LANDIS PORTRAITS:: Nan Williams

By 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.


Summer 2019

Volume 37 , Number 2

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