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 essentially the most unnatural spot conceivable, 30 ft excessive above New York Metropolis site visitors on an deserted elevated railway line. The Excessive Line on Manhattan’s West Facet is celebrating the fifteenth anniversary of the opening of its first part, years which were full of skilled classes on gardening on this looser, nature-inspired type.

At the moment’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 beneath. You possibly can 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 completely happy 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, not less than just about, to do a latest “New York Occasions” backyard column collectively, which obtained an awesome response, which made me completely happy. So briefly, I feel for people who find themselves listening from in every single place 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 after all, it was an unused, elevated railway on the West Facet of Manhattan. And over the course of the 20 years that the trains weren’t operating, seeds had drifted in and birds had in all probability dropped just a few 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 it might 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 could possibly be a backyard. And Piet Oudolf was employed and Area Operations and Diller Scofidio + Renfro did some nice designs.

And right here we’re 15 years later, and it’s, I feel one of the crucial essential 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 price rising except it appears to be like 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 many bees and birds and different animals that go to. So it’s only a actually great respite from town.

Margaret: And the factor that after we did the Occasions story that I simply discovered once you first mentioned it to me and I simply can’t recover from the concept of it, you may 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 obtained some raised planters that we mound up and possibly get to 30 inches or so. And I’ve to let you know, once I first began, which was about a little bit over two and a half years in the past, and I used to be seeing these 30-foot-tall birch timber and oak timber and all these large timber rising in 18 inches of soil, it actually stored me up at evening. Each time the wind would blow…

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

Richard: After which I did some mountaineering in Northwest Connecticut on the Appalachian Path, and there had been a windstorm, and these mature timber 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 realize 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 house.

Richard: Precisely, precisely, clearly with an inventive 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 example, now we have to be very cautious to maintain issues with the precise moisture ranges. After which within the winter typically, we do lose just a few issues if now we have a moist chilly snap or one thing. So it does make challenges for that means.

Margaret: So Piet designed it in a naturalistic type, and he’s sort 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 a little bit bit about that.

Richard: Proper. So it’s about 50 p.c native. We did an exquisite hort celebration final yr the place we honored New York Metropolis native crops, and we discovered 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 now we have. They usually 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 crops. So I used to be completely happy to do this discovery.

And Piet could be very a lot about gardens are for folks, and so natives are nice, however typically there are bloom durations the place the natives actually aren’t filling the area of interest or possibly they don’t have sufficient winter construction. He’s completely happy to mix issues so long as they’re well-behaved, and now we have just a few 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 just a few of these?

Richard: Properly, to be a profitable plant on the Excessive Line, it’s important to have a certain quantity of resilience, a certain quantity of aggression. And so a number of what we do is handle these. We’ve 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 p.c of the combination. And three years later, it was 80 p.c of the combination as a result of it’s simply such a virulent reseeder. That’s one of many issues now we have to do, is now we have to handle these issues that need to be too profitable, so that they don’t swallow their neighbors. Maintain the stability.

Margaret: Properly, and so a few of the techniques that he prompt within the preliminary design and that you simply and your group uphold and so forth to be naturalistic… I imply, as an example, there was one that actually you guys talked to me about through the Occasions story interview, which, after all, 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 got mentioned it aloud to me.

When you may have the backyard on each side of a path, that these drifts of crops which might be on the one aspect additionally ought to typically be on the opposite aspect in order that it appears to be like as if the trail was added by a pure space versus… Yeah, this continuity versus these are two separate gardens and right here is my path, extra artifical. And simply some of these hints like that. Any others like that that you concentrate on? Properly, let’s discuss in regards to the drifts possibly as a result of that’s an essential facet of his kinds of designs and naturalistic type. [Above, Timothy Schenck photo.]

Richard: Properly, it’s fascinating as a result of it could be really easy to get these tremendous complicated gardens with numerous crops 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 typically 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 crops. After which the Excessive Line backyard is definitely what he would contemplate a matrix backyard. So it’s a planting of a groundcover layer, typically flowering.

So you’ll be able to have issues like autumn moor grass or catmint and different issues that may simply provide you with a foundation a floor cowl, and that’s the kind of factor that you simply’ll see typically drifting on each side of the trail. After which into which might 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 appears to be like higher. However he retains it easy. By retaining the drifts massive, it turns into a little bit bit extra legible.

After which most 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 maintain. You realize 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 a little bit bit extra complicated, so we’re continuously managing the dynamics of anybody species. Some issues they don’t succeed. We had a few crops. 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 pink, and it’s sort of burgundy pink, 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 completely happy.

Margaret: In his unique planting designs for the assorted backyard areas on the Excessive Line, he sort of narrows down… I imply, these are smaller areas than nature, however he narrows down the variety of key crops 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 only be a zillion polka dots in every single place 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 a brand new plaza that’s moving into at avenue degree at 18th Road that’ll be the latest 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 wanting on the plans, and it truly is, on this specific plan, large 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 achieved it, but it surely’s actually thrilling to put the backyard out and also you get a way of actually how his thoughts sort of works. You see the construction behind what he’s making an attempt to do.

Margaret: I assume 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 may see that there, too. You possibly can see these shapes and the crops which might 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 type to do it that means. However in nature, should you had simply onesies of one million various things, the animals, particularly the bugs who’re depending on these crops, couldn’t discover them and couldn’t make the most of them in the identical means. 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 will not be simply one million completely different sorts of crops all crunched collectively. There are just a few key crops in bigger numbers.

Richard: And in additional of the grassland plantings, as an example, he’s counting on sure crops to have the construction to carry different crops up, which is what, after all, occurs of their pure environments as effectively.

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

So I’m informed 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, “Properly, but it surely retains altering. It doesn’t appear to be the unique plan. It’s not how I imagined it.” [Laughter.] “It doesn’t appear to be 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, whats up succession, pure succession: the best way issues go in nature. And so let’s discuss a little bit 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 achieved. 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 typically the course of the evolution of planting. And so we get to step in and say we need to hold it as a grassland, and so we have to make these interventions.

We have to make substitutions for the crops that aren’t working. We have to edit out those, the thugs, if you’ll, that get too completely happy. We get to be utterly stunned by the serendipity of one thing seeding in, or the mix that you simply actually weren’t sure of, but it surely’s sort 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 gentle contact on ensuring that you simply get one thing that’s pleasing and also you’re making the precise combos achieve success.

Margaret: However it’s a number of modifying. I imply, it’s not simply stepping again and going, “O.Ok., that’s achieved. It’s been planted. All completed. On to the following mission.” 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 p.c of your meadow. And so it’s important to possibly have methods for eradicating just a few, 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: Large bluestem. Which left to its personal gadgets was at one level crowding out the pathway. And so now we have to go in and say, you realize what? You’re nice. We want you within the again. We want you a little bit bit extra as a punctuation relatively than as a stable wall. And in order that’s the place a number of the modifying is available in.

Margaret: Since you have been simply saying the completely different crops and the way they virtually have a life cycle, sure crops in these designs, and a few are virtually used as nurse crops, what you may name nurse crops, at first to fill house 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 may have crammed in.

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

Richard: Proper. This morning I used to be inserting Oriental poppy, which we don’t have on the Excessive Line. It was one of many unique crops that have been spec’d, but it surely’s a kind of early fascinating flower crops 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 skilled drainage and sizzling, dry locations. You make sacrifices. You say, effectively, 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 modifying, 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 means. And doing that, they’re bushier and possibly they begin blooming a little bit later, however they’re fuller and so forth.

You sort of take it to an excessive up there [laughter]. You guys have gotten Chelsea chops happening. Simply inform me a little bit bit about that technique of modifying the photographs. [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: Properly, I feel it primarily comes from the facet like now we have so many crops, and the gardens are so full; we don’t have the power 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 now we have I feel it’s Aster October Skies which might 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 thrice. So now I feel they did them in late Might, once more in June, after which he’ll do one other lower in all probability in mid-July. They usually’ll bloom later, however they’ll even be stunning, bushy, simply in all probability 12 to 18 inches tall relatively than the 30 or 36 inches that they might flop over in the event that they have been left to their very own gadgets. We try this rather a lot with crops. I feel Nepeta, some Monarda have been achieved 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 unimaginable, it provides you a bushier plant, which is nice and wanted. In any other case you’ll be able to have a number of floppy issues, particularly as you level out within the shady areas. You may have a number of that happening. And I think about that you simply do some thinning additionally, as a result of you may have a number of wind, don’t you?

Richard: My gosh, sure. In truth, it was fairly windy this morning, and wonderful 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 example, which may get relatively 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 so that they don’t create an excessive amount of sail.

And naturally, we try this with all of our timber as effectively. We hold the entire birch timber and the oaks and the whole lot fairly effectively laced out to be sure that we’re getting a number of good dappled gentle on the understory, as a result of we’re identified for having this complicated tree cover, flowering spring timber, 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 an awesome 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 the whole lot stays completely happy.

Margaret: Proper, proper. Yeah, it’s rather a lot. [Laughter.] It’s undoubtedly, undoubtedly rather a lot. However you have been simply speaking about pruning basically the timber. And the truth that what all of us confront, talking of issues that change in a backyard, irrespective of whether or not we’re managing it naturalistically or not, is normally much less gentle, as a result of our timber and shrubs develop as we’re there for longer. And so typically there’s the exhausting determination 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 the whole lot else is struggling. That’s a extremely difficult one. However once more, it doesn’t matter what your type 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 determination that we make to skinny timber out. However I feel folks have been stunned how effectively timber truly 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 house. The best factor to do, relatively than attempt to manipulate each single tree into being simply the correct amount of open, we will selectively take out a tree right here or there and open issues up. And it appears to be like extra pure, frankly.

You possibly can take into consideration getting that subsequent succession, these youthful timber rising in your woodland, so it feels a little bit bit extra pure, and you then’re planning for succession. As a result of if all of the timber are 20 years previous, all of the timber are doubtlessly going to fail on the identical time. So now we’re desirous about getting some smaller timber on this fall. So now we have this completely different age degree.

And in areas just like the Flyover, which is the realm folks could also be accustomed to with the elevated walkway, there we’re frankly getting fairly a little bit of reseeding. Properly, the sassafras come up all over the place, however the magnolias, the big-leaf magnolias are self-seeding. Among 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, now we have some seedlings that we’re going to depart, so we’ll have completely different ages. And so it simply is creating that, desirous about what will 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 might 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 very good factor, proper? It may well self-sow an excessive amount of and deform the look. So typically you’re taking out issues which might be fascinating however not in extra. Is that one other mandate?

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

He’s fairly good about that mixture. I do know, as an example, now we 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 you must come to see as a result of now we have these stunning seeds within the winter, we do selectively cut back a few of the seeds simply so we don’t find yourself with too many crops.

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 determination. Properly, the Excessive Line, I feel your gardeners informed me that greatest 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 evening. All of the crops are low-lit, so you’ll be able to expertise the… However actually the morning is when it’s magic.

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

want 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 domestically within the Hudson Valley (NY)-Berkshires (MA)-Litchfield Hills (CT) Mondays at 8:30 AM Japanese, rerun at 8:30 Saturdays. Or play the July 8, 2024 present utilizing the participant close to the highest of this transcript. You possibly can subscribe to all future editions on iTunes/Apple Podcasts or Spotify (and browse my archive of podcasts right here).

Related Articles


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here

Latest Articles