Mar 6, 2012

The High Line "Spring Cutback"

In her book The Well-Tended Perennial Garden, Tracy DiSabato-Aust advocates the practice of leaving many herbaceous plants uncut to overwinter, thus providing structure and dimension in the garden during winter. The old and often dead growth provides canopies to trap snow which is a valuable insulator and protects plants from desiccating winter winds and extremes of fluctuating temperatures. Old growth adds interest to what may otherwise be bare scenery and provides shelter and food for birds and other wildlife. These plants also house the eggs or pupae of many species of insects including butterflies and praying mantis, whose offspring would all be lost if their homes were removed in the fall.

No place exemplifies the ideas behind this garden practice better than the High Line. Plants are not pruned at the onset of the cold weather in fall or winter. Instead they linger on throughout the cold months adding texture in shades of gold, burnt umber, sienna and ochre and with the many grass species, provide movement and drama as this mile-long meadow meanders above street traffic and between and below towering buildings. The un-manicured winter landscape reminds us that the  plantings were inspired by the original wild, field-like plants that seeded themselves naturally among the rusted steel many years ago, which is the very essence of the High Line. Left uncut, dried grasses keep our interest all winter long with their feathery or fluffy seed heads and plumes. Flowering plants display their umbels, spikes, dehiscent pods and empty sepals which are often sculpturally magnificent as they trap dew and frost and balance individual towers of snow. Notice the starlings and sparrows darting above and through the brush, with fluffy chicks waiting to join in.

The High Line "Spring Cutback" began today and with this year's warm winter, there may be an unusual amount of visible new growth already. To make way for spring growth, about 100,000 grasses perennials and shrubs are to be cut back over the next few weeks with the help of volunteer gardeners, students and neighbors. It is a huge endeavor that goes on well into April. Much of the dried cutback materials will be made into compost which will later be used on the High Line and other public parks. Some will be used as mulch. Find out what you can do to be part of this cutback effort. Become a Friend of the High Line or just stop by to ogle the emerging greenery and peeks of color from early spring-flowering bulbs and shrubs or to say farewell to the attractive sepia growth. Regardless of the time of year and whether it is covered in the old growth or the new, the High Line is always a delightful place to visit.

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Russ, a recently added member, has been keeping the paths weed-free and tidy. The black swallowtail butterfly lays its eggs on bronze ...