Read This: Gardens of the High Line and The High Line, two books about NYC’s most influential public park


Exploring the High Line in October 2014 remains a highlight of my garden travels, and I’d love to go see it again. Until then, reading about it keeps the fire burning, gives insight into the origins and design of this unique public garden/nature walk/civic space, and offers the advantage of seeing the garden in all its seasonal variety. Here are two books about the High Line I’ve recently read and recommend.

Gardens of the High Line: Elevating the Nature of Modern Landscapes
by Piet Oudolf and Rick Darke (2017, Timber Press)

If you want to luxuriously examine the plants and garden spaces of the High Line in all their changeable, seasonal glory, Gardens of the High Line is the book for you. The majority of its pages are filled with beautiful, expansive photos of the garden’s flora, from the lowliest sedges to the tallest gray birches growing in what is essentially a 1-1/2-mile-long green roof. Starting at the park’s south entrance and working its way northward, the book explores the 13 garden spaces that make up the High Line experience, lingering on the magical Gansevoort Woodland, Washington Grasslands, and Chelsea Grasslands.

Late autumn and winter scenes — blazing, then bleached foliage and blackened seedheads topped with caps of snow — are sprinkled amid the expected green and lush spring and summer scenes. For those of us in faraway cities who may visit only once or twice, the generosity of garden coverage is a delight. Text is minimal, mostly photo captions, although a brief introduction for each garden space helpfully explores the overall design and how visitors interact with the garden.

The only disappointment was a relatively lengthy essay at the beginning called “Elevating the Nature of Modern Landscapes,” which I was keen to learn about. It traces the history of garden design up to the cultivated-wild style popularized by Piet Oudolf; the evolution of industry, leading to the High Line’s disuse and eventual transformation; and how grasses and North American prairie plants came to be seen as garden worthy rather than as weeds. All of this should be fascinating stuff for garden-design geeks like me, but it bogs down in sluggish phrasing:

“With the clarity of hindsight, the gardens of the High Line are an elegant solution to an obvious opportunity that remained obscured until an unprecedented awareness of social, economic, industrial and biological trends came into focus.”

Whew. Happily, Gardens of the High Line is primarily visual and will prove fascinating to anyone curious about — or looking for a memento of — this singular, unforgettable garden and cultural landmark. Get ready to spend hours poring over garden views and then making travel plans for NYC.

The High Line: Foreseen/Unforeseen
by James Corner Field Operations and Diller Scofidio + Renfro (2015, Phaidon Press)

Where Gardens of the High Line lingers on the plants and garden spaces built on the old rail line, The High Line: Foreseen/Unforeseen shows how the landscape architecture came to fruition, transforming a derelict elevated rail line into a civic space designed for people, while preserving the sense of nature reclaiming the city. The weeds that colonized the abandoned rail line inspired and galvanized the activists who worked to save the High Line, and who so improbably succeeded. The design team felt it was critical to honor those weeds and their melancholy beauty with their design, which proved to be revolutionary.

The High Line contains illuminating and thoughtful interviews with the 5 principal architects and landscape architects who designed the structure’s conversion and its look and function; with Piet Oudolf, who designed the plantings; with the engineers who implemented the design; with the lighting designer; and with the graphic designer of the High Line’s logo. All bring their unique perspectives to bear on what the High Line represents and what it brings to the city. Never dull, their discussions are insightful and inspiring about the power of good design, and if you have any interest in landscape architecture, garden design, or city planning — not to mention the experience of visiting the High Line itself — you’ll be fascinated by this book.

A meaty and oversized hardback, The High Line is incredibly detailed and must have been an expensive book to produce. Probably a hundred design specs are reproduced, and dozens of pages are split and open up like shutters to provide closeup looks at design details, as you can see in the examples below.

Together The High Line and Gardens of the High Line offer the in-depth information and comprehensive images of the park and its gardens that its fans and design lovers everywhere will enjoy.

Disclosure: Timber Press sent me a copy of Gardens of the High Line for review. Phaidon’s The High Line was given to me as a gift. I reviewed both at my own discretion and without any compensation. This post, as with everything at Digging, is my own personal opinion.

I welcome your comments; please scroll to the end of this post to leave one. If you’re reading this in a subscription email, click here to visit Digging and find the comment box at the end of each post.
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Digging Deeper: News and Upcoming Events

Calling all garden bloggers! You’re invited to register for the annual Garden Bloggers Fling tour and meetup, which will be held in Austin this May 3rd-6th! Click this link for information about registering, and you can see our itinerary here. Space is limited, so don’t delay. The 2018 Fling will be the event’s 10th anniversary, which started in Austin in 2008.

Join the mailing list for Garden Spark Talks! Inspired by the idea of house concerts, I’m hosting a series of garden talks by inspiring designers and authors out of my home. Talks are limited-attendance events and generally sell out within just a few days, so join the Garden Spark email list for early notifications. Simply click this link and ask to be added.

All material © 2006-2018 by Pam Penick for Digging. Unauthorized reproduction prohibited.

Foliage architecture (and art) on Rice University campus


At my alma mater in Houston last month (right after Hurricane Harvey), I appreciated the marriage of foliage and architecture at the Brochstein Pavilion, a remarkable structure and hub of student activity that didn’t exist when I was a student at Rice University.

A hedge of tightly clipped horsetail divides the pavilion’s patio from the main sidewalk, all of which is shaded by a wide trellis of aluminum tubes. The trellis roof seems to float ethereally over the space and provides a good deal of shade, which, if you’ve ever been to Houston, you know is essential. It also evokes the floating roof of the campus’s James Turrell Skyspace.


I’m always surprised by how much I love a bosque. I find them inviting and visually soothing. The one at Brochstein Pavilion runs alongside the building, just across the main sidewalk. According to an article in ArchDaily:

“Responding [to] the grid of the building, a bosque of 48 specimen Allee Lacebark Elms rise from a plane of decomposed granite and provide an organizational framework that humanizes the scale of the space. A generous concrete walk connecting the library and the pavilion bisects the grove into garden rooms whose perimeters are defined by plantings of African Iris. Long black concrete fountains filled with beach stone occupy the center of each space, filling the garden with the murmur of running water and reflecting the filtered light through the canopy.”


The contemporary trough fountains were leaf-strewn a week after Harvey, but otherwise the landscape appeared to have held up well.


On the other side of the pavilion, a broad allee of Southern live oaks — one of many such live oak allees on the Rice campus — shelters additional seating and leads the eye to a sculpture by Jaume Plensa called Mirror.


While I was on campus, I visited Fondren Library, where I knew there was a display of Mike Stilkey’s book sculptures. (Here’s an article about his exhibit at Rice Gallery.) I first discovered Stilkey’s work at the L.A. home of Joy and Roland Feuer (scroll down for their Stilkey installation). His work is striking, often humorous, and instantly recognizable. Speaking of trees, Stilkey used a book about Texas trees for the “capstone” of this monumental book sculpture…


…seen in full here, seemingly balanced atop a small stack of books painted with wavy apartment towers and whimsical animals.


I found other pieces throughout the library, like this doleful water bird in a top hat…


…and a giraffe peeking from a stairwell over a railing…


…and a slinking cat.


I’ll leave you with one last book sculpture that brings us back around to the theme of trees as architecture. And thanks for bearing with me as I veered off-topic a bit with my Foliage Follow-Up post!

This is my October post for Foliage Follow-Up. Fellow bloggers, what leafy loveliness is happening in your garden or one you’ve visited this month? Please join me in giving foliage its due on the day after Bloom Day. Leave a link to your post in a comment below. I’d appreciate it if you’ll also link to my post in your own — sharing link love! I look forward to seeing your foliage faves.

I welcome your comments; please scroll to the end of this post to leave one. If you’re reading this in a subscription email, click here to visit Digging and find the comment box at the end of each post.
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Digging Deeper: News and Upcoming Events

Don’t miss the Austin Open Days garden tour sponsored by the Garden Conservancy on November 4.

Join the mailing list for Garden Spark Talks! Inspired by the idea of house concerts, I’m hosting a series of garden talks by inspiring designers and authors out of my home. Talks are limited-attendance events and generally sell out within just a few days, so join the Garden Spark email list for early notifications. Simply click this link and ask to be added.

All material © 2006-2017 by Pam Penick for Digging. Unauthorized reproduction prohibited.

Review of The Monarch: Saving Our Most-Loved Butterfly, and how we can help in Texas


The first wave of migrating monarch butterflies has reached North Texas and will be fluttering through Austin and other parts of Central Texas by next week. Despite their seeming fragility, these tenacious creatures migrate each fall as far as 2,800 miles from the northern U.S. and southern Canada to their wintering grounds in central Mexico. It’s a miraculous annual event, and we Texans have front-row seats.


Monarchs are in trouble, though. Due to habitat loss, drought, flood, the use of pesticides and herbicides, and especially the widespread eradication of milkweed, which is the sole food source for monarch caterpillars, monarch populations have plummeted by 90% in the last 20 years. These distinctive butterflies need our help, and each of us can make a difference by creating a healthy habitat for monarchs in our own yards and gardens. Here in Texas that means planting fall-blooming nectar plants for migrating monarchs to fuel up on as they journey to Mexico and milkweed for northbound monarchs to lay their eggs on (and their caterpillars to feed on) in the spring. Plant both nectar plants and milkweed in your garden now.


Awareness of helpful gardening practices is the first step, but there’s plenty more you can do to aid monarchs, as author Kylee Baumle shows in her accessible and well-illustrated book The Monarch: Saving Our Most-Loved Butterfly (St. Lynn’s Press, 2017). Kylee, a longtime blogger at Our Little Acre, raises and tags butterflies as a citizen-scientist, successfully lobbied her state legislature in Ohio to create a monarch-supporting license plate, and has led a tour to the monarch’s wintering grounds in the mountains of central Mexico. In her new book, she shares the inspirational life story of the monarch as well as its current peril, and offers guidance for those wishing to create a butterfly-friendly garden or help in other ways.

The Monarch is an engaging introduction for gardeners and wildlife lovers wanting to know more about our most iconic butterfly. It would also be a good book to share with older children, who will be fascinated by the monarch’s epic journey. And what better way to get kids or grandkids involved in the garden than by inspiring them to help these beautiful creatures?


While you’re reading and watching for a fluttering parade of orange-and-black wings in Central Texas, here are some other ways to celebrate the monarch this month in Austin.

Flight of the Butterflies
What: Movies in the Wild: An outdoor showing of an inspiring documentary about monarch migration
When: Friday, October 6, gates at 6 p.m., movie at dusk
Where: Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center, 4801 La Crosse Ave., Austin
Cost: $12/ticket for ages 5 and up; tickets are available Friday at the Wildflower Center, or save time by purchasing in advance online. Members get 50% off (be sure to sign in on the purchase page).
Details: Alamo Drafthouse Cinema and the Wildflower Center are transforming the Family Garden into a theater for one night only. Spread your blanket on the play lawn, and enjoy Flight of the Butterflies, a film about the great journey of migrating monarchs. Bring a picnic and enjoy free brews from North by Northwest Brewery! No outside alcohol permitted. Kettle corn and ice cream available for purchase. Fun activities will include monarch mask-making and a flighty photo-op.

Monarch Appreciation Day
What: An Austin-area butterfly celebration offering fun for the entire family
When: Saturday, October 21, 9 am to 4 pm
Where: Zilker Botanical Garden, 2220 Barton Springs Rd., Austin
Cost: Free with admission to the garden; admission is $1 for children (ages 3-12); $2 for adults, Austin resident (ages 13-61); $3 for adults, non-resident (ages 13-61); $1 for seniors (age 62 & over)
Details: Family-friendly activities including nature crafts, see a monarch eye-to-eye, learn how to attract pollinators year-round, learn how you can be a Pollinator Pal.

Disclosure: St. Lynn’s Press sent me a copy of The Monarch for review. I reviewed it at my own discretion and without any compensation. This post, as with everything at Digging, is my own personal opinion.

I welcome your comments; please scroll to the end of this post to leave one. If you’re reading this in a subscription email, click here to visit Digging and find the comment box at the end of each post.
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Digging Deeper: News and Upcoming Events

Get ready for fall garden tours in Texas! The Garden Conservancy is sponsoring Open Days tours in Fort Worth on Oct. 8th, San Antonio on Oct. 14th, and Austin on Nov. 4th.

Get on the mailing list for Garden Spark Talks. Inspired by the idea of house concerts, I’m hosting a series of garden talks by talented designers and authors out of my home. Talks are limited-attendance events and generally sell out within just a few days, so join the Garden Spark email list for early notifications. Simply click this link and ask to be added.

All material © 2006-2017 by Pam Penick for Digging. Unauthorized reproduction prohibited.

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