This week, as many visitors came to the High Line to seek a respite from the storm flooding and power outages, we were often asked how the landscape managed to escape harm from Hurricane Sandy and the subsequent snow storm.
Given the magnitude of the hurricane, it was inevitable that the High Line would sustain some damage. Like many other buildings along Manhattan’s West Side, saltwater flooding during the storm surge damaged the park’s underground utility connections , but fortunately the vast majority of the High Line’s plantings are intact.
As you can see in the above photograph, which was taken the day after Hurricane Sandy, the High Line’s landscape is in great shape following the severe weather. With the exception of a handful of small, uprooted trees, all the along the park you see a thriving landscape with autumnal blooms, grasses gone to seed, and the last of the season’s fall foliage.
Follow us after the jump to learn more about the park’s landscape, and view more recent photos of the plantings.
The High Line’s trees are younger and therefore less susceptible to damage than many older trees growing on city sidewalks and in parks across the five boroughs. What’s more, the High Line’s plantings have grown up and strengthened in beds located 30 feet above the street, under more intense wind and weather conditions than those at street-level gardens and parks. This is part of the reason behind the landscape’s hardiness and durability during severe storms like Hurricane Sandy.
“Plants require wind to toughen,” said Johnny Linville, Manager of Horticulture at Friends of the High Line. “If a plant were to grow up in a completely windless environment, it would not develop a strong structure, and over time, it would be much weaker than plants found growing wild in windy conditions.”
This logic is the reason behind those fans you sometimes see in plant nurseries and greenhouses. Growers use the fans to cast a gentle breeze over the seedlings, encouraging the plants to grow stronger structures. Each sway and bend causes a response in the plant to grow structural cells that adapted to endure windy conditions.
The more intense weather conditions at the High Line are not the only reason behind the landscape’s durability. The park’s planting beds are filled with species of perennials, grasses, shrubs, and trees that were chosen in part for their hardiness and ability to withstand the various microclimates at the park.
In windier areas, there are low-growing perennials and grasses and few trees. Areas protected by neighboring buildings are densely planted with taller trees and shrubs. Many of the trees are supported by an anchoring system beneath the soil, while others have anchoring devices that are visible. Our horticulture staff routinely examines trees and shrubs for potential hazards, and selectively prunes limbs and branches that may be affected by high winds and snow.
Stop by in the next week or two to check out the autumnal landscape. Even after the recent severe weather, you will find purple Raydon’s Favorite aromatic aster, Firetail mountain fleece, and other popular fall flowers blooming amidst the dried grasses, stalks, and seed heads from this year’s growing season.
To help guide your visit, download our newly-redesigned November Bloom List  a free printable guide with names and full-color photographs to help you identify plants of interest as you stroll through the park.