The High Line – A Breathtaking Public Green Roof Garden in NYC Built on Elevated Railroad Tracks

– Posted in: Garden Design, Garden Plants

Visiting the High Line is one of those magical experiences where once you taste it, you’ll want to go back for more. Several flights of stairs above the ground, designed on old railroad tracks (in operation from 1934-1980 ) with the buildings of Manhattan and the Hudson River as a backdrop, the High Line is paradoxically both a soothing and extraordinarily stimulating public park.


It runs from Gansevoort Street in the Meatpacking District to 20th Street, between 10th and 11th Avenues. When Section 2 of the park is completed in 2011, it  will be a 1.45-mile-long elevated rail structure running from Gansevoort Street to 34th Street on Manhattan’s West Side.

The garden is designed with a large number of native plants. When you get to the top of the stairs, you feel like you’re entering a prairie or meadow. “The High Line’s planting design is inspired by the self-seeded landscape that grew on the out-of-use elevated rail tracks during the 25 years after trains stopped running.” (quoted from the High Line’s website)

The High Line is also a green roof. In the Four Day Green Roof Boot Camp which I took (and highly recommend), we discussed whether or not it met the requirements to be considered a green roof. The answer given by the instructor was a big ‘yes’.

What I love most about this jewel of a garden is that it has become a meeting place for folks from NYC, surrounding areas, and all over the world. It’s a public space that personifies what gardening professionals call ‘People and Plants’ – the effect that plants have on people.

The gardens were designed by Piet Oudolf, about whom I’ve written several articles at  Gardening Gone Wild. As always, Piet’s selection and planting of specimens was done with discipline and rigor. Walking through block after block of gardens, it’s easy to think that his plant palette is minimalistic. But it isn’t. Check out the plant list. It consists of 210 species of perennials, grasses, shrubs and trees that he selected, in part, for their sustainability and hardiness. The gardens also incorporate many of the species that originally grew on the High Line’s rail bed. Although Piet doesn’t consider himself a colorist, his judicious placement of pinks, purples, magenta and soft white blooms dotted with orange (in June) suggests a well thought out and executed choice of color.

Seeing the specimens planted between the railroad tracks is a good reminder of how any type of garden has the potential of giving birth in a ‘yet thought of place’ – an inspiration for gardeners to dare create a garden ‘outside of the box’.

Fran Sorin

Fran is the author of the highly-acclaimed book, Digging Deep: Unearthing Your Creative Roots Through Gardening, which Andrew Weil, M.D., recommends as "a profound and inspiring book."  

A graduate of the University of Chicago with Honors in Psychology, she is also a gardening and creativity expert, coach, inspirational speaker, CBS radio news gardening correspondent, and Huffington Post Contributor.

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Fran Sorin
11 comments… add one

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Salix July 15, 2010, 8:04 am

Ahh, thank you for this post. I just came home from a two day visit in NYC yesterday and missed The High Line because it was pouring rain Tuesday, our planned visit to the garden. Next time!

Dear Salix-
It will be great when you go to visit the next time, whenever that is. The garden is constantly in a state of transformation….in large part, thank to Piet’s talent. Fran

Dovecote Decor July 15, 2010, 11:42 am

Great pics! I also hear they are expanding the Promenade in Brooklyn Heights, and building a whole park area along the harbor. Have you been? Would love to see some images of how that’s coming along.

Hi DovecoteDecor-
Actually, I was in Brooklyn visiting dear friends this last visit and didn’t even think about going to the promenade in Brooklyn Heights, which I love. I will check it our for you. I am quite sure some type of garden/ walkway on the harbor overlooking the Brooklyn Bridge and Manhattan from Dumbo is being renovated. I’ll check it out and see if my friends can send me some pictures. Good call…thanks for reminding me about this. Fran

Blackswampgirl Kim July 15, 2010, 1:05 pm

I love this garden–especially the planting between the railroad tracks! It reminds me of one garden I saw in a magazine or book a while back, where they used old railroad rails to define a pathway in a mostly prairie-esque garden… so lovely, the contrast of the airy plants and the heavy, solid track.

Yes, the contrast is beautiful. I also see the railroad tracks at The High Line as representing something historical, aged. Juxtapositioned against ‘new’ plantings, many of which have been planted to duplicate what used to grow there naturally, it’s a beautiful reminder of the cycle of life…what’s old is new and vice versa. Fran

Carolyn Parker July 15, 2010, 7:28 pm

This is just so great to see this garden from your viewpoint. Impressive and bodes well for the present and future of great garden ideas.

Dear Carolyn,

I couldn’t agree more that that the High Line sets the standard for all types of public parks throughout the world. Fran

Karen - An Artists Garden July 16, 2010, 1:53 pm

What a fabulous post – thank you. This is one place I would really like to visit. (If I ever left the UK!!)

I understand. Even with all of your magnificent gardens in the UK, the High Line, as far as I know, is unique. Fran

Town Mouse July 17, 2010, 7:38 pm

Oh, that’s such a great idea! Reminds me of Hong Kong, which has a lot of elevated walkways — except they have no gardens there.

Pam Kersting July 18, 2010, 8:57 pm

I visited the High Line last September and also blogged about it here:
What a great reused for what was once an urban eye sore!!

Chookie July 25, 2010, 1:07 am

Oh, lovely to see an update! I saw a photo-tour of this shortly after it was built and it’s lovely to see it filling out.

Am glad you enjoyed! Fran

Jim/ArtofGardening July 29, 2010, 7:03 pm

My wife & daughter walked the High Line just this week. I’m waiting for then to come home and tell me about it and show me pictures.

Leon Springer September 23, 2015, 4:52 pm

My wife and I visited NYC this past August after going to emerald green and white Iceland for a few weeks. We also walked the length of the Highline from the meatpacking district up to 20th. as we had done this about three years ago, we were amazed at the additional plantings and the way the trees had grown. Its certainly an oasis in the middle of Manhattan. somehow we missed Bryant Park but will surely go there next time. It looks like a stunner! we live near San Francisco and was wondering if you’ve been there and have visited Golden gate Park? I enjoy your blog tremendously.

Fran Sorin September 29, 2015, 6:47 am

Hi Leon,
Thanks for writing a comment. Yes, Highline has changed tremendously over the past 3 years. What’s as shocking as the vegetation is the amount of people it draws from all over the world. I rarely come to San Francisco but believe me, when I do, I’ll make sure to visit gardens the next time. Have a beautiful fall! Fran

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