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Metro Hort’s Chelsea Cove Garden Tour with Lynden Miller and Peter Kelly

It was a blistering hot day in Gotham, the thermostat pushing triple digits. 
But garden lovers are intrepid. Besides, Chelsea Cove in Hudson River Park hugs the waterway, offering cooling breezes that kiss the sinuous walkways and magnificent gardens.  
Perfect for a tour with fellow garden enthusiasts despite the equatorial inferno just beyond 23rd Street and the West Side Highway.  
Wearing sun-shielding hats and tank tops, wielding parasols and umbrellas, nearly 50 Metro Hort members gathered like exotic birds gliding back to the flock, in pairs or solo, pockets of conversation floating like languid bubbles until eventually, a large group formed where Lynden and Metro Hort’s super-organized Sabine Stezenbach and her associate the pretty as a rare orchid and gardening presence, Hanna Packer, were seated under one of several umbrellas.  
There, members signed in, drank some much needed water, shared garden chat while eagerly waiting for the start of the discussion prior to the tour.  So many said they’d never been to the Park; it was such a nice surprise.  All agreed an added benefit of Metro Hort is it gets one out into new, undiscovered neighborhoods!  
Chelsea Cove is Pier 62 and along with Piers 63 and 64, forms the largest contiguous green space in Hudson River Park.  The piers here extend out into the water. The public gardens are located adjacent to the popular Chelsea Piers Sports and Entertainment complex to the south.  
The gardens were constructed in 2009, given a year-long soft opening allowing the plants and grounds to be monitored, officially opening in 2010.  The display gardens are still so new and our hosts generously shared the tribulations experienced by all gardens exposed to extreme weather, high visitation and lack of resources for horticultural maintenance.
Before too long, Sabine welcomed Metro Hort members as “true gardeners,” introduced Lynden Miller, landscape designer extraordinaire commenting, “New York horticulture without Lynden is unthinkable” and Peter Kelly, Project Manager in Design and Construction for the Hudson River Park Trust before handing the portable microphone over to the Peter.   
(I must add that Lynden has long been my landscape design idol. She is a cultural icon and a garden treasure.  There should be a park and a Lynden Miller award added to the Mayor’s annual Cultural Awards.)
Me & my idol, Lynden
Lynden (L) introducing Madeline
Metro Hort attendees benefited from an extended overview and discussion while “waiting” for Madeline Wils, president of the Hudson River Park Trust 
and Mark Boddewyn, landscape architect and vice president of design and construction at his own firm, who first worked with Lynden at Wagner Park in Battery Park City.
We learned so many interesting factoids, historical notes, and inside horticulture scoops! 
Did you know Pier 62 has the biggest piles along the Hudson?  The piles are 300 feet deep to reach bedrock vs. “just” 100 feet in TriBeCa?  Or now that Riverkeeper has cleaned up the Hudson, wildlife has returned, of course, but that means the worms have come back making the case for concrete piers?   At great expense. 
photo rendering of styrofoam base
Most curious is construction of the berms and the skateboard park.  They were carved into different shapes from a Styrofoam base – to aid in strength and drainage — and then covered with a very sandy, lightweight soil depth of merely two and half feet.  
The Park practices Green Watering – the irrigation and storm water recycles and drains to the Hudson River.
Lynden explained she designed section 5, which extends from 26th Street to Gansevoort, Pier 54, from where the Lusitania sailed.  They plan to keep the heritage ironwork and historical significance there.  Thoughtful design.
Lynden and Peter shared a key design element at Chelsea Cove was the concept of gardens as “pass through” – a gateway to the water and great lawns that punctuate the park.   

Lynden worked with award-winning landscape architect, Michael Van Valkenburgh, hoping to “bleed” some of the design bed plantings into his native, Capability Brown-styled landscape.  Van Valkenburgh’s firm used Kentucky Coffee, black locust, crabapple and cherry trees, and green grass to achieve a woody, natural look.  
Lynden noted several challenges: at present, there is no shade, so she requested the patio umbrellas. 
And in developing the color scheme, she had to recognize Chelsea Piers’ imposing influence of red, white and blue looming over the gardens.  (The Good To Go Organics red, red food truck is a welcome treat though J Jordon offered summertime lemonade that hit the spot.  and @gtorganics) 
But she used it. 
Red Knockout Roses; 
Nepeta, backed by Knockout Roses with Natchez Crape Myrtle 
red Japanese Barberry Berberis thunbergii and box that appear to go over and under each other in ribbons of color,            

Ribbons of Color

Hibiscus ‘Aphrodite’ Deep Purple blossoms
Japanese Blood grasses Imperata cylindricawhite Natchez crepe myrtles, Lagerstroemia indica, deep purple Hibiscus ‘Aphrodite’  and waves of Amsonia hubrichtii Blue Star used as hedge; sedums, Nepeta/Catmint, “Walkers Low” and Salvia ‘Blue Hill’ she refers to as College because it blooms blue in time for graduation, and following a summer haircut, it blooms again in time for student orientation in the fall.  Lovely bright Coreopsis ‘Moonbeam’ smiles throughout the beds. 
Lynden positively rhapsodizes about her use of Oakleaf Hydrangea, Hydrangea quercifolia.  “I wouldn’t do a garden without them,” Lynden states with utmost fidelity.  “They make other plants look good” she adds.  
Oakleaf Hydrangea is a signature plant used in all her designs. 
As is Heuchera ‘Plum Pudding.’ She adores dark purple. But alas, the Heuchera is not doing well in this garden much to her distress due to a weevil. She is quick to point out the heuchera is doing marvelous up in Fort Tyron Park!
Not to be undone, Lynden solicited the hort group for replacement suggestions and there ensued a lively exchange of plant design ideas, with Lynden asking, “Is someone writing all this down?”
She also adores Euphorbia.  “As soon as you get to a good euphorbia – especially Euphorbia robbiae in a garden, you know that’s me,” she jokingly claims.
Known for her exuberant plantings and luscious garden beds that delight the senses with color, texture, movement and a keen eye for winter beauty. 
Her attention to decorative tree bark, winter color, evergreens in all colors especially the Montgomery Blue Spruce, picea pungens ‘Montgomery’ along with plant forms that hold the snow or form winter patterns all make her gardens a work of art that beckon and delight even in what I refer to as the ‘other” garden season.  There is so much beauty in the garden in winter if we just know what to look for and take the time to see.  (The beautiful book, “A Garden In Winter,” by author and gardener Suzy Bales, is a good place to start.)  
Lynden designed raised concrete beds, providing lots and lots of seating, allowing people to feel engaged with the garden and plants.  An added benefit of the raised beds prevents park goers from walking or trampling through the garden beds. 
The stone walkways – that need to be 40’ wide to allow for fire trucks — are concrete pavers made by Hannover Designs. The Honey Locust trees are already providing a good screening between the beds and the skateboard area and fencing.
Lynden enthusiastically admits she always over-plants a garden, citing Russell Paige’s admonishment to “always plant a little too close, otherwise the plants will sulk.” 
How adorable is that?  Good advice too. I follow this rule but will now quote Lynden and Paige.  Good company to be in…
Some problems cited by both have been the Sky Pencils—dead after two plantings (replaced by guarantee), spider mite on the persacaris, but they are coming back after thinning out in some spots and dodgy watering, most likely caused by a combination of the height of the sprinkler heads and the size of the berms. 
We broke up into three groups to tour the garden beds.  Peter, Lynden and Mimi, a special gardener with the Hudson River Park Trust– who also was recruiting for Gardening help Volunteers.  If you are interested, please contact The Hudson River Park Trust.)
The three led the Metro Hort members throughout the gardens, pointing out the variety of plants, telling their stories.  Gardeners love to learn why the plant was included, how it is faring, and to see the plant combinations. 
It’s Official! Photo captures Lynden’s divine, enlightened garden magic!  Here she is pointing out great spot for the Lady’s Mantle.
Indefatigable Sabine Stezenbach helping garden tour
The garden tour was a sensory delight.  
Don’t miss these gardens.  The combination of landscape design, water views and historical interest makes the exploration and discovery a fascinating experience that will change with every visit.  
Small group of friends working out to music in a “hidden” glen
To see the Park being enjoyed by so many citizens is sheer joy. 
Plants are transporting.  
Many of the Metro Hort members retreated to the nearby Frying Pan boat cum restaurant for refreshments and what else? More garden talk!
Want to learn more about joining Metro Hort?  It is a professional association.  Contact our wonderful organization:
Me thanking Sabine before the group heads off for cool cocktails
 Be sure to have Lynden Miller’s book on your book shelf or coffee table!


  • Agreed Anonymous! We can start the LM fan club! We can get the buzz going for one of the country's best garden artists. I like what you say about getting the city's "trouble spots" to be greened up. It is scary, though, when I read the city's budget may force hundreds of Park's gardeners off the payroll… and the neighborhoods you cite don't have a Trust partnership community, per se… We need another way. I'm sure Lynden has some excellent solutions. Thank you for your generous and thoughtful comment.
    Tonight we are visiting the Brooklyn Bridge Park. Some controversy there in terms of funding and community…

  • Anonymous

    L.M. is one of the most talented garden/landscape designers in America. I hope she can do some work in trouble spots of NYC: in the 42nd St., Port Authority area, the asphalt jungle of the Bronx, the Park near NYU, and the Fulton market and the Financial district of lower Manhattan. She should have a place in Lincoln Center as well, as she is truly an artist such calibre.

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