Today was groundbreaking day on the High Line. It was a festive event in the still-wild Section 3, with lots of politicians, celebrities, sponsors, Best Friends of the High Line and kids from Chelsea’s Clinton Middle School, who were on-hand to toss wildflower and native grass seeds into the old rail bed. I watched it on NY1 and it looked very jolly indeed, but there was something missing. In this last stretch of truly wild garden on Manhattan’s west side, there were no gardeners.
I took a walk through the park later on, and they were all there in their usual posts: deep in the flower beds, riding carts filled with trugs and clippers, kneeling in the rocky railroad “ballast” to weed and trim, standing patiently in the pathway answering questions from tourists about the names and purposes of various plants.
Actually, the High Line was filled with celebrities today, and only some of them were there for the groundbreaking ceremony. There was a major bottleneck on 14th Street as Nigel Barker pranced about in front of other photographers and a zillion tourists. On the lawn, a lady in a pink chiffon dress mugged for more cameras, teetering on a pair of skyscraper-high black & white platform shoes. Celebrities love the High Line, and the High Line loves celebrities; it’s a mix that has served the park well since the very beginning.
But if you ever wonder why the place looks so beautiful whenever you go there, the answer is quietly, often very shyly, laboring away behind a stand of tall grasses. The High Line is divided into zones, and each zone has its own dedicated horticulturist. These guys are incredibly knowledgeable and hard-working, patient as the day is long, and perhaps the most adaptable creatures in Manhattan. They manage to stay cheerful in every extreme, from the broiling hot sun of summer to the icy winds of winter that knife you in the face and steal your wallet to boot. They work in thunder storms, ice storms, and almost always, these days, tourist storms.
If you want to know what it’s like to spend a day with the gardeners of the High Line, read my piece about “The Choreography of the Cutback.” These are the folks who make the High Line sing. And I guess it makes sense that they were in the garden today, working with the plants, instead of hanging out with politicians and celebrities. These guys break ground every day; why should today be any different.