Polly Hill Arboretum continues to bloom in its second decade
In a festive garden party atmosphere Saturday morning, the Polly Hill Arboretum (PHA) in West Tisbury celebrated the start of its second decade as a public garden with two big steps into the future. Along with showing off a bright new member library in the meticulously restored "Cowbarn," once the Hill family summer home, the event launched a capital campaign and announced a challenge grant which brings the $6 million goal much closer.
The grant from the Cedar Tree Foundation set up by the family of David Smith, M.D., the conservation-minded philanthropist who was instrumental in preserving the arboretum, will match donors' generosity at a rate of 2 to 1, doubling their contributions. The $500,000 challenge grant will benefit the endowment fund. It will extend for two years, said executive director Tim Boland, although pledges made within the deadline can extend for five years. The total goal comprises $4.5 million for the PHA endowment fund and another $1.5 for projects including the now completed Cowbarn renovation, and providing a new maintenance building, a garden for expanding the collection, and a herbarium/botany lab.
Board president Robert Doran recalled the arboretum's beginnings as a public facility 10 years ago as he welcomed the congenial crowd gathered under a tent where fruit and pastries were served. Conversation returned often to the beauty of the property, the generosity of the Hill family and Dr. Smith, and memories of Polly herself. In the now well-known account, Ms. Hill began the arboretum 50 years ago as a private garden at her West Tisbury summer home which was once a sheep farm. She planted rare species from seed and kept careful records of her painstaking work. She continued to visit and keep close watch over the gardens until shortly before her death in 2007 at the age of 100.
Polly's son Joseph Hill shared warm memories of childhood summers on the property, and remembered when Vineyard Conservation Society director Brendan O'Neill introduced him to Dr. Smith, leading to the partnership that preserved the arboretum.
"The Hill family is delighted with what happened, with the management, the evolution, and with the future as planned," he said, adding that the renovation was "just gorgeous."
The renovation project by Tucker Hubbell and his Rising Sun Construction crew turned the first floor into a library, as well as a comfortable and attractive apartment for visiting speakers and guests. The library already is well-stocked with horticultural materials, including the books that former director Stephen Spongberg has donated.
Photo by Pat Waring
"Polly Hill never wanted this to be a museum to her life," said Mr. Boland. "She wanted us to grow as human beings, but also to continue to plant, observe, teach and learn, and most of all to share our discoveries and share our enthusiasm, and that is what this new library and the arboretum are all about."
Mr. Boland listed some of PHA's achievements over its first decade: a visitors' center, a new greenhouse, a computerized plant-mapping system, its internationally recognized Stewartia tree collection, outstanding educational programs for children and adults, scientific publications, and more. He applauded the staff, volunteers, and directors, who he said "believe in what Polly believed in."
"Keep on growing," as Polly would say, he concluded.
With that, Joseph Hill and Polly's granddaughter and board member Corinna Hill Parker hung the "Open" sign at the library door, welcoming visitors in to admire this newest resource.
"It's wonderful to see how the building has turned into something usable for everyone," said Jefferson Hill, standing beside the door with his brother Joseph. "It's part of Polly's continuing tradition of sharing the property with the public. It's more than just a garden now."