Story Behind the Shot: The Winter Garden

Photo by Cristina Macaya


In celebration of the High Line Calendar, we’re exploring each month’s featured image to bring you more of the behind-the-scenes details. Visit the web shop to pick up your own copy – they’re on sale now for 50% off!

In this month’s serene image by photographer Cristina Macaya, dried spindly stalks and seed heads of coneflowers reach toward the winter sky, the memory of summer long behind them. In a season when many of us long for the vivid colors and lush foliage of summer, this photo exemplifies why we should take a closer look at natural beauty of the winter garden and appreciate this season in a new light. After all, that is what High Line planting designer Piet Oudolf intended.

As you walk along the High Line during the colder months of the year, it’s easy to notice that plants are left in their natural state. “Normally, people who garden would have cut this back by now,” said Piet about the plants left to overwinter in his home garden in the Netherlands. “The skeletons of the plants are for me as important as the flowers.”

Piet’s naturalistic four-season philosophy on plants can be seen in a number of projects he's worked on in Europe and a growing number in the United States, including Millennium Park in Chicago, The Battery in New York, and of course, the High Line. Piet’s designs can be identified by their signature use of grasses and perennials that transition through the seasons with a variety of year-round blooms, textures, and structured combinations that create the effect of walking through prairies and other natural landscapes.

When the weather cools as winter approaches, the green fades from the planting beds of the High Line, the stalks of grasses and flowers brown and harden, leaves fall to the ground, and late-season seeds and berries mature. It’s this time of year when the landscape is dominated by whispering dried grasses and stoic architectural remnants of summer blooms. Pops of color from berries, winter blooms (yes, winter blooms!) like witch hazel, and the light bark of grey birch trees punctuates an otherwise brown landscape. But, as Piet Oudolf would say, “Brown is a color too.” And it’s beautiful.

Underneath all those dried stalks are root structures of plants waiting for the next growing season. Soon, during Spring Cutback in March, High Line Gardeners and volunteers will be working to trim back the overwintered plant material to make room for new growth. Green shoots of grasses and colorful crocuses will begin popping up daily, ushering in a new season for the park and setting the stage for next winter’s display.

High Line Calendar

Purchase our 18-month High Line Calendar for this and many more beautiful photos of the High Line through four seasons. Or, for a limited time, members who join or renew at the Rail level will receive our beautiful new calendar as a special thank-you gift. Join or renew today.

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