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Gardening in the Sky: Meet the Seasonal Gardeners

By Erin Eck | May 1, 2017

Seasonal gardeners and interns play a critical role on the horticulture team. In addition to supporting the work of the zone gardeners, they offer fresh perspectives and keep us connected to the broader horticulture world. Our seasonal staff members bring with them knowledge from institutions like Wave Hill, New York Botanical Garden, Brooklyn Botanic Garden and New York Restoration Project. We learn from them about how other institutions approach many of the challenges we face as an urban garden.

Former seasonal gardeners and interns have gone on to work in the fields of horticulture and design around the country. Some have also stayed on at FHL as full-time zone gardeners. We are excited to see the different paths that this year’s seasonal staff members will take.

Donavon Falls, Horticulture Intern.Rowa Lee

Donavon Falls, Horticulture Intern. First season at Friends of the High Line.
Where did you work or study before coming to the High Line?
I was participating in the Brooklyn Botanic Garden’s Horticultural Internship Program. It was great being able to use their library as an educational resource.

What got you interested in horticulture?
During my time as an undergraduate student, majoring in Environmental Studies, I became interested in learning about sustainable urban development and ecological services. After graduating, I took it upon myself to seek out any opportunity to gain more knowledge and experience observing how plant communities survived in the built environment.

What is your favorite aspect of gardening?
I really enjoy observing the changes in the plants over the season. I also like sharing my knowledge of horticulture with the public.

What drew you to the High Line?
The High Line is an example of what an entire city could look like in the near future – a network of pedestrian walkways that provide a safe haven for plants, trees, insects, pollinators and migratory birds. I was drawn to the High Line because what it has set out to accomplish in the context of urban planning, landscape architecture, community enrichment and sustainability is unprecedented.

Favorite plant: Korean feather grass (Calamagrostis arundinaceae) still has a strong presence in late winter. I’ve seen people pause and close their eyes in the Meadow Walk, just enjoying the sound of the wind in the grass.

Ayinde Listhrop, Seasonal Gardener.Liz Ligon

Ayinde Listhrop, Seasonal Gardener. Third season at Friends of the High Line.
Where did you work or study before coming to the High Line?
Prior to coming to the High Line, I completed the NYC Parks Department GreenApple Corps, learning about forestry and ecological restoration. I also volunteered and completed the horticulture internship at Brooklyn Botanic Garden.

What got you interested in horticulture?
While studying Environmental Studies in college, one of the things we talked about was our urban green spaces. The discussions in those classes got me interested in getting involved in horticulture in some way. I’ve also always had an interest in the environment and our natural world, and in many ways, horticulture is an extension of those things.

What is your favorite aspect of gardening?
I find the work rewarding in so many ways, from planting perennials and trees and seeing them used by the birds and bees for habitat and food, to the simple things like raking up leaves in the fall.

What drew you to the High Line?
I first visited the High Line in the fall of 2010, not too long after the park opened. I was really impressed by the design and innovation. I still remember how beautiful the birch trees looked among the asters and sedges. The bees were all over the asters, the colors were vibrant and the atmosphere is something I’ll never forget. That said, as far as urban horticulture goes, I’ve always seen the High Line as a leader and innovator.

Favorite plant: I’ve always liked the varieties of Amsonia for their delicate textures, star shaped flowers and beautiful fall colors.

Eric Rodriguez, Seasonal Gardener.Liz Ligon

Eric Rodriguez, Seasonal Gardener. First season at Friends of the High Line.
Where did you work or study before coming to the High Line?
East New York Farms designing and building a one-acre production farm for low-income residents and senior citizens for a free food distribution program.

What got you interested in horticulture?
I first became interested in horticulture in elementary school, with the “lima bean, wet paper towel, and sandwich bag” experiment. I figured out pretty early on that plants were magic, but my big push came while working in city planning. I started mapping green spaces in New York City, and it inspired me to make plants a more integral part of my professional life. I made my break into professional horticulture after applying to the full-time horticulture internship at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden.

What is your favorite aspect of gardening?
I like that plants exist on their own timelines, with their own biological imperatives that have absolutely nothing to do with humans; they exist in their own chronology. I really enjoy that every day I see small miracles in such close-up detail that only people who spend every day in a botanical setting get to experience.

What drew you to the High Line?
I really enjoy the plant palette here, and the emphasis on perennials over seasonal display annuals; I think that alone distinguishes it from most public parks in New York City. The High Line is really well-known for the talents of its horticulture department, so I thought it would be a unique opportunity to work alongside such highly-skilled, artistic people. And the institutional commitment to equity and creating and keeping a truly public space in New York City is critical in a city where private ownership and social exclusion are so emphasized.

Favorite plant: Right now my favorite might be Eastern red columbine (Aquilegia canadensis) with those amazing flowers that dance when the wind hits them.

Mathew Vermeulen, Seasonal Gardener.Rowa Lee

Mathew Vermeulen, Seasonal Gardener. Second season at Friends of the High Line.
Where did you work or study before coming to the High Line?
I began my horticulture career by growing a few plants in my backyard, then volunteering on the High Line, and finally studying as an intern at Brooklyn Botanic Garden.

What got you interested in horticulture?
Visiting the High Line inspired me to become a gardener– I followed the opening of each phase of the park closely. The idea of saving the old rail line, rather than just junking it, was something that interested me from the first time I heard about it. And Piet’s design, with the way each zone has a different feel and constant seasonal change is amazing– something to strive for in any garden design. I began my horticulture career by growing a few plants in my backyard and then volunteering on the High Line.

What is your favorite aspect of gardening?
One thing I love about gardening is the fact that things change each week and each season, so there in constantly something new to work on or a new plant to appreciate. I enjoy gardening at home too, and try to grow most things from seed. This year I’m growing lupines, peanuts, and a few types of

Favorite plant: One of my favorites is bluestar (Amsonia tabernaemontana). The spring flowers are a beautiful dark blue to purple color. It’s a prairie native and a great groundcover for shadier areas.

Our horticultural team counts on members and friends like you to help keep the High Line beautiful and thriving. Join our community of supporters who play an essential role in the High Line’s most important gardening projects.

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