During a recent trip to New York, one blessed with – seemingly – the last glorious fall day of the year, we made our usual pilgrimage to the High Line. No, we’re not sick of it yet. 

As a colleague said to me before we left, “It’s funny how the main thing we want to do in one of the urban capitals of the world is visit a park.” He meant Central Park, another place that never tires. But in some ways, the High Line is better because you’re not in a spot that, for well over 150 years, has been devoted to nature and outdoor recreation. Central Park is great, but we expect its beauty.

On the High Line, though, you’re walking over former freight yards, on a former elevated freight line that’s been transformed into a park, a very urban park. Nature has been inserted into it, but cannot completely overcome the structure’s industrial origins and certainly cannot obscure its densely built surroundings. And that’s as it should be, because the equally dense plantings that miraculously appear as you traverse the High Line are all the more delightful for the stark contrast with their surroundings. 

 Taking pictures is tough because you don’t want to do close-ups of the plants; you want to show them in context. But the structures can be overpowering.

And then there is the view, not just of the surrounding built environment, but of unexpected bursts of foliage and plants. This is the first time we’d ever seen Little Island at Pier 54 – unsurprisingly because it was finished in 2021. As with the High Line, contemporary design has been employed to create a unique framework for nature. It absolutely looks its best from a distance and from above. Huge, white concrete forms – hundreds of them – are the vessels that fit together to make a park that juts out into the Hudson. There is every kind of plant – trees, shrubs, perennials, vines, bulbs – as well as winding pathways and an amphitheater within the park’s 2.4 acres.

Even this late in the season, it was a pleasure to see how landscaping, gardening and plants define this quintessential urban destination. 

New York is for lovers of art, architecture, the performing arts, but it is also a gardener’s destination. Especially now.