Spring is upon us and it’s a perfect time to visit Polly Hill Arboretum, which is celebrating its 25th anniversary as a public garden this year. Of course, you are welcome to bring your journal, sketchpad, paints, and camera to discover this special place in West Tisbury any time of the year. And although there is always a self-guided tour located in the parking lot kiosk, Polly Hill abounds with spring offerings as well.
The Arboretum is a horticultural and botanical landmark developed by the legendary horticulturist, Polly Hill (1907-2007). She started the arboretum in 1958 by sowing a seed, eventually bringing 20 acres under cultivation while preserving 40 additional acres as native woodland. It was then established in 1998 as a nonprofit institution devoted to the cultivation and study of plants and the preservation of the character and magic of this tranquil landscape.
First up is Kanta Lipsky’s Balance in Nature class, which takes place every Tuesday at 9 am from now through the end of summer. It’s designed to deepen your appreciation of nature through a mindful hour of gentle movements drawn from the Chi Kung tradition of Tai Chi. This practice, set among the Arboretum’s diverse collection of trees, strengthens your connection to the earth while increasing your body’s ability to maintain good balance. Education Coordinator Elizabeth Ladwig explains, “It’s been a really great way for people to enjoy being outside. We started doing it in 2020 when we were trying to do smaller class sizes outside. There are quite a few people who go every week who connect to the Arboretum and form a community along with drop-ins.”
Arbor Day, always held on the last Friday in April, celebrates planting and caring for trees and was inspired by journalist J. Sterling Morton in Nebraska in 1872. Polly Hill’s festivities on April 28, from noon to 1 pm, will start with a tour of its special trees, followed by a tree planting demonstration for beginners, and, as a bonus, participants will receive a free Corylus americana (American hazelnut) tree seedling.
Polly Hill celebrates its official season opening on May 27 from 9:30 am to 4 pm with its Spring Plant sale Kick-off. Staff will be on-hand to answer questions about the sale inventory. In addition, they also do an online native plug (seedling) sale.
The Arboretum goes into full swing in June. For instance, on Mondays from 10:30 to 11:30 am in Polly Hill’s barn is Little Sprouts Yoga and Mindfulness with Emily LaPierre. Each class is themed and includes an introduction to yoga poses, storytime, and an art activity.
On Thursdays from 9 to 11:00 am is Drawing in Nature with Lynn Hoeft, who welcomes all levels of drawing experience. During each class, you will be looking carefully to observe and then draw whatever areas of botanical interest the Arboretum offers that week. You’ll have a choice to work on a distant landscape or a more detailed close-up of flowers, trees, or other plants.
The guided Arboretum Tours will start up as well in June and take place every Tuesday and Thursday from 9 to 11 am. On Friday, June 16 and June 30, from 10 to 11 am, you can join the Polly Hill Botanical Spotlight Tour led by knowledgeable staff and docents to learn more about the Arboretum and its plant collections. These specialized tours are designed as an in-depth experience, each focusing on a different aspect of the Arboretum.
On Saturday, June 17, from 10 to 11 am, Jo Ellen Meyers Sharp will present Where the Wild Things Are, a lecture about how to invite wild things into your landscape so they can pollinate plants, eat bugs, and add beauty. You will learn which plants provide food and shelter for butterflies, birds, and other wildlife. There also will be a lecture on Saturday, June 24, from 10 to 11 am by Theresa Speight. The lecture is called Black Flora: Profiles of Inspiring Black Flower Farmers and Florists. Speight will be sharing knowledge from her new book about African Americans in the world of floriculture, which includes stories of farmers, florists, and other floral creatives who answered the call of the flowers, tapped into their passion, and listened to their hearts.
The Arboretum is the perfect outdoor classroom for families to discover nature together at any time of the year, and starting May 27, you can borrow their new free Family Backpack Tour that helps make this experience more fun and informative. The backpacks, available at the Visitor Center, contain a self-guided educational arboretum map, field guides, magnifying glasses, sketch pads, and other materials to engage the entire family in nature studies during their visit. And for some treasure hunting fun, there is a map of clues to try and find the 10 woodland gnomes who are hiding along the Native Tree Trail this spring. (Gnome maps can be found in front of our Visitor Center and by both entrances to the Native Tree Trail.) You’ll also find all sorts of children’s activities online to help bring a little bit of your nature experience home with you.
Polly Hill Arboretum is located at 809 State Road in West Tisbury. See pollyhillarboretum.org for information and program registration.