The Winterthur interns along with garden staff embarked on a two day trip, highlighting some gardens in New York. Laura Swain, Natural Lands Intern wrote about their experience:
After what seemed like an eternity driving in circles around The High Line, we finally found a garage that would accommodate our twelve-passenger van. Welcome to New York! Excited to stretch our legs and finally explore our destination, we half ran to the first entrance of The High Line, trying not to gag from the “unique smells of the city”. (It has to be a bad street or something; it can’t smell like that everywhere, right?)
Luckily, The High Line smelled much better and the views of the bustling city were phenomenal. As we walked along, being hurried by the hoards of people walking on their lunch hour, we all conversed about how drastically different this scene was than what we are used to. Not only the hundreds (or maybe even thousands?) of people that we saw on our hour stroll were different but the planting design was very different as well. The planting design at The High Line was created based off of the hardy perennials, grasses, and shrubs that took over during its twenty-five year hiatus. The last train ran on The High Line in 1980 and groundbreaking for the park didn’t take place until April of 2006. Incorporating these early successional plants as well as designing for color and texture variation, The High Line was built for lasting enjoyment as a respite from the concrete jungle but sort of lacks the “wow!” factor when it comes to nerdy horticulture stuff. In a park located some 30 feet above the streets, ease of maintenance and sustainability are key, therefore plants must be chosen accordingly.
Overall, the park is a great success. They are utilizing sustainable practices and have created amazing little microclimates based on the high-rise shading in certain areas and harsh winds from the Hudson in others. It is a haven for city-workers and tourists alike, complete with native, locally sourced plant life as well as interactive art and entertainment. Great selfie opportunities, too!
From The High Line, we made a few attempts at street food but it was crowded everywhere and we were in a time crunch due to the traffic and parking debacle. So, with the help of van snacks by Michele, we persevered through hunger and traffic toward the Bronx. Literally, my first view of the gardens at Wave Hill took my breath away. Inviting chairs and benches littered the Great Lawn and a bouquet of fragrances welcomed us. This was just the backdrop for the throne-like Pergola Overlook. Almost hidden by the hardy kiwi vine Actinidia arguta, this ruin-esque structure housed the most vibrant and creative plant design tactics. Lime green to rust orange Dryopteris and scarlet red to dark purple Coleus fight for the spotlight, while more subtle iron piping and shipping palettes were overflowing with bright succulents and tropicals. The tour that followed was unbelievable and I can’t even begin to go into all of the detail that our wonderful tour guide, Charles Day, shared with us. Wave Hill is also home to an historical estate-turned-art-gallery that looked promising, although we didn’t get a chance to explore; I would definitely go back to check it out! They have an impressive green house that was flush with cacti, succulents, and all sorts of tropicals. After a fantastic yet lengthy tour, we all had lunch in the café at Wave Hill – delicious and well deserved!
We arrived at the New York Botanical Garden early the next morning to meet Todd Forrest the Vice President of Horticulture and Living Collections. No matter which way I word it, it seems like an understatement when trying to describe what Todd does. He oversees virtually everything – including our heavily planned and timed tour.
After a great introduction to the garden and its history from Todd, we departed with Michael Hagan, the Curator of the Rock Garden, which they opened specially for us. For most of us, this garden was our favorite – filled with familiar and exotic species displayed beautifully in the alpine habitat with flowing streams. While inside NYBG, it was entirely too easy to forget you were in the heart of the Bronx. From the Rock Garden, we explored the native plant meadow and wetland, dashed through the family forest, past their version of Azalea Woods, and onto the amazing greenhouse!
The new greenhouse facility was unlike anything I had ever seen – like we stepped into a scene from Jurassic Park or something. Exotics of all varieties literally filled every inch of the one acre under glass. All of the tour guides that we had throughout the day at NYBG were truly fantastic, but Marc “The Orchid Guy” who showed us the greenhouse was entirely captivating! His enthusiasm radiated as he showed us as much of the space as time allowed, including an orchid that can launch its pollen up to three feet! The greenhouse staff was getting ready for an upcoming exhibit on Japanese Kiku and our final tour guide, Brian Sullivan, let us get a little sneak peak at the preparation of training the plants for synchronous bloom – truly fascinating!
From there, Brian led us through very formal perennial gardens decorated with poetry posters, on to the conservatory which I’m pretty convinced was actually the set of a movie or something because it was just entirely too good to be true! I could go on forever, but I won’t. Christian Primeau, the conservatory manager took the time to walk us through all of the rainforest and desert microclimates, explaining each with enthralling detail. The main exhibit revolved around Frida Kahlo’s personal gardening – the colors and culture were breathtaking! Something you have to see for yourself!
On the last leg of our journey through the 240 acres that is NYBG, we passed beautiful waterfalls of the Bronx River, and meandered through an old-growth forest that spawned the property’s conservation many years ago. We also got to chat one on one with Brian, a landscape architect, about career advice and brief words of wisdom. Afterwards, we ate lunch and then explored on our own – checking out their children’s garden, obviously!
As we piled back in the van and readied ourselves for snacks and sleepy naps, I couldn’t help but reflect on what a jam-packed yet beautiful two days it had been! It was one more reassuring adventure that the ride we are on is headed in the right direction. I wish I could even begin to describe it all in this already lengthy post but it was definitely two days I will not soon forget!