Sowing seeds

Polly Hill Arboretum offers something for every age.


There’s a plethora of options both now and in the future for us at Polly Hill Arboretum. Blessed with plenty of outdoor space, some of their offerings allow us to learn while we enjoy nature.

My first stop would be to get one of the Quest maps in front of the Visitor Center. Polly Hill has had its own quest in past years, and was at one time part of an Islandwide program. But it’s recently revived this fun tradition with a fresh take. These scavenger hunt–type maps where you have to follow the clues are a great way for families to discover the unique plants in the arboretum. You’ll explore corners of the grounds you may never have been to before, and through verse learn fascinating plant facts along the way. Youth educator Elliott Bennett says, “It shows you some of the neat highlights in our collection in a rhyming fashion. It really takes you around the whole arboretum.”

Clues are a poem in four stanzas, and everything rhymes: “So many special trees here to see, notice their bark, leaves, and flowers; it’s key!” Along the way, you get to know a little bit of the history of the trees. You’ll finish up at a plaque where you can take your photograph and post it on social media and the Polly Hill Instagram account. Of course, you don’t have to have kids along to undertake the Qquest and grab a photo.

Another venture is Polly Hill’s virtual Story Hour, which they are in the process of posting on the website, where an education volunteer reads the stories, and there is a companion video piece. Say the book was “The Hungry Caterpillar,” then the video, which is like a photo video montage, would be about the caterpillars at Polly Hill.

In the spring, the arboretum reached out to the schools and continued the lessons they had begun, but did them virtually. They also started putting activities up on their website — activities that can be for homeschooling, or just families looking for something interesting to do, including how to press flowers, make a nature journal, a flower classification game, among other fun family activities.

Polly Hill also partnered with the West Tisbury library on a butterfly bag. Polly Hill gave the library native seeds so kids could plant them in their own yard, and a guide to butterflies on Martha’s Vineyard. They can go search for the plants and butterflies without planting the seeds, but wouldn’t you rather create your own specialized garden meant to attract beautiful butterflies?

Also upcoming for young adults is the Plant Hero series, where they will be talking to different employees and friends about what they do in plant science, and why they chose to go into it. They will use video, but Bennett wants to eventually collect the stories into a publication.

For the school season, Polly Hill will collaborate with the Charter School, using the space for some outdoor learning during the school year. Bennett also will lead some virtual tours of the arboretum that can be used by anyone, including teachers and parents. Polly Hill is also working with the middle and high school programs to create lessons that fit with the online format that the school district has adopted.
So there is plenty to do at Polly Hill both now and in the future, for families, students, and anyone else interested in learning more about plants on the Island.

Quest maps can be found in front of the Visitor Center. Arboretum admission is $5; free for children under 9, and free for PHA members. The Visitor Center, Far Barn, and public restrooms are closed until further notice during the COVID-19 pandemic. The Tree Spirits are the creation of Island sculptor Bill O’Callaghan, accompanied by verse written by Bill and his partner Heather Goff. The beautiful, mysterious, and whimsical figures are fashioned from driftwood and other natural materials.