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

IT’S ONE of the best-known naturalistic gardens anyplace, and but it’s perched in probably the most unnatural spot possible, 30 ft excessive above New York Metropolis 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 crammed with knowledgeable classes on gardening on this looser, nature-inspired fashion.

Immediately’s visitor is Richard Hayden, the Excessive Line’s senior director of horticulture. His crew 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 12 months. (Above, overhead picture 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’ll be able to 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 joyful anniversary, birthday—no matter we need to name it, to you and the crew.

Richard Hayden: Thanks.

Margaret: It was enjoyable assembly a few of you, at the very least nearly, to do a current “New York Instances” backyard column collectively, which received an amazing response, which made me joyful. So briefly, I feel for people who find themselves listening from in all places 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 Facet 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 taking a look at it in its wild state, and there have been some superb pictures 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 vital essential public gardens of the twenty first century, as a result of it modified the way in which we take into consideration how we backyard. It’s the 4 season backyard. As Piet says, “a plant isn’t value rising except it appears to be like good lifeless.” [Laughter.] And it’s true. It’s so lovely 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 mixtures and complexities. And naturally, all that complexity results in biodiversity. We have now 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 once we did the Instances story that I simply discovered if you first mentioned it to me and I simply can’t recover from the thought of it, you have got your soil depth up there and these beds that have been constructed for this on this elevated railway, the soil is rarely 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 perhaps get to 30 inches or so. And I’ve to inform you, once I first began, which was about slightly 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 climbing 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 already know what? Mom Nature’s figured this out. I don’t have to fret a lot.

Margaret: O.Okay., 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 an inventive eye. And the issue with 18 inches is that it doesn’t… As a result of there might be heat air on high and heat air beneath, and chilly air on high and chilly air beneath, so we don’t have lots of cushion.

Margaret: No.

Richard: So throughout warmth waves, for example, we now have to be very cautious to maintain issues with the fitting moisture ranges. After which within the winter typically, 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. Nevertheless it 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 speak slightly bit about that.

Richard: Proper. So it’s about 50 p.c native. We did an exquisite hort celebration final 12 months the place we honored New York Metropolis native crops, 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 crops. So I used to be joyful to try this discovery.

And Piet may be very a lot about gardens are for folks, and so natives are nice, however typically there are bloom intervals the place the natives actually aren’t filling the area of interest or perhaps they don’t have sufficient winter construction. He’s joyful 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, it’s a must to have a certain quantity of resilience, a certain quantity of aggression. And so lots of what we do is handle these. We have now a grass, Korean feather grass that was planted in a single space, and I seen in some pictures, 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 we now have to do, is we now have to handle these issues that need to be too profitable, so that they don’t swallow their neighbors. Maintain the stability.

Margaret: Nicely, and so a few of the ways that he urged within the preliminary design and that you just and your crew uphold and so forth to be naturalistic… I imply, for example, there was one that basically 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 seen it consciously, however there it’s and it’s so apparent now that you’ve mentioned it aloud to me.

When you have got 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 via a pure space versus… Yeah, this continuity versus these are two separate gardens and right here is my path, extra artifical. And simply all these hints like that. Any others like that that you concentrate on? Nicely, let’s speak concerning the drifts perhaps as a result of that’s an essential side of his forms of designs and naturalistic fashion. [Above, Timothy Schenck photo.]

Richard: Nicely, it’s attention-grabbing as a result of it might be really easy to get these tremendous advanced gardens with numerous crops showing all subsequent to one another. However if 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 possibly can 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 form of factor that you just’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. All the time odd numbers for some cause, but it surely does all the time appears to be like higher. However he retains it easy. By conserving the drifts giant, it turns into slightly 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 form of a extra pure form. However he does that fairly steadily along with his newer gardens, as a result of it’s simpler to handle. You recognize what’s speculated to be the place, what’s gotten out of stability.

Margaret: I see.

Richard: However right here on the Excessive Line, we’re slightly bit extra advanced, so we’re always 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, they usually simply by no means took. And naturally, Piet doesn’t use lots of crimson, and it’s form of burgundy crimson, 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 joyful.

Margaret: In his authentic 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 crops that we’ll be in, and he makes use of giant 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 in all places of chaos. I imply, that’s not going to learn, is it? [Above, Liz Ligon photo.]

Richard: No. And it’s simply attention-grabbing we’re having this dialog, and I used to be simply this morning laying out a Piet Oudolf design. We have now a brand new plaza that’s stepping into at road degree 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 wanting on the plans, and it truly is, on this explicit 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 form of works. You see the construction behind what he’s making an attempt to do.

Margaret: I assume it was final 12 months perhaps he had a guide come out that’s about his profession, his tasks, and there have been lots of his designs in it as a part of the artwork within the guide, not simply pictures. And you’ll see that there, too. You’ll be able to see these shapes and the crops which might be specified to go in each and so forth.

The opposite factor I discover attention-grabbing concerning 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 crops, couldn’t discover them and couldn’t make the most of them in the identical approach. So the drifts additionally serve a objective, 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 a couple of key crops in bigger numbers.

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

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

So I’m advised by lots of people who’ve tried to or who’ve gone extra naturalistic in some space of their gardens, perhaps made a small meadow or no matter, I hear, “Nicely, 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 guide,” once they purchased it from a catalog, they purchased the seed or the plugs or no matter.

That’s form of that, oops, good day succession, pure succession: the way in which issues go in nature. And so let’s speak slightly 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: Appropriate. And Piet all the time says a backyard’s by no means achieved. And it’s an evolution. And the backyard will inform you what it desires to turn into. And so once 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 crops that aren’t working. We have to edit out those, the thugs, if you’ll, that get too joyful. We get to be utterly shocked by the serendipity of one thing seeding in, or the mixture that you just actually weren’t sure of, but it surely’s form of rearranged itself in the way in which that a few of the issues have seeded. It’s being awake to how the backyard desires to mature, and hopefully having a considerably mild contact on ensuring that you just get one thing that’s pleasing and also you’re making the fitting mixtures achieve success.

Margaret: However it’s lots of modifying. I imply, it’s not simply stepping again and going, “O.Okay., that’s achieved. It’s been planted. All completed. On to the subsequent venture.” 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 may need to turn into 80 p.c of your meadow. And so it’s a must to perhaps have methods for eradicating a couple of, a few of the taller grasses, the large… Is it big bluestem?

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

Richard: Huge bluestem. Which left to its personal gadgets was at one level crowding out the pathway. And so we now have to go in and say, you already know what? You’re nice. We want you within the again. We want you slightly bit extra as a punctuation relatively than as a strong wall. And in order that’s the place lots 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 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 can 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 might be over from these authentic crops. So your black-eyed Susans or no matter that you just who have been like, “Oh, look, there’s so a lot of these. They give the impression of being so fairly,” Nicely, that will not occur in 12 months 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 authentic crops that have been spec’d, but it surely’s a type of early attention-grabbing flower crops to come back 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 type 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 type of so used to having knowledgeable drainage and sizzling, dry locations. You make sacrifices. You say, nicely, that was nice at first and now we’ll transfer on to let the backyard have another side 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 approach. And doing that, they’re bushier and perhaps they begin blooming slightly 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 slightly bit about that methodology of modifying 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 side like we now have so many crops, 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.Okay. 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 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 they usually 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 minimize most likely in mid-July. And so they’ll bloom later, however they’ll even be lovely, bushy, simply most likely 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 do this rather a lot with crops. I feel Nepeta, some Monarda have been achieved often.

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 possibly can have lots of floppy issues, particularly as you level out within the shady areas. You may have lots of that happening. And I think about that you just do some thinning additionally, as a result of you have got lots of wind, don’t you?

Richard: My gosh, sure. In reality, 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, for example, which may get relatively dense and tall, these might be very affected. We do it additionally with Baptisia, the false indigos.

Margaret: Positive.

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

And naturally, we do this with all of our timber as nicely. We maintain the entire birch timber and the oaks and every part fairly nicely laced out to guarantee that we’re getting lots of good dappled mild on the understory, as a result of we’re identified for having this advanced tree cover, flowering spring timber, perhaps 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 amazing place to go to as a result of the gardens are so intense, and you’ve got all these completely different layers. Nevertheless it simply takes lots of administration to verify every part stays joyful.

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 mild, 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 every part else is struggling. That’s a very tough 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 determination that we make to skinny timber out. However I feel folks have been shocked how nicely timber really did on the Excessive Line. I don’t suppose 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, relatively than attempt to manipulate each single tree into being simply the correct quantity 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’ll be able to take into consideration getting that subsequent succession, these youthful timber rising in your woodland, so it feels slightly bit extra pure, and then you definitely’re planning for succession. As a result of if all of the timber are 20 years outdated, all of the timber are probably going to fail on the similar time. So now we’re occupied with getting some smaller timber on this fall. So we now have this completely different age degree.

And in areas just like the Flyover, which is the realm folks could also be aware of with the elevated walkway, there we’re frankly getting fairly a little bit of reseeding. 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 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 just love. I feel John, who you referred to earlier than, John Gunderson, considered one of your senior gardeners, he has lots of Virginia bluebells, Mertensia virginica, in his space [above; photo by Andrew Frasz]. And there might be an excessive amount of of a superb factor, proper? It could possibly 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 without doubt one of the conditions the place it’s nice the place we now have it and it appears to be like so pure the way in which it happens in these large 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. Usually Piet’s actually good about… If he’s utilizing ephemerals and bulbs and issues like that, he’ll have a plant that might be rising as much as cover the leaves which might be yellowing.

He’s fairly good about that mixture. I do know, for example, we now have fairly a little bit of Chasmanthium, the Northern sea oats, and we’ve seen that reseeds fairly a bit. As a lot as we’re the backyard that you must come to see as a result of we now have these lovely seeds within the winter, we do selectively scale 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 desires to do away with something, or compost something, or throw something away, so to talk. And it’s robust. It’s a troublesome determination. Nicely, the Excessive Line, I feel your gardeners advised me that finest occasions 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 pretty. We’re open till 10:00 PM.

Margaret: Wow!

Richard: And it’s an attention-grabbing expertise at evening. All of the crops are low-lit, so you possibly can 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 work out 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 12 months in March 2024. It’s produced at Robin Hood Radio, the smallest NPR station within the nation. Pay attention 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’ll be able to subscribe to all future editions on iTunes/Apple Podcasts or Spotify (and browse my archive of podcasts right here).

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