the excessive line’s naturalistic gardening classes, with richard hayden

IT’S ONE of the best-known naturalistic gardens wherever, and but it’s perched in probably the most unnatural spot conceivable, 30 toes excessive above New York Metropolis site visitors on an deserted elevated railway line. The Excessive Line on Manhattan’s West Aspect is celebrating the fifteenth anniversary of the opening of its first part, years which were full of professional classes on gardening on this looser, nature-inspired fashion.

As we speak’s visitor is Richard Hayden, the Excessive Line’s senior director of horticulture. His group of 10 horticulturists manages the naturalistic gardens, initially designed by Piet Oudolf of the Netherlands, spanning parts of the 1.5-mile beloved park that welcomes about 7 million guests a yr. (Above, overhead photograph by Timothy Schenck.)

Learn alongside as you take heed to the July 8, 2024 version of my public-radio present and podcast utilizing the participant under. You may subscribe to all future editions on Apple Podcasts (iTunes) or Spotify (and browse my archive of podcasts right here).

classes in naturalistic gardening, with richard hayden



Margaret Roach: So glad anniversary, birthday—no matter we need to name it, to you and the group.

Richard Hayden: Thanks.

Margaret: It was enjoyable assembly a few of you, a minimum of just about, to do a latest “New York Instances” backyard column collectively, which received a terrific response, which made me glad. So briefly, I feel for people who find themselves listening from far and wide who could not have visited, inform us the lay of the non-land over there [laughter]. I imply, it’s a nutty setup when you concentrate on it.

Richard: When you concentrate on it altogether, the truth that it occurred in any respect is usually a miracle. So in fact, it was an unused, elevated railway on the West Aspect of Manhattan. And over the course of the 20 years that the trains weren’t operating, seeds had drifted in and birds had most likely dropped a couple of issues off and soil had gotten created, and so this panorama had occurred.

And when the time got here to think about what to do with it within the late ’90s, the concept that it may turn into a backyard as a result of folks have been up right here it in its wild state, and there have been some wonderful images taken by Joel Sternfeld of its wild state that it turned this concept that it might be a backyard. And Piet Oudolf was employed and Discipline Operations and Diller Scofidio + Renfro did some nice designs.

And right here we’re 15 years later, and it’s, I feel probably the most vital public gardens of the twenty first century, as a result of it modified the best way we take into consideration how we backyard. It’s the 4 season backyard. As Piet says, “a plant isn’t value rising until it seems good lifeless.” [Laughter.] And it’s true. It’s so stunning right here within the fall and within the winter, but it surely’s three-dimensional backyard chess that he performs as a result of every zone is barely completely different.

And it provides you this emotionally evocative journey as you go from woodlands to grasslands and completely different combos and complexities. And naturally, all that complexity results in biodiversity. We’ve got many bees and birds and different animals that go to. So it’s only a actually great respite from the town.

Margaret: And the factor that after we did the Instances story that I simply discovered once you first mentioned it to me and I simply can’t recover from the concept of it, you might have your soil depth up there and these beds that have been constructed for this on this elevated railway, the soil isn’t what, greater than 18 inches deep? I imply, it’s like raised beds [above, during pruning season; photo by Richard Hayden] on a raised railroad platform.

Richard: You’re proper. It’s primarily 18 inches. There’s a pair spots the place we’ve received some raised planters that we mound up and possibly get to 30 inches or so. And I’ve to let you know, after I first began, which was about just a little over two and a half years in the past, and I used to be seeing these 30-foot-tall birch bushes and oak bushes and all these massive bushes rising in 18 inches of soil, it actually stored me up at night time. Each time the wind would blow…

Margaret: I’d have a panic assault on the considered it. Precisely.

Richard: After which I did some climbing in Northwest Connecticut on the Appalachian Path, and there had been a windstorm, and these mature bushes had blown over. And lo and behold, 18 inches of roots due to the entire glacial rock. The forest was actually rising in 18 inches of soil. And I believed, you understand what? Mom Nature’s figured this out. I don’t have to fret a lot.

Margaret: O.Ok., so you bought began sleeping, good [laughter].

Richard: Sure, precisely.

Margaret: However it’s. It’s actually fairly a feat and it’s nice that it was impressed by that self-sown insanity that had occurred on this deserted area.

Richard: Precisely, precisely, clearly with a creative eye. And the issue with 18 inches is that it doesn’t… As a result of there could be heat air on prime and heat air beneath, and chilly air on prime and chilly air beneath, so we don’t have a number of cushion.

Margaret: No.

Richard: So throughout warmth waves, as an illustration, we now have to be very cautious to maintain issues with the correct moisture ranges. After which within the winter generally, we do lose a couple of issues if we now have a moist chilly snap or one thing. So it does make challenges for that approach.

Margaret: So Piet designed it in a naturalistic fashion, and he’s form of the chief of that motion. But it surely doesn’t imply that it’s all native. And it additionally doesn’t imply, naturalistic doesn’t imply, like hands-off, let it do its factor; no matter occurs, occurs. It’s a design. So let’s discuss just a little bit about that.

Richard: Proper. So it’s about 50 % native. We did an exquisite hort celebration final yr the place we honored New York Metropolis native vegetation, and we came upon we had 160 species that have been native or identified to be native to New York Metropolis out of the five hundred or so species that we now have. And so they weren’t chosen as a result of they have been native, they have been chosen as a result of they’re simply actually good, resilient vegetation. So I used to be glad to try this discovery.

And Piet could be very a lot about gardens are for folks, and so natives are nice, however generally there are bloom intervals the place the natives actually aren’t filling the area of interest or possibly they don’t have sufficient winter construction. He’s glad to mix issues so long as they’re well-behaved, and we now have a couple of that haven’t been so well-behaved. So it’s a studying curve.

Margaret: [Laughter.] Don’t all of us, Richard? Don’t all of us have a couple of of these?

Richard: Nicely, to be a profitable plant on the Excessive Line, you must have a certain quantity of resilience, a certain quantity of aggression. And so a number of what we do is handle these. We’ve got a grass, Korean feather grass that was planted in a single space, and I observed in some images, in about three years after it was planted, it had been 20 % of the combo. And three years later, it was 80 % of the combo as a result of it’s simply such a virulent reseeder. That’s one of many issues we now have to do, is we now have to handle these issues that need to be too profitable, in order that they don’t swallow their neighbors. Maintain the stability.

Margaret: Nicely, and so a few of the techniques that he advised within the preliminary design and that you simply and your group uphold and so forth to be naturalistic… I imply, as an illustration, there was one that actually you guys talked to me about throughout the Instances story interview, which, in fact, it didn’t actually happen to me. I wouldn’t have observed it consciously, however there it’s and it’s so apparent now that you’ve mentioned it aloud to me.

When you might have the backyard on either side of a path, that these drifts of vegetation which can be on the one aspect additionally ought to generally be on the opposite aspect in order that it seems as if the trail was added via a pure space versus… Yeah, this continuity versus these are two separate gardens and right here is my path, extra artifical. And simply most of these hints like that. Any others like that that you concentrate on? Nicely, let’s discuss in regards to the drifts possibly as a result of that’s an vital facet of his kinds of designs and naturalistic fashion. [Above, Timothy Schenck photo.]

Richard: Nicely, it’s fascinating as a result of it will be really easy to get these tremendous complicated gardens with plenty of vegetation showing all subsequent to one another. However once you’re utilizing nature as a mannequin, nature tends to not… I imply, it may be a really thick planting, however usually it’s a repetition of a sequence of species. In order that’s what Piet has replicated. He’ll select what he calls his main accent vegetation. After which the Excessive Line backyard is definitely what he would think about a matrix backyard. So it’s a planting of a groundcover layer, usually flowering.

So you may have issues like autumn moor grass or catmint and different issues that can simply provide you with a foundation a floor cowl, and that’s the kind of factor that you simply’ll see usually drifting on either side of the trail. After which into which can be the bigger perennials that happen in threes and fives and sevens. At all times odd numbers for some motive, but it surely does at all times seems higher. However he retains it easy. By holding the drifts massive, it turns into just a little bit extra legible.

After which lots of the new gardens that he does are literally block planting the place it’s simply sequence of blocks, clearly by no means a geometrical form, extra of a tear form or some kind of a extra pure form. However he does that fairly incessantly together with his newer gardens, as a result of it’s simpler to handle. You understand what’s imagined to be the place, what’s gotten out of stability.

Margaret: I see.

Richard: However right here on the Excessive Line, we’re just a little bit extra complicated, so we’re consistently managing the dynamics of anyone species. Some issues they don’t succeed. We had a few vegetation. I’m very a lot into Helenium, and I’m forgetting widespread names.

Margaret: Sneezeweed [laughter].

Richard: Sneezeweed, proper, sure, and so they simply by no means took. And naturally, Piet doesn’t use a number of purple, and it’s form of burgundy purple, the one which he was suggesting right here. I feel it was ‘Moerheim Magnificence.’ We simply needed to search for different issues as a result of it simply was by no means glad.

Margaret: In his unique planting designs for the varied backyard areas on the Excessive Line, he form of narrows down… I imply, these are smaller areas than nature, however he narrows down the variety of key vegetation that we’ll be in, and he makes use of massive numbers of every one in these drifts and these naturalistically formed drifts. Since you don’t need it to simply be a zillion polka dots far and wide of chaos. I imply, that’s not going to learn, is it? [Above, Liz Ligon photo.]

Richard: No. And it’s simply fascinating we’re having this dialog, and I used to be simply this morning laying out a Piet Oudolf design. We’ve got a brand new plaza that’s getting in at avenue stage at 18th Avenue that’ll be the most recent part of the Excessive Line to open in September. And it’s the primary time I’ve laid out a Piet design. And we have been trying on the plans, and it truly is, on this specific plan, massive drifts of various sorts of grasses.

After which there’s geraniums coming in right here and geums over right here and agastaches over right here. You get a greater sense of actually what he’s doing. That is the primary time I’ve ever accomplished it, but it surely’s actually thrilling to put the backyard out and also you get a way of actually how his thoughts form of works. You see the construction behind what he’s attempting to do.

Margaret: I suppose it was final yr possibly he had a e-book come out that’s about his profession, his tasks, and there have been a number of his designs in it as a part of the artwork within the e-book, not simply images. And you’ll see that there, too. You may see these shapes and the vegetation which can be specified to go in every one and so forth.

The opposite factor I discover fascinating in regards to the drifts is it pleases our eye, and it really works on this fashion to do it that approach. However in nature, for those who had simply onesies of one million various things, the animals, particularly the bugs who’re depending on these vegetation, couldn’t discover them and couldn’t make the most of them in the identical approach. So the drifts additionally serve a function, are you aware what I imply, in nature, within the pure world.

Richard: Completely.

Margaret: These plant communities should not simply one million completely different sorts of vegetation all crunched collectively. There are a couple of key vegetation in bigger numbers.

Richard: And in additional of the grassland plantings, as an illustration, he’s counting on sure vegetation to have the construction to carry different vegetation up, which is what, in fact, occurs of their pure environments as properly.

Margaret: Yeah, the meadows and prairies are actually grasslands.

So I’m instructed by lots of people who’ve tried to or who’ve gone extra naturalistic in some space of their gardens, possibly made a small meadow or no matter, I hear, “Nicely, but it surely retains altering. It doesn’t seem like the unique plan. It’s not how I imagined it.” [Laughter.] “It doesn’t seem like the image within the e-book,” after they purchased it from a catalog, they purchased the seed or the plugs or no matter.

That’s kind of that, oops, hi there succession, pure succession: the best way issues go in nature. And so let’s discuss just a little bit about that, as a result of that is one thing that the Excessive Line 15 years on, or any naturalistic backyard even 5 years on doesn’t look precisely just like the plan, even when it was a Piet plan [laughter].

Richard: Right. And Piet at all times says a backyard’s by no means accomplished. And it’s an evolution. And the backyard will let you know what it needs to turn into. And so after we are the stewards of those naturalistic landscapes, we’re interrupting the succession, the succession being the pure world is shifting from a grassland to a mature forest. And that’s usually the course of the evolution of planting. And so we get to step in and say we need to maintain it as a grassland, and so we have to make these interventions.

We have to make substitutions for the vegetation that aren’t working. We have to edit out those, the thugs, if you’ll, that get too glad. We get to be utterly shocked by the serendipity of one thing seeding in, or the mix that you simply actually weren’t sure of, but it surely’s form of rearranged itself in the best way that a few of the issues have seeded. It’s being awake to how the backyard needs to mature, and hopefully having a considerably mild contact on ensuring that you simply get one thing that’s pleasing and also you’re making the correct combos achieve success.

Margaret: However it’s a number of enhancing. I imply, it’s not simply stepping again and going, “O.Ok., that’s accomplished. It’s been planted. All completed. On to the subsequent challenge.” It’s not that in any respect.

Richard: No. And a few issues actually are supposed to be fillers in an early planting. After which as soon as the grasses get established, they are going to need to turn into 80 % of your meadow. And so you must possibly have methods for eradicating a couple of, a few of the taller grasses, the large… Is it large bluestem?

Margaret: Little bluestem and… I don’t know what you name the large one, however yeah.

Richard: Massive bluestem. Which left to its personal units was at one level crowding out the pathway. And so we now have to go in and say, you understand what? You’re nice. We want you within the again. We want you just a little bit extra as a punctuation quite than as a strong wall. And in order that’s the place a number of the enhancing is available in.

Margaret: Since you have been simply saying the completely different vegetation and the way they virtually have a life cycle, sure vegetation in these designs, and a few are virtually used as nurse crops, what you may name nurse crops, at first to fill area with one thing aside from weeds that may come up from the soil. So a few of your biennials and so forth, they’re not going to final 5 or 10 years [laughter]. They’re not going to be there as a result of as you level out, the grasses and different issues could have crammed in.

These issues which can be depending on self-sowing aren’t going to have as many alternatives to succeed in naked soil anymore and their life cycle can be over from these unique vegetation. So your black-eyed Susans or no matter that you simply who have been like, “Oh, look, there’s so a lot of these. They appear so fairly,” Nicely, that won’t occur in yr 3 or 4 or 5 or 10.

Richard: Proper. This morning I used to be putting Oriental poppy, which we don’t have on the Excessive Line. It was one of many unique vegetation that have been spec’d, but it surely’s a kind of early fascinating flower vegetation to return up between the small grasses for the primary two or three years. They’re not terribly long-lived in my expertise, anyway, so it’s simply a kind of let’s create some curiosity.

We had the identical with… Is it foxtail Lily? Eremurus, sure. The identical factor. Actually profitable, an exquisite Excessive Line plant within the first 5 years, however now it’s been crowded out by grasses. We tried to get it established once more, and it’s a difficult one. It’s a kind of so used to having professional drainage and scorching, dry locations. You make sacrifices. You say, properly, that was nice at first and now we’ll transfer on to let the backyard have another facet that’s going to shine.

Margaret: Proper. So one other type of enhancing, lots of people have heard of the Chelsea chop, the timed and named for the Chelsea Flower Present in England, as a result of in late Might, sure sorts of perennials are in the reduction of half approach. And doing that, they’re bushier and possibly they begin blooming just a little later, however they’re fuller and so forth.

You form of take it to an excessive up there [laughter]. You guys have gotten Chelsea chops happening. Simply inform me just a little bit about that technique of enhancing the images. [Above and below, hedge clippers are used on drifts deeper in the borders; pruning shears on plants closer to the paths. Liz Ligon photos.]

Richard: Nicely, I feel it primarily comes from the facet like we now have so many vegetation, and the gardens are so full; we don’t have the flexibility to stake something. Asters within the tall grass prairie like Chelsea Grasslands [part of the High Line] will do O.Ok. with only one chop the place we’ll hit them just about in late Might, early June, proper across the Chelsea Flower Present. However we now have I feel it’s Aster October Skies which can be peppered all through the Gansevoort Woodlands of the Birch Woodlands down right here on the south finish of the park.

As a result of they’re in additional shade and so they can get floppy, I feel John [Gunderson] cuts these two or 3 times. So now I feel they did them in late Might, once more in June, after which he’ll do one other lower most likely in mid-July. And so they’ll bloom later, however they’ll even be stunning, bushy, simply most likely 12 to 18 inches tall quite than the 30 or 36 inches that they might flop over in the event that they have been left to their very own units. We do this so much with vegetation. I feel Nepeta, some Monarda have been accomplished sometimes.

Margaret: I wager goldenrods too.

Richard: Solidago, and a few of the Coreopsis, too, I feel, we hit.

Margaret: Once more, it provides you, with out staking or something like that, which might simply be unattainable, it provides you a bushier plant, which is nice and wanted. In any other case you may have a number of floppy issues, particularly as you level out within the shady areas. You’ve got a number of that happening. And I think about that you simply do some thinning additionally, as a result of you might have a number of wind, don’t you?

Richard: My gosh, sure. In reality, it was fairly windy this morning, and beautiful wind as a result of it was low-humidity wind for a change. However I do know that on a few of the Joe-Pye weeds, as an illustration, which might get quite dense and tall, these could be very affected. We do it additionally with Baptisia, the false indigos.

Margaret: Certain.

Richard: So there are a few of the bigger flowering perennials that actually must be within the windier spots do must be thinned out in order that they don’t create an excessive amount of sail.

And naturally, we do this with all of our bushes as properly. We maintain the entire birch bushes and the oaks and every part fairly properly laced out to make it possible for we’re getting a number of good dappled mild on the understory, as a result of we’re identified for having this complicated tree cover, flowering spring bushes, possibly the Amelanchier or the redbuds, after which the groundcover layer.

And all of that coexists, and that’s what I feel makes the Excessive Line such a terrific place to go to as a result of the gardens are so intense, and you’ve got all these completely different layers. But it surely simply takes a number of administration to ensure every part stays glad.

Margaret: Proper, proper. Yeah, it’s so much. [Laughter.] It’s positively, positively so much. However you have been simply speaking about pruning basically the bushes. And the truth that what all of us confront, talking of issues that change in a backyard, regardless of whether or not we’re managing it naturalistically or not, is often much less mild, as a result of our bushes and shrubs develop as we’re there for longer. And so generally there’s the arduous resolution to even take away a woody plant, as a result of it’s surviving on the expense of, as you’re declaring, just like the groundcover layer or no matter.

There’s simply not the sunshine that there was, and every part else is struggling. That’s a very difficult one. However once more, it doesn’t matter what your fashion or your design aesthetic, that’s one which gardeners face who keep put for a very long time and making shrubs develop, proper?

Richard: Sure. And it’s not a light-weight resolution that we make to skinny bushes out. However I feel folks have been shocked how properly bushes really did on the Excessive Line. I don’t assume they anticipated them to get fairly so tall and fairly so full. So it’s simpler to say it’s simply getting too crowded on this area. The simplest factor to do, quite than attempt to manipulate each single tree into being simply the correct quantity of open, we are able to selectively take out a tree right here or there and open issues up. And it seems extra pure, frankly.

You may take into consideration getting that subsequent succession, these youthful bushes rising in your woodland, so it feels just a little bit extra pure, and then you definitely’re planning for succession. As a result of if all of the bushes are 20 years previous, all of the bushes are doubtlessly going to fail on the similar time. So now we’re occupied with getting some smaller bushes on this fall. So we now have this completely different age stage.

And in areas just like the Flyover, which is the world folks could also be aware of with the elevated walkway, there we’re frankly getting fairly a little bit of receding. Nicely, the sassafras come up in all places, however the magnolias, the big-leaf magnolias are self-seeding. A few of the sweetbay magnolias are additionally self-seeding. So we’re leaving these and we get to pick out. And even in our bur oak grove, we now have some seedlings that we’re going to go away, so we’ll have completely different ages. And so it simply is creating that, occupied with what’s going to achieve success in 5 or 10 years. It’s simply planning forward.

Margaret: I simply needed to ask an adjunct to one of many issues we have been speaking about earlier than with self-sowns. Even ones which can be spec’d within the plan and the design, even ones that you simply love. I feel John, who you referred to earlier than, John Gunderson, one in all your senior gardeners, he has a number of Virginia bluebells, Mertensia virginica, in his space [above; photo by Andrew Frasz]. And there could be an excessive amount of of a great factor, proper? It may self-sow an excessive amount of and deform the look. So generally you’re taking out issues which can be fascinating however not in extra. Is that one other mandate?

Richard: Sure, precisely. The Mertensia is likely one of the conditions the place it’s nice the place we now have it and it seems so pure the best way it happens in these massive drifts that go throughout the pathway, however John does do some seedhead chopping. After which in fact, it does want a cleanup within the spring as a result of the leaves as they’re fading again don’t look so nice. Typically Piet’s actually good about… If he’s utilizing ephemerals and bulbs and issues like that, he’ll have a plant that can be rising as much as disguise the leaves which can be yellowing.

He’s fairly good about that mixture. I do know, as an illustration, we now have fairly a little bit of Chasmanthium, the Northern sea oats, and we’ve observed that reseeds fairly a bit. As a lot as we’re the backyard that it’s best to come to sea as a result of we now have these stunning seeds within the winter, we do selectively scale back a few of the seeds simply so we don’t find yourself with too many vegetation.

Margaret: Precisely. It’s robust, and particularly on newer gardeners, it’s robust as a result of nobody needs to eliminate something, or compost something, or throw something away, so to talk. And it’s robust. It’s a troublesome resolution. Nicely, the Excessive Line, I feel your gardeners instructed me that finest instances to go to are between 7:00 and 9:00 AM. [Visiting information.]

Richard: Oh my gosh, we do get very crowded as a result of we’re extremely popular and that’s nice. But when folks actually need to have an expertise, come between 7:00 and 9:00 AM, and even within the evenings, we’re open within the evenings within the summertime. That’s beautiful. We’re open till 10:00 PM.

Margaret: Wow!

Richard: And it’s an fascinating expertise at night time. All of the vegetation are low-lit, so you may expertise the… However actually the morning is when it’s magic.

Margaret: Nicely, Richard Hayden, thanks for making time. I do know you bought to get down there to 18th Avenue and go determine that planting structure earlier than it will get away from you.

choose the podcast model of the present?

MY WEEKLY public-radio present, rated a “top-5 backyard podcast” by “The Guardian” newspaper within the UK, started its fifteenth yr in March 2024. It’s produced at Robin Hood Radio, the smallest NPR station within the nation. Hear regionally within the Hudson Valley (NY)-Berkshires (MA)-Litchfield Hills (CT) Mondays at 8:30 AM Jap, rerun at 8:30 Saturdays. Or play the July 8, 2024 present utilizing the participant close to the highest of this transcript. You may subscribe to all future editions on iTunes/Apple Podcasts or Spotify (and browse my archive of podcasts right here).

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