- Nolan Marciniec
It isn’t surprising that Nan Williams was introduced to the Arboretum by her “best friend” of more than thirty years, Ed Miller, one of Landis’ most dedicated members. As a fellow botanist, Nan shared Ed’s vision and his enthusiasm for creating a native plant collection at the Arboretum, from the original dream to the actual planting and curating. When Ed first proposed the idea, he was met with some hesitancy by some Board members, Nan recalled. “They didn’t know Ed,” Nan said. “He persisted. He proved himself.” A decade later, the Ed Miller Native Plant Trail has flourished and features examples of nearly every woody plant native to New York State. It is one of the most distinctive attractions at Landis.
The trail also includes a special collection of native ferns, both common and rather rare – “Nan’s Ferns,” Ed dubbed it. Nan remembered that the soil was a challenge and that Ed wielded a mattock so that they could set in some of the specimens.
Both Ed and Nan received the Arboretum’s Great Oak Award for their contributions to the Arboretum, Ed in 2014, and Nan in 2018.
Nan grew up in rural Massachusetts, immersed in nature even as a child, delighting in wildflowers and wildlife. She has always gardened, admitting that she is often “happiest with her hands in the dirt, seeing something beautiful.” At one time, her entire yard was a perennial garden. Her life is still full of outdoor activities such as hiking, snowshoeing, and skiing.
In fact, it was two mutual interests, skiing and botany, that brought Ed and Nan together. An encounter between one of her sons and one of his at a ski resort led the former to say to Nan, “You gotta know Ed Miller. “ Ed was able to identify a rare orchid that she had found. And that, in turn, led to an enduring friendship. It was a friendship in which neither one needed “entertainment,” she said. She remembered that “a hike in the woods was enough for us, or a sunset, or a cloud.”
Nan went to college in Boston – “I should have majored in botany, not archeology,” she mused. She settled in the small town of Rowe (population 400) in the northern Berkshires, holding several offices in the town’s government and its historical society, editing two editions of the town’s history, and writing the town’s newsletter. She published a natural history of the area, “Wildside Adventures.” She donated 90 acres of her property to the Franklin Land Trust that is now the “Nan Williams Land Conservancy.” She ran a farm and maintained a herd of Highland cattle. She raised three children.
As he aged, her friend Ed had to give up so much: his home, his hiking and skiing, his driving, even, at the end, his newspapers. But he never gave up the Arboretum: “This was his world,” she said. He saw the Arboretum in terms of education – but also treasured it for “appreciation and enjoyment.” He was, she remembered, a born teacher: “He was always inquisitive, always wanted to know more.” Of course, all of these qualities are reflected in his legacy, the Native Plant Trail.
Someday, she said, she’d like to finally solve the problems that seem to plague the Bog Garden. It’s been a long lasting battle to keep those plants in good condition. She’s been so busy for so long with the native collections that someday, she confessed, she’d like to see the rest of the Arboretum!
Rowe is a two-hour drive from Landis, but it’s a drive she’s made many times and will continue to make as long as she’s able. “I feel like I’ve always been here,” Nan said. Ed loved the Arboretum, she said, and believed that love was “catching.” Nan enjoys the people here, the “energy” of the plant sales, and, on this particular morning, the cheery yellow of marsh marigolds in bloom. Ed planted those in ditches at the Arboretum, she noted, and that thought brought a smile to her face.