Meet High Line Gardener Johnny Linville

pipe Johnny Linville at work on the High Line. Photo by David Kimelman. See more of the gardeners in action in David's album on Flickr.

Johnny Linville, one of the High Line's five full-time gardeners (and frequent equipment model) recently told me about his transition from traditional office job to the world of professional gardening. Up until December of 2007, Johnny helped run a branch of a private company that focused on literacy remediation. He loved his job, but was more passionate about gardening, a hobby he had cultivated nearly all his life, from helping to coordinate a community garden to participating in his native Santa Barbara's Bonsai Club. So, one day during the middle of winter, Johnny took a leap of faith and resigned from his job. He obtained an internship with the Brooklyn Botanical Garden, and was able to gain the technical groundwork to begin his new career.

pipe Rattlesnake master (Eryngium yuccifolium), one of Johnny's favorite plants on the High Line. Photo by Lauren Jonik.

Johnny loves working at the High Line because of the freedom that public parks allow their gardeners to learn about and truly care for the plants. The culture of private companies, in comparison, often focuses on deadlines.

He also loves the uniqueness of the High Line. "The plants here are not typical plants seen in public parks," he says, "The species are different, and the design is different. But in the context of the High Line, they work really well. People get it."

One of Johnny's favorite moments at the High Line was a quiet morning late last summer, while weeding in the Chelsea Grasslands. That morning, he worked in an area far enough from the paved walkway that when crouching among the tall grasses he was nearly invisible to passersby. While working far above the traffic and bustle of the city, Johnny became so engrossed in the tall prairie grasses he forgot he was in New York City. When he stood up and saw the street below and buildings rising on all sides, he had a momentary feeling of disorientation.

pipe A view from the Chelsea Grasslands this summer. Photo by Joan Garvin.

The sensation returned to him later that day, when he walked below the High Line on street-level and looked up to the place he worked that morning. "Sometimes you forget you're thirty feet in the air," Johnny told me. "It's kind of magical."

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