The gardener's eye

The Gardener's Eye

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Wave Hill and the High Line in March

Structure in the Flower Garden with views of the Palisades

Formal Obelisk in the Flower Garden

Evergreens and gazebo in the Wild Garden

Rustic Obelisk in the Wild Garden with a glimpse of the Palisades

Garden Path on the High Line

Railroad Tracks

Gridded Grove of Acer Triflorum

Garden View: Frank Gehry building and Jean Nouvel residential tower

I had an optometry symposium in New York City this weekend which gave me the opportunity to visit some public gardens in the Big Apple. On of my favorite gardens is Wave Hill, often called one of the most beautiful places in New York, which is in the Bronx. It is right off the Henry Hudson Parkway just north of the George Washington Bridge. It is one of the most southern of the great estates along the Hudson River and has magnificent views of the Palisades across the Hudson River. It became a New York City Park in the 1960's. The High Line is a brand new park on the West Side of Manhattan. It was originally an elevated railroad that was built in the 1930's to keep dangerous freight trains off the city streets. During the 1950's the trucking industry eclipsed rail traffic and the ultimately closed the High Line. In June, 2009, it became an elevated public park. Last Friday was my first visit to the High Line.

Late March is a great time to travel south when you live in New Hampshire. While we tend to remain blanketed in snow, spring is sprouting in New York City. Wave Hill and the High Line both offered excellent examples of public garden design. While they are very different, they have many similarities. The both have excellent structure which can be easily observed before the plantings emerge.

Wave Hill's Flower Garden is formally designed and is enclosed by a cedar fence which has a benches on two ends. It has what they call lozenge-shaped yew domes flanking the brick pathway. Later in the season, the garden will be full of an informal array of vintage and modern shrubs, perennials and tantalizing tender exotic plants.

The Wild Garden is inspired by William Robinson's writings in the early twentieth century. It contains plants from around the world and is planted in a "planted-by-nature effect." It has an antique gazebo, meandering gravel pathways and many varieties of evergreens which provide a backdrop to the elaborate plantings.

The High Line feels extremely modern, urban and gritty. Many of the plantings were designed by Dutch garden designer, Piet Oudolf. Oudolf specializes in perennial gardens that are influenced by the American prairie. The plantings were inspired by the self-seeded grasses and perennials that established themselves on the obsolete railway. The concrete plank pathways have a very contemporary feel to them. Sections of the rusted railroad tracks remain in their original location and are integrated into the plantings. The Asian tree, Acer triflorum, and our native grey birch, Betula populifolia, add bark interest and winter structure.

When I return from visiting inspiring public plantings in late winter, I try to take a hard look at my personal garden and the public parks that I work on in Peterborough. I ask myself what changes could be implemented to make the garden picture more beautiful and interesting in the winter and early springtime. I make every effort to visit excellent and diverse gardens and public places at different times of year for inspiration. Wave Hill and the High Line have a spirit of their own place and marry strong structure with unique (and in the High Line sometimes common) plants combined in very interesting ways.

Both Wave Hill and the High Line have plant lists on their websites that I found very helpful when I was studying their designs.


  1. Wave Hill is a personal favorite of mine, as well. It's been years since I've visited, but it looks as beautiful as ever!

  2. Tim,
    I agree. I grew up in the Philadelphia area and stopped at the Wave Hill cafe for lunch whenever I traveled south. It was the most beautiful rest stop imaginable! I really liked the High Line very much. Looking forward to seeing in throughout the gardening season.

  3. Michael, thank you for this lovely tribute to two wonderful destinations in New York City. In fact, Pat Cullina, VP of Horticulture and Operations for Friends of the High Line, was the first speaker in our 2010 Horticultural Lecture series. You can imagine that he provided a thoroughly enoyable evening, introduced by our Director of Horticulture Scott Canning. Here at Wave Hill, the season just gets better and better, with glory-of-the-snow and some astonishingly early cherry blossoms taking center stage, for me anyway.

  4. Martha,
    Thanks so much for your comment. Wave Hill has been a favorite garden for me for many years. I have used many plants and ideas from Wave Hill in my public gardens here in Peterborough, NH. I have even developed a signature Peterborough Adirondack chair in honor of the Wave Hill chairs. Wave Hill has been a wonderful environment in which to learn about horticulture at its best. I feel very lucky to have these parks within driving distance. The excellence of places like Wave Hill is the standard that I am aiming for in my public gardens.



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