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Photo by Timothy Schenck

"Keeping a Jungle in Check": An Interview with Horticulture Supervisor, Taryn Cunha

By High Line | July 30, 2019

The following is an interview with Taryn Cunha, the horticulture supervisor of the Spur—the newest section of the High Line.

HIGH LINE

Hi! How are you? What are you working on right now?

TARYN

Hi. I’m good. I’m still very busy here on the High Line. We are planting, weeding, and watering.

HIGH LINE

You’re our new Spur gardener—what High Line garden did you work on before? What was the most interesting part of that zone?

People walking on the High Line between two large planting beds

TARYN

I’m the horticulture supervisor for the northern end of the park, so I supervise the Philip A. and Lisa Maria Falcone Flyover, Wildflower Field and Radial Bench, Rail Track Walk, Cross Roads, 11th Avenue Bridge, Pershing Square Beams, and the Spur. I’m working with two seasonal gardeners, Zoe Davis and Conrad Ventur, to garden the Spur. Before being promoted to horticulture supervisor, I was the gardener in the Wildflower Field. The most interesting part of that zone is the extremely dense and lush planting. Sometimes I feel like I’m trying to keep a jungle in check when I’m working up there.

HIGH LINE

What’s exciting about the Spur gardens?

TARYN

The Spur gardens are exciting because they are a woodland planting, which we don’t have many of in the park. [Planting Designer] Piet Oudolf also used many species that are not seen in the rest of the park. For example, Mayapple (Podophyllum peltatum) and Orangebark stewartia (Stewartia monodelpha).

HIGH LINE

These are our biggest planting beds on the park, what challenges do you face as a gardener working at that scale?

TARYN

I think pruning and managing the tree growth will be a challenge. The ground cover layer has really interesting plants, so I want to make sure that they don’t get too much shade as the trees mature.

HIGH LINE

Any particular stand-out plants for you?

TARYN

I’m looking forward to seeing the native orchids (Cypripedium parviflorum) bloom next year in late spring.

HIGH LINE

What about stand-out wildlife or bugs?

A close up of a damselfly

TARYN

I have noticed a lot of damselflies around the plaza area. Also, the Hackberry (Celtis occidentalis) are host to six different types of butterflies and the flowers of the Black Tupelo (Nyssa sylvatica) are a good nectar source for bees, so we should be seeing more wildlife as the garden matures.

HIGH LINE

Can you describe a typical day at work for you?

TARYN

The gardeners open the park at 7am and then complete a morning walk through. The walk though includes clearing trash from the plant beds, fixing bed protection, pruning any plants along the path that have been broken, checking plant health including moisture levels and pest infestations, as well as making a note of areas of the garden that might need additional work later in the day i.e. watering, weeding or grooming. Right now we’re spending most of the day planting and watering. The typical work day can change a lot depending on the season.

HIGH LINE

What about any odd days—highs, lows, strange occurrences…

TARYN

It’s New York and we get about 8 million visitors a year, so there’s always something interesting going on. One of my favorite things about working on the High Line is talking with first-time visitors who are inspired by the gardens to learn more about plants and nature.

HIGH LINE

I’m fascinated by big species on the High Line, can you tell us about the canopy species on the Spur? What we can expect as they grow over the years?

A close-up of orange sweetgum tree leaves

TARYN

The tallest tree on the spur is the Sweetgum (Liquidambar styraciflua), which can reach a maximum height of 80 feet. The only other tree on the High Line that grows that tall is the Bur Oak (Quercus macrocarpa), which is in the Chelsea Grasslands by 19th Street. The height and shade of the canopy will need to be studied and shaped as the trees mature. Many of the tree species have different growth rates, so the faster-growing trees will need to be pruned to allow the taller, but slower growing trees to eventually claim their space at the top of the canopy. I’m really excited to see the fall colors in this garden as both the Sweetgum and Black Tupelo are known for their brilliant autumn displays.

HIGH LINE

This year’s horticulture month celebrates medicinal plants. Any plants with herbal remedies on the Spur that we should know about? For example, I know Hart’s tongue is used as a salve for burns and wounds.

TARYN

Great Blue Lobelia (Lobelia siphilitica) is used in the treatment of dropsy, diarrhea, stomach complaints, syphilis, and dysentery. A poultice of the root has been applied to sores that are hard to heal.

HIGH LINE

Anything else you’d like us to know about you and your work as a gardener on the High Line?

TARYN

Although the High Line looks very natural, it’s meticulously maintained by several hard-working, artistic, and knowledgeable gardeners. It’s challenging to maintain a prairie, meadow, bog, and woodland on a 40-foot path that’s 30 feet above the busiest city in the United States, but we love what we do.

 

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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TD Bank is the Presenting Green Sponsor of the High Line.

High Line Gardens are supported by Greenacre Foundation.

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