Outdoor adventures at Polly Hill

Keeping up with events and programming at the arboretum.


The Polly Hill Arboretum is a hidden gem on Martha’s Vineyard that offers programming and fun, community-centered events all year long.

According to education coordinator for Polly Hill Liz Ladwig, arboretum staff are doing more in the fall and winter this year, with kids from Island schools coming to the campus for field trips, since COVID restrictions made any in-person visits impossible before.

Last year, as a stand-in for some staff-guided activities, the arboretum held a gnome hunt where kids would search around the grounds for hidden gnomes.

“It’s basically a scavenger hunt — the families come and get a map by the visitor center that shows where all the gnomes are, then we also have a winter tree I.D. program that is good for kids and families,” Ladwig said.

The arboretum also hosts some festive get-togethers for the holidays, such as a wreath celebration where people decorate the large wreath that’s hung up in the Polly Hill barn each year.

They also provide a kids’ crafts table with all sorts of colorful materials to make a truly one-of-a-kind themed craft.

Even with more face-to-face events happening, the arboretum is still hosting socially distanced webinars and other offerings to keep people informed and engaged despite the continuing health protocols.

One such webinar instructs folks on the ins and outs of native plants, and will feature a different aspect of native plants each month.

“We will also be opening our native tree trail, which is an interpretive walk on a trail that hasn’t been opened to the public yet,” Ladwig said.

On the second Saturday of every month, the Polly Hill staff bring visitors on a winter walk that is led by a different staff member each time. Folks can ask questions about various plant species and see the broad variety of trees, shrubs, grasses, and more that can be found throughout the property.

“We also can do private tours, and have volunteer tour guides who can lead a walk through the arboretum for you,” Ladwig said. 

One essential piece of programming offered by Polly Hill is interactive classroom visits that immerse kids in a particular learning topic, and then bring them to the arboretum to get some hands-on experience.

Ladwig goes to Island schools and works with the Polly Hill youth educator to create a classroom lesson, then kids take a field trip to the campus to learn about things like identifying tree and flower species.

The classroom lessons continue for the whole school year, with eight separate sessions, then in the spring they take the field trip, according to Ladwig.

“I would love to do a lot more in the winter. Like most organizations on the Island, we have a lot more programming in the summer, spring, and fall months,” Ladwig said.

For Ladwig, the school lessons are some of the most important opportunities offered by Polly Hill, because they accommodate a different learning style that requires active participation and deep immersion.

“A lot of kids don’t do as well learning in a classroom setting — they learn so much better outside, and doing hands-on activities. Touching leaves, picking up an acorn, smelling a flower, whatever it may be,” Ladwig said.

Not only do the programs get kids out of the classroom and into nature, but they are totally free for families, and get parents involved as well. 

“I know families really appreciate it, and I have personally experienced teachers who say they have a difficult class or there are behavioral issues, and you get them outside and they are able to get in touch with what they are learning so much better in that environment,” Ladwig said.

With many folks being cooped up because of the pandemic for so long, Ladwig said, the arboretum offers a quiet and beautiful spot to find some solace, but there are also many great educational opportunities available. 

She said it surprises her when people show up and tell her they’ve never been to a program or even visited the arboretum, and new arrivals are always excited about what a special place it is.

“It’s a really amazing resource for the community — there are all sorts of opportunities for adults and kids to learn about plants and nature,” Ladwig said.

Visit pollyhillarboretum.org for more information about the arboretum and its programs.