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Photo by Steven Severinghaus

Gardening in the Sky: Gardening Toward Fall

By Andi Pettis | September 25, 2015

Piet Oudolf designed the High Line’s gardens with four seasons of beauty in mind. One of his central design tenants is to include the entire lifecycle of a plant in a garden’s design. The fading flowers, seed heads and dried, brown stalks of fall and winter are just as visually important in his schemes as the fresh new growth of spring or the abundant flowers of summer.

Because of this, the High Line gardeners garden with fall in mind all year long. From early in the spring, they make very carefully considered decisions about everything from which seedlings to let grow to which limbs to prune, keeping in mind how their choices will affect the landscape in fall. After this seedling matures, flowers and goes to seed, how will the seed heads add visual interest among the surrounding dry grasses in October? How will this pruning cut impact the look of this tree’s leafless silhouette against the November sky?

Now, in the first week of fall, we are at an almost awkward moment in the gardens’ visual lifecycle. From a long view, the meadowscapes of the High Line look a lot like this:

There is still plenty of lush green growth that is just now tinged with tawny gold and yellow; a hint of things to come. Every now and then, though, your eye might be drawn to something like this:

ome of the plants, like the Joe Pye weed cultivar above, go dormant earlier in the season than others, and their brown seed heads and dry, crinkled leaves certainly standout among their vibrant green surroundings. Some might even consider them an eyesore, and it does in fact take a lot of will power to not cut these “dead” plants down to the ground. But, the High Line gardeners recognize the beauty in the “dead”, the brown and the crinkled, the decay and disorder. Rather than cut down these plants, they’ll groom and mend them and cultivate the surrounding plants to help ease the transition to fall. They know that if they are patient and keep Piet Oudolf’s vision of the fall garden in mind, they’ll be rewarded with this:

In a month or so, the High Line’s meadows will be rich tapestries of gold, silver, mauve, black and brown textured with feathery plumes of grasses, spikes and buttons of seed heads and skeletal structures of dried stems and stalks. Then, all of the forethought and patience the gardeners put into their work all year long will show in the fall and winter gardens.