Spring Cutback  is a monumental task – one that took us 1,200 hours to complete last year. This year, we have twice as much work to do. The High Line doubled in length when the new section opened last June, giving us one mile of parkland with more than 100,000 plants to prepare for spring this year.
The High Line's unique design, with gravel mulch and railroad tracks running through the planting beds, makes it impossible to use power equipment to cut back the plants. It is for this reason that Spring Cutback is an all-hands-on-deck scenario, requiring the hard work and dedication of our entire staff and many volunteers over the course of six weeks.
Today we get to know one of our most dedicated volunteers, Pat Jonas, who has been working side-by-side with our gardeners on various projects for more than a year, and joins us again this season to lend a hand with Spring Cutback.
Since she started with us last season, Pat has dedicated at least six hours a week to help the High Line Gardeners with pruning, weeding, mulching, and plant record keeping. With many years of horticulture experience and a passion for volunteering, Pat has proven herself to be a valuable asset to our team.
“It is a true pleasure to work with Pat Jonas. Not only does she have a natural talent for working in the field to help keep the plantings healthy and beautiful, but she is also an amazing resource for horticultural information that we use on a daily basis. I feel very lucky to be able to work with her,” says Johnny Linville, Horticulture Foreman at Friends of the High Line.
Friends of the High Line: Tell us a little bit about yourself.
Pat Jonas: I have been growing plants most of my adult life, but I made my first garden in the ground in Chicago, where I discovered plants like prairie smoke (Geum triflorum), which can be found on the High Line in the Chelsea Grasslands and Wildflower Field. When I returned to New York, I brought my enthusiasm for the simple beauty, adaptability, and toughness of prairie plants to my Chelsea rooftop garden, which I have been cultivating for the past 23 years.
My Chelsea garden was one of the touchstones for the weekly gardening advice that I contributed for four years to the "Cuttings" column in The New York Times. I was also a regular contributor to Plants and Gardens News, and I have lectured on botanical art for public gardens, horticultural organizations, and plant societies. I have served on the boards of the American Society of Botanical Artists and Metro Hort, and I am a current member of Wave Hill's Friends of Horticulture Committee. I have also curated exhibitions of botanical art and I am chair of the Exhibitions Committee of the American Society of Botanical Artists.
Why did you want to get involved with Spring Cutback?
[Spring Cutback] is a wholehearted, physical way to celebrate the imminence of spring. The scale of the effort can't be matched in most private gardens, and it's a great way to connect with other gardeners.
Was there anything about volunteering at the High Line during the Spring Cutback that surprised you?
The mobilization of so many people over such a short time to accomplish so much is amazing. There’s a feeling of community that surrounds this work.
What has been your favorite part of volunteering during High Line Spring Cutback?
There’s a thrill when spring bulbs are revealed as we cut back grasses and other perennials. In some cases the growth is just beginning to emerge and it is easy to overlook. As we were working together near the 10th Avenue Square in early March, [High Line Gardener] Kyla Dippong identified the tips of leaves just poking through the leaf litter and the two of us stood there imagining shooting star (Dodecatheon meadia) in flower in May. This charming native in the primrose family was once abundant in the East and Midwest but is now on many endangered lists, so seeing it on this trail in the sky is particularly poignant.
What has been the most challenging part of volunteering at the High Line?
After a winter of comparative physical inactivity, I need to remind myself to be smart about full tilt gardening. It’s great to get outside, but it’s a challenge to keep up with High Line Gardeners.
What have you learned during your time here?
For plant geeks like me, there is always something to learn: new plants, new varieties, and better ways to garden. The High Line has an amazing team of talented horticulture professionals who are generous with their knowledge.
What is your favorite area of the High Line? Why?
In addition to the plants, I think it is the entire kinetic experience that makes the High Line such an exciting urban landscape, so it is impossible for me to say that one area is my favorite. It's a bit like asking which note in a musical composition is a favorite – I truly enjoy the park as a whole.
Complete the following sentence: “I volunteer with Spring Cutback [because]…”
. . . it's my neighborhood park and a privilege to be part of it. Also, I love sharing my enthusiasm for this place with visitors from all over the world who stop to express their admiration or ask questions. It's like nothing I have ever experienced.
Thank you to Pat and to all of our volunteers who’ve made this year’s Spring Cutback possible. We couldn’t do it without your contributions!