“All my work is related to trying to recreate spontaneous feeling of plants in nature. The idea is not to copy nature, but to give a feeling of nature.” — Piet Oudolf
Thomas Rainer (who calls himself a “horticultural futurist”) wrote in his blog about horticultural idols in Nov. 2011, noting a favourite comment by Oudolf, as he was looking out over his perennial meadow: “‘You look at this, and it goes deeper than what you see. It reminds you of something in the genes — nature, or the longing for nature.’ Oudolf’s goal is not merely to please the eye, but to reconnect our primal selves back to a natural world that we barely remember.”
That’s some pretty instinctual stuff in the middle of one of the most cultivated, complex, analytical, mediated cities in the world.
“Evergreens add depth to the garden, or the scenery of the garden, but you don’t need too many. In winter you don’t expect a garden to be green. It’s about scale and balance. Evergreens have a place, but other things play a role, like texture and structure.” — Piet Oudolf
“[Bulbs are] the sign of the new year. They are never in the way because they disappear in summer and they flower at a time where there is not much else flowering. They are very stress-tolerant and are easy and beautiful at the same time. This is the time of year you wait for things to happen, and even one or two plants flowering excites you.” — Piet Oudolf
The redbuds and serviceberry were blooming, along with perennials and ground covers:
And the oakleaf hydrangea was in bud:
The mourning doves were quite happy roosting among such beauty and protection:
It’s worth quoting at length from the project narrative provides by the landscape designers and architects (see sources, below), because I think they have masterfully realised their vision:
“Inspired by the melancholic, ‘found’ beauty of the High Line, where nature has reclaimed a once-vital piece of urban infrastructure, the design aims to refit this industrial conveyance into a postindustrial instrument of leisure. By changing the rules of engagement between plant life and pedestrians, our strategy of ‘agri-tecture’ combines organic and building materials into a blend of changing proportions that accommodates the wild, the cultivated, the intimate, and the social. In stark contrast to the speed of Hudson River Park, the singular linear experience of the new High Line landscape is marked by slowness, distraction and an otherworldliness that preserves the strange, wild character of the High Line, yet doesn’t underestimate its intended use and popularity as a new public space.”
Walking the High Line is a leisurely experience: people stroll, take in the views, sit on the many benches (and in season, the lawn); and the place feels otherworldly, of a different time and place, while within view of the Empire State Building, the Chrysler Building, busy offices and busier gyms abutting the park, the unending buzz of traffic not far below. You can’t imagine people jogging or running the High Line. It’s not of that world.
It reminds me of the description in Michel Houellebecq’s novel The Map & The Territory of the artist Jed Martin’s visit to Ruhrgebeit, Germany, then an industrial tourism destination:
“[T]he whole region, with its blast furnaces, slag heaps, abandoned railway tracks where freight wagons rusted, its lines of identical and neat and tidy terraced houses … was like a conservatory of the first Industrial Age in Europe. Jed had been impressed at the time by the menacing density of the forests that, after scarcely a century of inactivity, surrounded the factories. … These industrial colossi, where once was concentrated the bulk of German productive capacity, were now rusted, half-collapsed, and plants colonized the former workshops, creeping between ruins that they gradually covered with impenetrable jungle.”
A plantsman’s vision: Piet Oudolf by Dan Pearson, The Guardian, 7 April 2013.
Required Reading: How to Recreate Piet Oudolf’s Painterly Landscapes, by Michelle Slatalla, 18 March 2013, in Gardenista blog.
Q&A: Piet Oudolf on Designing a Winter Garden In the Garden by Sara Barrett, The New York Times, 9 Feb. 2011.
Piet Oudolf: Leader of the New Perennials by Jared Green, 11 May 2010, in The Dirt, blog of the American Society of Landscape Architects.
very detailed project statement, project narrative, and plan/design images by the architects for The High Line: Section 1, with James Corner, Field Operations (project lead, landscape designer) and Diller Scofidio + Renfro architects. Section 1 is a half-mile from Gansevoort Street to West 20th Street (the lower end of the current High Line).
A Landscape in Winter, Dying Heroically, by Sally McGrane, The New York Times, 31 Jan 2008.