Garden Inspiration from NYC's High Line

Capture the look of New York City's chic railway garden in your own yard.

By Kate Bryant August 1, 2013 Published in the August 2013 issue of Portland Monthly

Q: I lust after the wild but civilized look of New York City’s fancy High Line. How can I make my own garden like it?

A: The High Line is a famed public park built on a stretch of decommissioned elevated rail line running through Manhattan’s West Side. Inspired by the self-seeded landscape that grew on the tracks when trains stopped running, its gardens include more than 300 species of perennials, shrubs, vines, and trees.

That look you covet is the sylvan aesthetic of perennial meadows, full of regional native plants and flowers that recall “weeds.” The technique you’re after—the natural planting style, popularized by Dutch landscape designer Piet Oudolf—is harder than it looks. You must take specific garden conditions into account, of course, since a shady spot won’t grow exactly like the sunny and exposed High Line. But here’s a general approach to getting that natural, no-fuss look.

1. Learn what was there before. The High Line channels the historic flora of New York. For Portland, a deep inventory and analysis of native plants can be downloaded via the city auditor’s website by Googling “Portland native plant list.”

2. Plant strategically—without looking strategic. If you have a sunny patch, start with grass (Mexican feather grass or California fescue), complemented by a horizontal flower like yarrow or sedum and a vertical flower form like hyssop or foxglove. Plant in blocks of seven plants or more—but throw in a few strays here and there to mix it up. In the shade, choose plants that swish: Japanese forest grass, native goat’s beard and Solomon’s seal.

3. Or go for the full New York treatment. Check out the High Line’s plants at If they grow in Manhattan, they are likely to grow even better in Portland!

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