The Chappaquiddick Chronicles #2: Polly Hill Arboretum

This week I’m in Chappaquiddick at my family reunion (for full disclosure, see post on  7/26) so every day I’ll be writing about a Vineyard place I love.


Whoever said there are no second acts in American lives (F.Scott Fitzgerald, you know who you are) obviously didn’t live long enough to see Polly Hill in action. A legendary horticulturalist and botanical marvel, she singlehandedly started Martha’s Vineyard’s first and only arboretum from a single seed… at the age of 50. Because she felt the existing island vegetation was kind of scrubby and boring (she used the elegant term “horticulturally impoverished”), Polly introduced hundreds of plants, seed by seed, eventually bringing 20 acres under rich and gorgeous cultivation, while preserving 40 additional acres as native woodland (10 more acres were added in 2002).

The lady herself.

Anybody who has ever seriously gardened knows that it’s no activity for the faint-of-heart, poor-in-spirit, or weak-of-back. But Polly didn’t shrink from hard physical labor, throwing herself with vigor into growing her famous North Tisbury azaleas, a national stewartia collection, camellias, magnolias (including a glorious cultivar she named after her husband, Julian Hill), crabapples, kousa dogwoods, and flowers galore.

Julian Hill Magnolia

Polly took the long view (always a good idea in gardening and raising children) and mostly planted from seed, knowing her plants would be stronger and more vigorous if she waited patiently for them to come into their own. And luckily, she stayed around for another 50 years to see them flourish, living to the richly mature age of 100.

“Fifty is a great age to try something new,” she said– which sounds about right to me.

The stone wall by the barn.

Today, Polly Hill Aboretum is simply a gorgeous place to visit, relax, and enjoy the public gardens, with 80 cultivars, open meadows, stone walls, and rare plants that Polly coaxed into being. My family made the trip there 10 years ago, and we had the best time ever.

Half of the Londergans at Polly Hill @ 2000

I’m celebrating Polly today by donating $100 to the garden, and  yesterday I let my Garden Geek flag fly–taking the Edgartown Tree Tour, led by Polly Hill Grounds and Collections Manager, Tom Clark.  You can join me in supporting Polly’s precious legacy by clicking here