Arbor Amor: A celebration of trees at Polly Hill

Spring is blooming at the Polly Hill Arboretum. —Photo by Ralph Stewart

This Friday, April 29, the Polly Hill Arboretum will host a celebration of Arbor Day, the annual observance celebrating the roles of trees in our lives and promoting tree planting and care. What better place to honor the national initiative than Polly Hill — home to over 1,600 different types of trees and other plants?

“We’re excited about Arbor Day,” executive director Tim Bolan said, noting that this is the fifth year in a row that Polly Hill has hosted a celebration. “It’s a day that people can take personal action to help beautify the world and contribute to the health of the planet.”

Polly Hill actively promotes tree planting. “The world needs more tree planting,” Mr. Bolan said. “There are so many ways in which trees benefit our planet.” Aside from carbon reduction and oxygen production, Mr. Bolan points out other benefits. “Trees and their root systems play a huge part in filtering water and removing pollutants. The aquifers on the Island are like a giant Brita filter. Trees play a huge role in providing safe drinking water. Trees — especially native varieties — attract birds and other wildlife, and contribute to our earth’s ecosystem.”

The Arbor Day celebration will provide a great opportunity for those interested in planting trees, as well as a fun and educational outing for adults and kids alike. The day will also include a tree-climbing demo by a Polly Hill arborist, a guided tour, and a tree giveaway. Visitors can take home a free gingko tree while supplies last.

The tree-planting demonstration will give visitors thorough step-by-step instructions in proper planting. Mr. Bolan notes that first-time planters often make devastating mistakes. “The No. 1 thing that people do wrong, particularly in sandy soil, is plant too deeply,” he said. “The second two biggest mistakes are overwatering and overmulching.”

For a less earthbound experience, on Thursday, May 5, the arboretum will host a free Backyard Astronomy class with amateur astronomer Barbara Caseau.

The annual Mother’s Day open house on May 8 will include a guided tour, photos, and a flowering shrub sale. The grounds will be open for strolling and picnicking from 10 am to 2 pm. Of course, you can always just walk around and enjoy the splendor of the surroundings. Although Polly Hill is open year-round and there’s always something to see (even in the dead of winter), the spring is an ideal time to visit.

“The early magnolias are beautiful right now,” education and outreach administrator Karin Stanley said. “There are early spring ephemerals — wild woodland plants that bloom in the spring, like bloodroot and dogtooth violet. Some of the early rhododendrons have started.”

The early flowers don’t last long before they give way to the many other varieties of flowers and flowering trees and shrubs to be found at Polly Hill. The arboretum is known for its selection of azaleas, the national stewartia collection, camellias, hollies, rhododendrons, crabapples, conifers, magnolias, and more.

The 60-acre property, which was transformed into an arboretum in 1958 by legendary horticulturist Polly Hill, still includes many original structures from its days as farmland. Last June, the arboretum was listed on the National Register of Historic Places. “Its history can be traced back to 1669,” Ms. Stanley said. “The original buildings and old stone walls are still in their original places. The property reflects the agricultural history of West Tisbury.”

The arboretum hosts a regular afterschool program, tours, talks, and workshops, and a monthly Grounds Volunteer Day on the first Thursday of the month, from April through October (9 am to noon).

There are numerous attractions for people of all ages and interests. “We find people visiting the arboretum for all kinds of reasons,” Mr. Bolan said. “It appeals to people on multiple levels. We are trained botanists and horticulturists. All of the plants are labeled. The buildings that are here reflect a kind of permanence. People like to look at the architecture and the 200-year-old stone walls to get a sense of what it was like here back when it was a working farm. There are so many things that draw people in and give them inspiration. A lot of this has to do with the setting. It’s very serene and quiet. People come here and got lost in thought without even looking at plants.”

Arbor Day Celebration: Friday, April 29, 1 – 3 pm at Polly Hill Arboretum, West Tisbury. Backyard Astronomy: Thursday, May 5. Drop in between 7:30 and 8:45 pm. Free.

Polly Hill is open daily, sunrise to sunset. The Visitors Center is open from 9:30 am to 4 pm daily, from Memorial Day weekend through Columbus Day. Admission: Members free, adults $5, children 12 and under free. Group tours by advance reservation. For more information, visit