Greenery in the Big City

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Today’s photos are from Don Burgard.

My wife and I recently spent a few days at her sister’s apartment in the Chelsea neighborhood of Manhattan. Kate and I met as graduate students in Manhattan in the late 1980s but haven’t lived in the city since. In our mini-vacation in late June, I was struck by the beautiful gardens that are just minutes away from my sister-in-law’s apartment. First is the High Line—a long-abandoned elevated railway transformed into a 1.5-mile park with gardens designed by Piet Oudolf. The High Line opened in 2009 and has since become one of New York’s top tourist attractions. Then there is Little Island, an artificial island in the Hudson River accessible by a couple of short bridges, which just opened in May. Along with grassy areas, walking paths, and an amphitheater, this park packs a lot of plant life into its 2.4 acres.

But while I had been on the High Line before and had been encouraged ahead of time to visit Little Island by my sister-in-law, the gardens at Hudson Yards were a surprise. Hudson Yards is a gleaming new mix of skyscrapers, performance venues, and outdoor spaces—with some lovely and lush garden beds smack in the middle. Putting plants and skyscrapers together isn’t exactly novel, but the general density of Manhattan makes a place like Hudson Yards really stand out. Here are a few of the photos I took during the 92-degree morning of our visit.

the Vessel at Hudson YardsJust looking at these trees and garden beds made me feel cooler. The odd-looking structure in the background is the Vessel, a structure made from a series of interconnected stairways and a great way to get a bird’s-eye view of the greenery below.

view of Hudson Yards gardens from aboveAnd here’s the bird’s-eye view.

small garden bed in city gardenNow that the city is largely functioning normally again, here’s my idea to bring riders back to the subway: more plants around the entrances! Having ridden the subway regularly in the late 1980s and early 1990s—and entered and exited plenty of stops that were functional but far from beautiful—I was stopped in my tracks when I saw this. I love how the Japanese forest grass (Hakonechloa macra, Zones 5–9) is spilling out over the railing and onto the path, and the persicaria (Persicaria amplexicaulis, Zone 4–7) blooms remind me of fireworks exploding—such exuberance for a mere subway stop!

mass planting of smooth hydrangea in the cityThe tall buildings surrounding these hydrangeas (Hydrangea arborescens, Zones 3–9) provide enough shade for them to thrive, even during a heatwave.

mass planting of purple coneflowers in the cityThis sea of coneflowers (Echinacea purpurea, Zones 4–9) provides lots of nectar and pollen for bees and butterflies—and if watching them snack makes you hungry, you can just visit the food cart in the background.

large tree growing between large buildingsI’ll finish with one photo from the High Line. This shot is representative of what I hope is the future not just for New York but for all cities. It looks like the High Line (left) is unable to contain all that wonderful plant life and so it is spilling over the edge to meet a tree rising up from the street level. And then after a small gap, the garden continues on the rooftop to the right. Finally, if you look in the upper left, you’ll see yet another rooftop garden.

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