The High Line

Beautiful grasses line the walkway in A Garden For All by Kathy Diemer

Beautiful grasses line the High Line walkway (photo by: Kathy Diemer)

All I wanted for my 55th birthday was a trip to New York City, to walk the High Line and to see the Christmas tree at Rockefeller Center.  This may sound like a simple enough endeavor, but for my self-employed husband and a household full of animals, taking a day off is serious business.  Once you factor in erratic train schedules and somewhat unreliable weather patterns, you’re left with the potential for either a fabulous day or a disappointing one.  However, my husband addressed the whole conundrum with one solution: LIMO.  One that picked us up in the morning, drove us everywhere our hearts desired throughout the day, and brought us safely home in time to tend to the herd.  What a way to celebrate!

The final stage under construction in A Garden For All by Kathy Diemer

The final stage of the High Line-under construction (photo by: Kathy Diemer)

When I told friends and family about our trip, many questioned my visit to the High Line so late in the year.  What will you see?  Won’t everything be brown and dead?  Au contraire my doubting Thomas’s!  Have you forgotten that I am enthralled with winter landscapes, that I love seeing the bones of a winter garden, and that I’m always looking for inspiring design ideas and plants to carry dedicated gardeners through the dreary months ahead? With this goal in mind, I was not the least bit disappointed with the late season beauty witnessed during my walk on the High Line.  In fact, the experience was incredibly exhilarating and motivating, and I’m thrilled to share it with you.

A quiet spot overlooking the bustling city in A Garden For All by Kathy Diemer

A quiet spot overlooking the bustling city (photo by: Kathy Diemer)

Built in the 1930s as part of a massive public-private infrastructure project called the West Side Improvement, the High Line was created to remove dangerous trains from the streets of Manhattan’s largest industrial district. By 1980, trains had stopped using the High Line, and in 1999 Friends of the High Line, a community-based non-profit group, formed to prevent the demolition of this historic structure.  Working in partnership with the City of New York to preserve and maintain the structure as an elevated public park, construction began in 2006 on the first section from Gansevoort Street to West 20th Street, which opened in June of 2009.  The second section, from West 20th to West 30th Streets, opened in June of 2011, and the final section is projected to open in 2014.

** The BROOKLYN BRIDGE is only a few minutes from the High Line!

Seating amongst the trees in A Garden For All by Kathy Diemer

Seating amongst the trees (photo by: Kathy Diemer)

We started at the West 30th Street and Tenth Avenue entrance, where we glimpsed the future extension under construction while enjoying a fabulous panorama of the Hudson River beyond.  No matter what the season, there are vantage points to viewing the river and other interesting sights all along the walkway.  Walking is pleasant and comfortable, as bicycles and skateboards are not allowed.  Neither is smoking, so no worries about a face full of cigar smoke as you stroll along. Benches and seating areas are placed in groups and randomly, encouraging visitors to stop and reflect or to look beyond and explore surrounding points of interest.  There is street art painted on the sides of buildings, unusual sculptures placed intermittently about and even a gas station turned into a park; complete with a lawn and arborvitae hedge.

**Click here to see the High Line in Summer

Mahonia 'Winter Sun' blooming in December in A Garden For All by Kathy Diemer

Mahonia ‘Winter Sun’ blooming in December (photo by: Kathy Diemer)

But this isn’t just a walkway overlooking Manhattan, this is a lush park 30 feet above the city streets, planted with a smorgasbord of delectable plants, shrubs and trees strategically placed to enhance both the surrounding structures and the views of the city.  The High Line’s planting design replicates the self-sowing landscape that grew naturally on the rail tracks during its idle period, and many of the original cast of characters have been incorporated into the design.  With a focus on native species, varieties of perennials, grasses, shrubs and trees were chosen for their hardiness, sustainability, and color variations, and plants are not cut back until the spring, enhancing the rich variety of textures through winter. What’s in bloom can be viewed monthly on the High Line’s website:, but here’s a sampling of what you’ll see through the seasons: in spring, crocus, false indigo, hellebores, and wild ginger, in summer, astilbe, calamint, coneflower, heuchera, hyssop, goldenrod, seaholly, sedum, sedges, and salvia, and fall through winter, aster, black-eyed susan, catmint, geranium, honeysuckle, wild quinine, and an array of grasses.

Birches planted within the railroad tracks in A Garden For All by Kathy Diemer

Birches planted within the railroad tracks (photo by: Kathy Diemer)

The varieties of trees and shrubs are also very impressive; including many of my favorites and some that I would love to add to my landscape in the future: birches, black gum, buckeye, chokeberry, cedar (juniper), dogwood, elderberry, fothergilla, fringetree, hornbeam, hydrangea, huckleberry, holly, lilac, maples, magnolia, mockorange, oak, shadbush, serviceberry, sweetshrub, smokebush, sumac, spicebush, redbud, willow, winterberry and viburnum (specific cultivars are listed on their web site).  Needless to say, berries and seeds are quite prolific on the High Line, and birds were darting about collecting food the entire length.

** Here are other places you may like to visit: Great Destinations ~

Wild Quinine's dried winter flower in A Garden For All by Kathy Diemer

Wild Quinine’s dried winter flower (photo by: Kathy Diemer)

As our walk came to an end,  I thought about all we had seen and experienced, and realized that the High Line wasn’t only a 395 acre park spread across 1.45 miles of former railway structure, it was a source of inspiration.  For the thousands that walk its span every week, and for the many who view it from a nearby window, the High Line’s year long beauty is a visual treat to behold, and a perfect example of Mother Nature’s rugged tenacity . . . one we can learn from for years to come.

**(The High Line is operating on its winter schedule, and is open daily from 7:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m.)


  1. Sounds like you really enjoyed your Birthday!!! It sounds like a worthwhile trip, even in the winter… Thanks for reminding us that winter can be enjoyed while we wait for spring!

    • It was a wonderful day! And I just found this appropriate quote by Andrew Wyeth, which I will abbreviate: “I prefer winter, when you can feel the bone structure in the landscape-Something waits beneath it, the whole story doesn’t show.” Happy holidays!

  2. Kath, Loved this article. I’m glad to see that there are people in the world who are aware that saving and working with nature works for us all. Any of us that can see enjoy nature at work are the fortunate ones.

    • Indeed! What I forgot to mention was that apartments all along the High Line had patio or roof top gardens, which I am sure were inspired by the High Line’s gardens as well. Mother Nature has a lesson for all that are willing to look. Thank you for writing and have a wonderful holiday!

  3. You two are such a brilliant team! What a thoughtful b-day gift! And you’re right = I wouldn’t think the High Line would be in such glory so late in the season. Boy was I wrong. Your photos are magnificent! Now we just have to get you back there in the middle of the growing season when the High Line is going crazy…

    • Thanks, Tovah! I really look forward to getting back there next year-a little earlier, too! And, I would love to see your gardens (and the “children”) next summer, too. Happy holidays!

  4. I’m going.

  5. Lauren Lange says:

    I really enjoyed reading your post on The High Line. I’m a friend of Dina Ferrante’s and she pointed me in your direction. I like to walk The High Line whenever I’m in NYC. What a different perspective 30 feet provides!

    • Sounds like we’re both big fans of The High Line, Lauren. I’ve been there a few times now – at different times of year (Fall and Winter) – the next visit will hopefully be in the spring! Thanks for writing ~

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