In Polly’s Garden: The Multi-Tasking Northern Bayberry

My Vineyard hikes take me to many beautiful sites. I enjoy seeing the diversity of landscapes, many influenced by their agricultural past. A frequent plant I encounter in abandoned farm fields is northern bayberry (Myrica pensylvanica, now Morella pensylvanica). Quick to reclaim open pastureland, the shrubs have the unique ability to fix their own atmospheric nitrogen through specialized structures called root nodules. The nodules contain the nitrogen-fixing bacteria Frankia. This mutually beneficial symbiotic relationship allows bayberry to grow in soils with low fertility.

In Polly's Garden: Beach Plum: Tough, Independent, Tasty

Picture this: dense, twiggy colonies of dark, gnarled branches buried in sand along the barrier dunes of Lambert’s Cove Beach. What is this tough plant that thrives in such a challenging environment? The answer is obvious each May when these same branches erupt with beautiful white flowers. It’s our native beach plum (Prunus maritima). This exceptional spring display lasts a few weeks then something even better follows. Over the following months plump, tasty fruits ripen, often creating a bountiful crop for harvest by the end of the summer.

In Polly's Garden: White Oaks, Noble Among the Breed

I noticed the oaks right away. My first visit to the Vineyard was in spring 2002 when the abundant oak trees were raining down yellow pollen. Later, after moving to the Island while my daughter was playing at the West Tisbury School playground, I wandered off into the woods to look at the trees. I was gleeful to discover five oak species, including Quercus alba, the white oak. A young mother asked why I was so excited. After I explained my love affair with oaks, and my new position at the arboretum, she gave me some input: “I hate oaks; they’re everywhere.

In Polly's Garden: Sowing Lasting Seeds at Polly Hill

Polly Hill was well known for her love of stewartia trees. They are greatly admired by our visitors and represent years of hard work. Through Polly’s efforts and our continued devotion to these trees, we now have a recognized national collection. What does that mean exactly? The primary objective for the development of a national collection is to assemble the most comprehensive collection of plants within a particular genus.

In Polly's Garden: A Biological Timeline in Plant Collections

The Polly Hill Arboretum’s herbarium collection began in 2001, with a gift of algae specimens from Island resident and seaweed expert, the late Rose Treat. A herbarium is a scientific resource consisting primarily of a collection of dried, pressed plant specimens. Herbarium specimens record the past and provide users with the historic and current locations of plants over time.

In Polly's Garden: Native Plants Are a Natural

There are many good reasons for growing native plants. Native plants are adapted to local growing conditions, they promote biodiversity and support local wildlife, and in general they need less maintenance. Besides, native plants are Vineyard vernacular — they just look right in our gardens and landscapes.

In Polly's Garden: Hydrangeas: Back and Better Than Ever

Big, blue snowballs of hydrangeas backed by a white picket fence are a summer staple on the Vineyard. While the mophead flowers of bigleaf hydrangea (Hydrangea macrophylla) are the most popular with tourists, there is a whole world of hydrangeas for gardeners to explore. On a seed-collecting expedition to Japan in 2005, I encountered three other hydrangea species that are valuable ornamentals: the panicle hydrangea, (Hydrangea paniculata), the mountain hydrangea (Hydrangea serrata), and involucre hydrangea (Hydrangea involucrata).

In Polly's Garden: Woody Lillies Too Dear for Deer

I was thinking the other day about an old friend, conservationist Rusty Walton, who died last year. To say he was quiet would be an understatement. I could rarely make a smile bend on his face no matter how hard I tried. However, as I think back on the times I spent with him it always makes me smile. He was a dedicated naturalist and an accomplished ecologist. He introduced me to my first wild patch of wood lily on the Vineyard almost 10 years ago. Recently I went back to the same spot and, surprisingly, the lilies, like Rusty were gone.