Activity, fun sprout out at Polly Hill Arboretum

Flowering trees and plants — like this camellia — turn Polly Hill into an exuberant color-fest at this time of year. — Photo by Susan Safford

Hundreds of flowering trees and shrubs are in bloom this week at Polly Hill Arboretum. Beside the Cow Barn, the scent of lilacs fills the air. Around the West Field, rhododendrons, azaleas, and many less familiar trees leaf out and show their colors as summer begins. Meanwhile, a busy season of lectures, classes and events is off to a running start.

On Tuesday, May 24, Arboretum Director Tim Boland offered a talk called the Best of Small Flowering Trees. He discussed a wide assortment of small flowering trees, which can be used for foundation plantings or focal points in the home landscape.

On Thursday, May 26, at 10 am, Nancy Weaver and other staffers will lead Plants, People, and Volunteer Opportunities, an introduction to the Arboretum for prospective volunteers. “We walk around the grounds and Tim talks about the director’s view of the arboretum,” Ms. Weaver said. “We talk about the plants and volunteer opportunities, but there’s no obligation. We like to have people in the community learn about us from us.”

Coming up this Saturday, May 28, is Spring Into Summer: A Celebration of Plants, a plant sale, from 10 am-2 pm, and much more. The day’s activities begin at 9 am with a tour of the Arboretum guided by Collections & Grounds manager Tom Clark.

“Not all of the plants we’re selling are in the landscape, but those that are, we’ll show on the walk, in their mature state,” Mr. Clark said. “We offer plants that are hardy and adapted to our soils and climate here. You plant it small and it adapts better with less resource use.”

The plants offered for sale are all perennials — no pansies, petunias, or geraniums. “We don’t sell annuals and a lot of really common plants,” Ms. Weaver said.

“There’s going to be a seed-sowing workshop for kids, a used book sale, and a free tree raffle,” Ms. Weaver said.

A Backpack Tour for families will debut on Saturday, too. Backpacks will be available at the visitor center, with a self-guided tour and things like a magnifying glass, notepad, and pencils to use in suggested activities around the Arboretum. “You can pick and choose things to do,” says Ms. Weaver. “The intent is to give kids something more engaging to do, so they can participate.”

Other scheduled events include a talk by executive director Tim Boland, entitled “Green Thumbs 101” at 11 am. Two herbal walks will be led by Holly Bellebuono of Vineyard Herbs. Ms. Bellebuono will be teaching workshops later in the summer about making herbal salves and teas. At noon and 1 pm, senior horticulturist and arborist Stephen Masterson will teach mini-workshops on garden tool maintenance and shrub pruning. At 2 pm, following the plant sale, there will be a second arboretum tour. Throughout these midday events, the ArtCliff Diner Food truck will be on hand with food for sale.

Finally, at 4 pm, British author Andrea Wulf will give a presentation based on her book “Founding Gardeners: The Revolutionary Generation, Nature, and the Shaping of the American Nation,” (reviewed on page ___ ). Admission to that event, in the newly refurbished Far Barn, is $10, but all of Saturday’s other events are free.

On June 22, the summer’s Wednesday Evening Lecture series will begin with Know Your Arboretum and a wine and cheese reception to celebrate the renovation of the Far Barn. “We’ll be talking about things happening here, like developing a new woodland garden, and some changes in the living collection, all of our plants in the landscape,” says Mr. Clark.

Visitors can find rhododendrons with names like Pink Parasol, Gigi, and Lady Bly, alongside those that Polly Hill herself introduced, many of which are named after her family members or familiar places on the Island.

The Far Barn, which was originally built in the 18th and 19th centuries, is where most of the Arboretum’s classes, lectures and workshops are held. “We improved the structural integrity of the building without impairing the historical look and feel,” education and outreach administrator Karin Stanley said. “Tucker Hubble from Rising Sun Construction worked on it all winter. They did historical rehabilitation of the barn and John Maloney did the foundation work. They did a great job: it’s beautiful.”

The Arboretum is open from dawn to dusk every day. The Visitors’ Center is open from 9:30 am to 4 pm daily, from Memorial Day Weekend through Columbus Day.

For more information on the Arboretum and its programs, check or call 508-693-9426.