Now Growing On The West Side

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HOST: It’s been seven weeks since a former freight railway line on the west side of Manhattan opened as a public park, and the High Line seems to be a hit. Here’s visitor Kay Sloves.

SLOVES: It sort of gives me the feeling of an English garden and I think those sort of raspberry colored flowers – I don’t know what they are - are spectacular.

HOST: WNYC’s Ilya Marritz reports it’s paradoxical, but the physical limitations of the elevated tracks have resulted in a stunning array of plants you won’t see in other city parks.

REPORTER: Take this specimen, for example. Long spiky stems, about four feet high, topped with clusters of what look like white rhinestone-encrusted Faberge eggs. It goes by the bizarre name of Rattlesnake Master.

CULLINA People are used to traditional flowers, like here is a flower with petals that I recognize. Well not all flowers are created equally.

REPORTER: High Line Vice President for Horticulture Patrick Cullina.

CULLINA: That sharp cone which has this amazing mathematical pattern in that silver color is a tremendous contrasting element.

REPORTER: Rattlesnake master is a native of the Midwest. So far, it’s thriving in the simulated prairie above 18th street, where purple gayfeather and orange coneflowers punctuate a ribbon of little bluestem and Shenandoah switchgrass poking up from the railroad tracks.

Cullina says prairie plants can handle a lot of wind and sunshine, that’s why they’re here.

CULLINA: There are lots of parts of the country and the world for that matter that have plants without people to stand over them with a watering can.

REPORTER: They do water the plants here, but the soil tends to dry out fast.

And there’s another challenge: the shallowness of the planting bed. We’re now standing on the concrete floor of the high line around 21st street. This part of the park hasn’t been completed yet and is closed to the public.

CULLINA: The height of that wall is really how much soil that all of this material is operating in.

REPORTER: That’s two feet, max.

CULLINA: It’s less than 2 feet actually.

REPORTER: That’s not a lot of space. Yet the park designers have crammed these 2.8 acres with more than 200 species of flowers and shrubs. There are even groves of young gray birches and three leaf maples. Like a growing family in a one bedroom apartment, the trees will have to make due with less as their roots spread.

CULLINA: this is our cofounder Robert Hammond.....

REPORTER: Ten years ago, Robert Hammond and Joshua David started Friends of the High Line. They wanted to stop the planned demolition of a unique industrial structure.

A public park was not really what they had in mind.

HAMMOND: And then I came up here and there was a mile and a half of wildflowers running right through middle of New York.

REPORTER: And it was obvious what had to happen. As Levine and Hammond raised private money for the park, they pitched a vision of the high line as a pageant of wildflowers changing constantly with the seasons.

HAMMOND: We always said early on, Oh it’s gonna change every to weeks, and we’d tell donors that, but I didn’t really believe that, I thought, Maybe it’ll change once in a while. But it really does. I mean in the month that we’ve been .gone thru 5 or 6 diff feels

REPORTER: Last week, a patch of flowers above 17th street stopped Julien David and Rachel Parker in their tracks.

PARKER: They remind me of raspberries or red cauliflower

DAVID: I have no idea what it was.

You hear that a lot on the High Line. Inquiries with park staff later revealed it’s a red cauli sedum. Visitors Shirley Geller and Arlene Rossman would like to make a helpful suggestion.

GELLER: Yeah, no, I think there are a lot of different kinds of foliage and it’d be nice if they could be identified with small little signs or captions.

REPORTER:A park spokesperson says limiting signage is one of the park’s “design principles”. Instead they invite you to find a high line employee and ask them your question. With more than seven grounds workers per acre, they’re not hard to find.

For WNYC, I’m Ilya Marritz