PHYLLIS ODESSEY

the mere supplier of that cunning alphabet

“Say what some poets will, Nature is not so much her own eversweet interpreter, as the mere supplier of that cunning alphabet, whereby selecting and combining as he pleases, each man reads his own peculiar lesson to his own peculiar mind and mood.” Herman Melville from Pierre; or The Ambiguities, 1892.  Last Monday night, the dynamic duo of Ricke Darke and Piet Oudolf teamed up to talk about their new book Gardens of The High Line: Elevating The Nature of Modern Landscapes.It was the perfect pairing: Oudolf, a man of few words and Darke, an explainer of concepts. Together, they amplified the history, restrictions, challenges and opportunities of designing and gardening on The High Line. The subtitle of the book:  Elevating The Nature of Modern Landscapes is both a pun and a reality.  Darke quizzed Oudolf on the problems of designing a landscape on a former railroad track: soil depth, micro-climates, temperature fluctuations, plant competition and “the scripted opportunities” inherent in the design by the landscape architecture firm, Field Operations.

” The one tool I can’t be without are my eyes. Sometimes you need a spade, sometimes pruners, but when you are gardening you really have to look.” Piet Oudolf

“I look for plants that have another life after living.” Piet Oudolf

Piet Oudolf has influenced a generation of garden designers.  First at The Battery Conservancy, with mass plantings of perennials and grasses.  Followed years later by his most famous US project, The High Line, which conceptually features Oudolf’s evolution as a designer of matrix plantings.

“It’s not what you see, but you what you see in it.  It’s not a flower arrangement. It’s something original and organic.  It plays on the senses and that is its strength.  When choosing the living “characters” in my designs, the structure and sculptural quality of each plant are more important than flowers or color.” Piet Oudolf

Brooklyn Bridge Park

The organizers of the evening (The High Line) invited Rebecca McMackin, Director of Horticulture at Brooklyn Bridge Park (BBP)  to talk about herpark.  She began with the similarities between  BBP (Brooklyn Bridge Park) and The High Line.  BBP, like The High Line is a post-industrial site, uses engineered soils and is experimental.  The similarities ended there.

McMackin drew a distinction between organically managed and ecological functions.  Why these two are in opposition to each other I could not figure out.  To illustrate this point, McMackin spent the majority of her time showing photographs of insects, birds and  other wildlife that are an integral part of Brooklyn Bridge Park.

The High Line

Milkweed bugs at The High Line

At the opposite end of the spectrum, Rick Darke continually referred to The High Line as a work of art.  It’s hard to disagree with that statement.  No matter the season, The High Line always has something to teach us.

The High Line views obstructed by new buildings.

During the Q&A someone asked: The High Line is a victim of its own success. What was once open space is now a tunnel.  Darke answered:  “A new kind of tree is growing on The High Line.  It’s evergreen.  Provides shade all the time.  As The High Lines involves, we will find plants that grown in a lot less light”.“For me, garden design is not just about plants, it is about emotion, atmosphere, a sense of contemplation.  You try to move people with what you do.  This is the big part.  A garden isn’t a landscape painting that you look at, but a dynamic process that’s always changing.  You must keep in touch with it all the time.”  Piet Oudolf

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