The flair q&A

Barbara Hughey

Do you know what a land steward is? Their work can be seen in what you experience every day ~ landscape design, preservation, species control. But if you dig deeper and get your hands dirty, like Barbara Hughey, you just might save all that's around you. She loves this world, and she can help you love and preserve it, too.

Tell me about your business or speciality

I’m a specialist in land stewardship, which includes landscape design, consulting, site assessment, project management and scheduling, plant selection, and invasive species control. My work centers on helping private individuals (residential homes and estates) and corporate or institutional clients (public grounds) succeed in a conscious partnership with nature in their gardens, meadows and common spaces. We work together to wed the beauty and science of nature. Through a commitment to best ecological practices, we become active and responsible land stewards. We enter a process that deepens our very sense of place.

This sounds passionate (and important)!

Yeah...professionally, I have moved through an earlier time when landscape design focused on a model that considered native plants to be “weeds." Thankfully, now there is a wide ranging acceptance and a drive for restoring ecosystem health by planting regionally appropriate native plants that support vast complex networks of life. This has created an opportunity for overcoming our environmental illiteracy in exciting and effective ways. This practice starts the process of returning our landscapes to a state of resilient balance, diversity and ecological sustainability. People are aware of the importance of pollinator habitat, the connectivity of native plants and bird and fish populations. All over the country people are abandoning the food desert that is the American lawn into productive meadow plantings that are full of life, and needing no pesticides and fertilizer inputs.

How’d you get to where you are now?

Growing up in the New York Metropolitan area exposed me to many beautifully curated gardens. both private and public. Our family was also fortunate to spend our weekends in eastern Dutchess County. It was there that the seeds of my environmental knowledge began to grow. I’d identify plants, insects, animals, and bird calls for fun, and learned early to recognize what an intact ecosystem looked, felt, smelled and sounded like. We spent countless hours hiking the forests in the High Taconic Hills soaking it all in. That deep experience in me has grown and become better informed ever since.

A degree from Cornell University concentrating on plant science, soils, and biology moved me to the next level in my love affair with the natural world. My work has taken me into areas of gardening, farming, land use planning and ecological landscape design. One of the best parts of my work is found in the collaborative experience I have with my many creative and motivated people who have also come to embody a deeper awareness of what design's value can be when our world view includes more than just ourselves.

What surprises you in your work, now or in the past?

I am surprised when I see how much people have been steered away from knowledge of natural systems. Fortunately, the shift back to a renewed appreciation is moving us forward to a more realistic and healthy perspective. Plant communities go through successional stages from highly unstable, to stable and resilient. I see our collective awareness of nature’s constant support and sustenance developing along a similar trajectory.

Any other interests or pursuits (big or small)?

Oh yeah, there are a lot of them. I owned and operated an organic seed farm in Oregon’s Siskiyou Mountains for seven years. I love seed growing and seed saving. It’s another of our important areas of ancestral knowledge. We all come from people who were native somewhere and who practiced these skills. I have studied and practiced the art and science of herbal medicine. I consider myself an herbalist for the landscape. I give special attention to caring for and reintroducing medicinal plants. My husband and I have often observed wildlife making use of the plant medicines. These were abundant at one time. However, due to over harvesting, agricultural practices and other kinds of disturbance, they are often missing or sparse. This is a critical missing link in in our environment’s health. We have the opportunity, as well as the responsibility, to restore these and other wonderful and important plants to our wild and managed landscapes.

What drives you crazy?

Plastic. Plastic drives me completely crazy.

Who inspires you?

The environmental activist and scholar Doug Tallamy comes immediately to mind, he has brought the message of plant and insect community interdependence to the general public very effectively. He has made millions of people start to appreciate the beauty and importance of insects. We are currently in an insect apocalypse. It has very far reaching effects. Many insects are specialized to raise their offspring on particular native plants. No insects no birds, and lots of other things. Anyone who hasn’t yet seen What's the Rush? via Homegrown National Park, Tallamy’s documentary, please check it out. We have the power to correct our mistakes.

You’re a trailblazer, what are some of your career highlights to date?

All of my clients have provided me with tremendous highlights. All my gardens, meadows, restoration projects and farms where I was lucky to have worked have been amazingly rewarding. I am very fortunate and very grateful to every single person and place that let me ply my trade.

Words of wisdom, final thoughts, anything else?

I have faith that our world view will come to see nature’s intrinsic value as worthy of our best efforts. Our western philosophy has for too long focused on the extrinsic attributes: Does it in increase the value of my house provide extractable resources linear board feet bushels of grain… These are important. I live in a house. I drive a car. I buy most of my food. I know we have to be pragmatic about all this. Still, I see more and more land management projects as an equal voice in forest management (including Traditional Environmental Knowledge - TEK, for example). Pollinator gardens are popping up all over. People are foraging and appreciating wild seasonal foods. There are more of my clients actively managing and removing invasive plants that negatively effect diversity and complexity. Our State agencies are opening up significant funding opportunities for really important work in these areas.

As we learn more about this amazing world we inevitably come to love and care for it. That is the intrinsic part: love for the world.


Barbara Hughey is a land stewardship designer and project manager helping clients in the private and public sector realize their goals for enhancing the beauty, productivity, health and biodiversity of their landscapes. Local to the Hudson Valley, she spent time in the Pacific Northwest where she owned and operated a solar powered, certified organic seed farm that supplied high quality seed to national seed companies. She is a former board member, executive and riparian committee member for the Applegate Partnership and Watershed Council, working to realize restoration projects and codify environmental policy in concert with local and federal government agencies. She authored a riparian action plan for the twenty three thousand acre watershed where her farm was located, laying the foundation for miles of stream reach bio engineering and native plant restoration funded through salmon habitat enhancement opportunities. She holds a degree from Cornell University in Soil Science, Agronomy and Soil and Water Conservation, in addition to an advanced certificate in Herbology. She completed the Bio Diversity Assessment Training through Hudsonia, as well as Land Use Planning courses through Pace Law School, with continuing work in field botany and other related subjects. Barbara has been a member of several local and regional environmental boards and committees, including the Columbia County Environmental Management Council, representing Germantown, NY. She is a native of the Hudson Valley where she has worked and lived for most of her life.

(published 2024)