Polly Hill, the Tree Lady with a Magnificent Garden The cherry trees, camellias and magnolias are in bloom this week at the Polly Hill Arboretum at Martha's Vineyard in Massachusetts — a fitting tribute to Polly Hill, the legendary horticulturalist who died last week at 100. Hill began planting seeds outside her West Tisbury home more than four decades ago.
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Polly Hill, the Tree Lady with a Magnificent Garden

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Polly Hill, the Tree Lady with a Magnificent Garden

Polly Hill, the Tree Lady with a Magnificent Garden

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MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:

The cherry trees, camellias and magnolias are finally blooming this week at the Polly Hill Arboretum on the island of Martha's Vineyard off Massachusetts: a fitting tribute to Polly Hill, a legendary horticulturist who died last week at age 100.

Hill began planting seeds outside her West Tisbury home more than four decades ago. Over the years, she transformed her small nursery into a 70-acre arboretum that today boasts more than 1,700 plant varieties. She collected seeds from around the world and took on the challenge of figuring out which plants could survive cold New England winters. She spoke about her early days in a 2001 interview with the Cape and Islands NPR station, WCAI.

(Soundbite of archived NPR interview)

Ms. POLLY HILL (Horticulturist): I didn't know what would grow on Martha's Vineyard. There was so little growing, I called it horticultural poverty.

BLOCK: So, she said, she and her husband took it upon themselves to experiment.

(Soundbite of archived NPR interview)

Ms. HILL: I wanted to do something for the island. I thought the island needed a new windbreak for the shores, because they had been using the Japanese black pine, and that had gotten a disease. So I worked on pines, hollies - which are perhaps the best windbreaker of the present, and native on the island.

BLOCK: Hill kept detailed records of everything she planted. She had something called a dead file as well as daily, weekly and monthly logs of plants that survived. And what she learned through her long life prompted her to offer this advice.

(Soundbite of archived NPR interview)

Ms. HILL: Visit with other people. Talk with other people. Visit other gardens. Read books. Educate yourself. Learn - that's the fun, the learning is the fun.

BLOCK: Polly Hill is credited with introducing more than a hundred plant species, including more than 20 North Tisbury azaleas and some 40 rhododendrons. Many are named after her children and grandchildren.

Back in 2001, she remarked on the fact that trees she planted have, in her lifetime, grown to magnificent heights.

(Soundbite of archived NPR interview)

Ms. HILL: From six inches to 12 to 20, to finally 64 feet.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. HILL: But you just live long enough and take care of them, they'll get up there.

BLOCK: Horticulturist Polly Hill, who lived to be 100. She's survived by three children, eight grandchildren and great-grandchildren, and of course, numerous trees and shrubs, which live on at the Polly Hill Arboretum in West Tisbury, Massachusetts.

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