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.