Martha's Vineyard Garden Club Report : Talk of seasons at Polly Hill
Speaking on "Seasons of the Polly Hill Arboretum," collections and ground Manager Tom Clark encouraged the members of the Martha's Vineyard Garden Club and their guests to look at the subject of seasons in a less traditional sense. The seasons of the Arboretum can be seen in a single bud as it progresses from bud to flower to seed head.
Mr. Clark also referred the seasons in the remarkable life of the Arboretum's founder, Polly Hill. In a series of archival photo slides, he showed how Ms. Hill's horticultural vision grew from the first plantings of the Dogwood Allee in 1966, to the fully mature attraction of the Arboretum as it has become.
Ms. Hill's connection to Martha's Vineyard began with her family's purchase of an abandoned 40-acre sheep farm. After her graduation from Vassar College in 1928 with a degree in music, she spent a year in Japan teaching English and gym at a girls' school in Tokyo, which Mr. Clark cited as the beginning of her life-long association with the people, culture, and plants of Japan.
Ms. Hill studied horticulture at Longwood Gardens and the University of Delaware and eventually developed a friendship with Dr. Tsuneshige Rokujo, with whom she shared an exchange of seeds, plants, and horticultural wisdom. According to Mr. Clark, Dr. Rokujo provided Polly with seed that she grew into some of her best known introductions including the North Tisbury Azaleas.
To evoke the feeling of the Arboretum as a dormant seed in Polly Hill's life at this point, Mr. Clark showed peaceful, quiet winter scenes. Another of the Arboretum's winter features is evergreen foliage - the border of Variegated Japanese Andromeda and the silver-patterned leaves of the ivy-leaved Cyclamen. Hamamelis x intermedia 'Ruby Glow,' and 'Jelena' can be seen in February, along with Edgeworthia chrysantha-'Paper Bush,' a fragrant winter bloom. The winter visitor cannot fail to be struck by the visual line of Conifer Rows at the south end of the West Field. Mr. Clark considers the Sciadopitys verticillata (Japanese Umbrella Pine) to be one of the top 10 conifers for the Vineyard.
The arrival of spring is heralded by Reticulate iris and snowdrops, Glory of the Snow, Winter Aconite and Spring Snowflake. In 1957, Ms. Hill, then 50 years old, set out experimenting and taking chances and taking a Darwinian approach to gardening: "What lived and what died presented a new planting opportunity."
She held this view of the land: "I like to think that if the long-gone farmers and their wives should come back through the same old front gate and look around they would still feel at home here," a philosophy the Arboretum continues to maintain.
The stonewalls that intersect the property, the two large fields filled with trees and shrubs, and the modest shingled buildings that dot the property are the key elements of the landscape that remains familiar.
Among the spring showstoppers at the Arboretum are Prunus 'Accolade', the flowering Cherry, Magnolia x loebneri 'Leonard Messell,' the famous Saucer magnolia and hundreds of hybrids.
In May, members of the heath family take over the Arboretum. Several lovely specimens of mountain laurel greet walkers following the path from Holly Park into the West Field. Rhododendrons and azaleas thrive in the well-drained, acidic Island soil.
In the summer, it is the Stewartia that secures the reputation of the Arboretum. Garden Club members learned that the Polly Hill Arboretum holds the national collection of these remarkable small trees. Stewartia malacodendron 'Delmarva'- Silky Stewartia, was grown by Ms. Hill from seed collected in 1961 on the Delmarva peninsula. The plant, noted for the striking rose-red markings emanating from the boss of rich purple stamens, took 28 years to produce its first bloom, on June 28, 1989.
In recent years, summer visitors are drawn to the seasonal Homestead border, designed by Laura Coit, which is alive with color and the "buzz and activity of thousands of insects."
Viburnums and Beauty Berry fruits, Winterberry hollies, and the handful of cultivars like ilex opaca 'Villanova' are special fall plantings with long associations to Polly Hill. Mr. Clark ended his presentation with slides of Ms. Hill's legacy, and stressed her advocacy for connecting plants with people and sharing her knowledge. Today, the Arboretum hosts a series of summer lectures, workshops, talks, and tours as well as an internship program.