking is a stunning estate on Springs Fireplace Road, above. It’s a cedar-shingled Colonial — or is it just a very artful contemporary house in Colonial style? The general shape of the building, large and boxy with a high peaked roof and wings added on just as they would have been if the place were indeed 18th century, seems authentic.


The landscaping is by Oehme van Sweden, according to a small sign on the property, in the currently fashionable idiom — ornamental grasses and prairie-style flowering perennials in drifts or ‘waves,’ a look pioneered by that firm and Piet Oudolf, the Dutch landscape architect. There’s a pool, a pergola, and a no-nonsense electrified deer fence.

In front, the property is open and farmlike, visible to all who pass by. In order to see the side and rear of the property, I went down an old farm road. Only later did I notice the small “Private Road – No Trespassing” sign.