Ed Miller: Renaissance Man

By Nolan Marciniec

I don’t quite remember the first time I met Ed Miller – he was a fixture at the Arboretum for a long time before I arrived on the scene. But I do remember quite distinctly working in the propagation room one spring when Ed came it, his pockets bulging with packets of seeds and nuts, a few cuttings in his hand. This man, I thought, knows his stuff, and his enthusiasm for plants was contagious. A “Johnny Appleseed” of native plants, I thought.

Not too long after that, I interviewed him for an article about his then current project, the Bog Garden. For Ed, it was both science and a labor of love – as were all his projects.

His knowledge was impressive: Ed could readily explain the differences among a bog, a swamp, a marsh, and a fen. After the interview, he released several goldfish into the tank: it was important to him that this demonstration garden be as self-sustaining as a bog in nature.

He undertook to teach a few of us to use “Newcomb’s Wildflower Guide” one summer morning. As we worked together to identify wildflowers at the Arboretum, we could sense his appreciation for the logical “truth table” aspect of the book but also, equally important, his appreciation for the beauty of nature’s creations in the field.

Perhaps Ed’s greatest gift to the Arboretum was the Native Plant Trail. Along this half-mile trail, Ed planted and nurtured nearly 200 species of native plants, arranged into twelve families, in four habitats. Walking the trail using the QR codes that Ed recorded is an education, but walking the trail with Ed himself was a privilege and a delight. I remember hearing him muse about the sex of the sumac – how male might become female just to insure the survival of the species. And who knew that the Rose family was so diverse – to include apples, spirea, and ninebark? Ed quipped: a rose is a rose except when it’s not a rose. And of course, there was Ed’s sheer joy in the Musical Bridge, at the same time noting the correlation between length of the cylinder and the pitch of the sound.

He wrote guidebooks and memoirs and articles for our newsletter. He won awards, including the Arboretum’s Great Oak award. But above all else, Ed was “down to earth” – in every sense. He could communicate the wonders of the natural world to any audience, from the trained botanist to the backyard gardener. And he wasn’t afraid to get his hands dirty.

Click here to read Bog Master: A Conversation with Ed Miller, an article about Ed by Nolan Marciniec in our Summer, 2010 Newsletter.

Spring 2019

Volume 37 , Number 1

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