Landis Portraits: Amy Howansky

By Nolan Marciniec

There was always some­thing spir­i­tu­al” about the Lan­dis Arbore­tum, Amy Howan­sky said.

She recalled an advanced lev­el prun­ing course at the Arbore­tum, replete with har­ness and ropes and all the req­ui­site gear, that she took sev­er­al years ago. Sus­pend­ed many feet off the ground and cling­ing to the tree’s trunk, she felt the pow­er and ener­gy in a liv­ing crea­ture” more acute­ly than any oth­er time in her life.

Nature has always been an essen­tial part of Amy’s life: there was nev­er a moment when I wasn’t in nature.” She grew up on a dairy farm, where self-suf­fi­cien­cy was the rule. The fam­i­ly raised the veg­eta­bles and nur­tured the ani­mals that sus­tained them. Plant­i­ng, har­vest­ing, and pre­serv­ing were the norm. One of her ear­li­est mem­o­ries is plant­i­ng pota­toes with the fam­i­ly. Her father taught her graft­ing, her moth­er cheese mak­ing.

As she pur­sued a degree in agri­cul­ture at Cor­nell, the con­nec­tion between art and nature – and being human — became clear­er to her. We can use plants for pro­duc­tion’ – food, shel­ter, what­ev­er – but we can use them for their aes­thet­ic pur­pose too. Plants enhance our lives … because of their beau­ty. We feel that con­nec­tion because we’re human,” she main­tained.

After grad­u­a­tion, Amy worked for sev­er­al years in the flo­ral trade while tak­ing class­es in both art and hor­ti­cul­ture, becom­ing intrigued by the ele­ment of design. She earned a teach­ing cer­tifi­cate and taught hor­ti­cul­ture at VOTEC in Hud­son, NY, and then accept­ed a posi­tion with Cor­nell Coop­er­a­tive Exten­sion of Sch­enec­tady Coun­ty. There she helped to facil­i­tate the com­mu­ni­ty gar­den pro­gram and the ReTree Sch­enec­tady project, before mov­ing on to the Albany Coun­ty Coop­er­a­tive Exten­sion, where she head­ed the Mas­ter Gar­den­er Pro­gram.

The amal­gam of art, nature, and edu­ca­tion final­ly led her to estab­lish her own land­scap­ing design firm, Back­yard Solu­tions, in Niskayu­na.

And that brought her back to the Arbore­tum, the long way around.

She now finds that she is sched­ul­ing her pro­fes­sion­al work around the spring and fall plant sales, for her own gar­dens, of course, but also for her clients’ gar­dens as well. The plant sales, she said, are huge to me.” She trea­sures the Pon­cirus tri­fo­li­a­ta Fly­ing Drag­on’ she once bought from Jeff Schworm. She has been known to load her van to capac­i­ty with spec­i­mens for her customers. 

But for Amy, the Arbore­tum is more than sim­ply a source of plants.

That view from the Meet­ing House, she said, is sim­ply astound­ing,” and she would love to bring her group of plein air painters to Lan­dis. More­over, she asked, what oth­er oppor­tu­ni­ty would fam­i­lies in the Cap­i­tal Dis­trict have to pack up the kids and hike or walk or pic­nic in unspoiled nature? Or bring a book and read?

Or learn. I learned a lot of lessons” at Lan­dis, she said – includ­ing, on one unfor­tu­nate occa­sion, how to rec­og­nize poi­son ivy!

For Amy, the price of mem­ber­ship is all about con­serv­ing and respect­ing nature,” one that includes price­less div­i­dends. One late after­noon after a plant sale, she stood at the pond as the fog moved in and a blue heron land­ed. She want­ed to paint that scene: there was some­thing spir­i­tu­al about it.

Spring 2018

Volume 36 , Number 2

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