We all know what a powerful thing it is to take man out of the city and into nature. When an urban hipster – adapted to the ecological and cultural niche of Chelsea or Greenpoint – spends a week in the country, the dramatic change in context allows him to see himself in a whole different way.
But what of taking plants out of nature? Most of our urban parks are about creating the illusion of the country in the city. Most park designers attempt to create ecological niches that mimic those in rural settings. But rooftop gardeners have no such luxury. Here on the 35th floor, there is no acidic oak forest, no marshy edge to a vernal pool, no woodland edge. Instead, we have a uniform soil mix, perfectly drained, surrounded by glass and steel parapets and curtain walls, the concrete and brick towers of Lower Manhattan, and the 17,000 acres of New York Harbor.
What’s a roof-top gardener to do? Break the rules, of course, and revel in the insights gained by observing plants in a wholly different context.
Yes, you saw right. Erythronium americanum, the Trout Lily. Any gardener will tell you that, as a woodland spring ephemeral, it must be grown in acidic fluff on the forest floor, exposed to early spring light, then allowed to retire for the summer among the roots, litter and shade of its arboreal hosts. But here it is, on the 35th floor, with only a pruned Callicarpa for cover and companionship. Like our urban hipster on his voyage of self-discovery in the woods, the Trout Lily’s urban adventure allows us to see it in a wholly different light.
And that’s just the beginning. Take the familiar Contorted Larch (Larix dicidua), here as we usually see it:
And now in a new perspective:
Who knew that this plant would look so at home in the city? Or that the cityscape itself would be so enhanced by its presence.
You thought you knew the Peach and White Pine. Can you see something new about the character of these plants through the sharp contrast with technology?
Even the ultimate country hick, Rhubarb, looks right at home among the high-rises of downtown.
Rooftop gardens not only are teaching us about the possibilities for a different type of city, they are teaching us new ways to look at nature itself.