- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 1, 2007

DOVER, Del. (AP) — Horticulturist Polly Hill, founder of an arboretum on Martha’s Vineyard that bears her name, died April 25 of heart failure at her Cokesbury Village home in Hockessin. She was 100.

Born Mary Louisa Butcher in Ardmore, Pa., Mrs. Hill became known internationally for her skill in growing hardy trees and shrubs from seed, an avocation she began in her 50s.

Known since childhood as Polly, Mrs. Hill attended the Phoebe Anna Thorne Open-Air School for Girls of Bryn Mawr College and later graduated from Agnes Irwin School and Vassar College, where she majored in music. She worked for a year in Tokyo, teaching English and field hockey at a girls’ college.

In 1932, she married Julian Hill, an organic chemist who worked for DuPont. The couple settled in Wilmington, where they raised three children.

She studied botany and horticulture at the University of Delaware and at Longwood Gardens near Wilmington. While studying at Longwood Gardens, she served on a committee that developed standards for record keeping in botanic gardens throughout the country.

After she and her husband became owners of Barnard’s Inn Farm on Martha’s Vineyard, she began transforming 20 acres of fields surrounding their summer home into a showplace of trees and shrubs grown from seed.

Mrs. Hill obtained seeds from many sources, including a collector in Japan, and usually grew them in a small outdoor nursery with no protection from the cold.

Mrs. Hill’s signature North Tisbury azaleas, many from Japanese seeds, were grown in her “Playpen,” a football-field-sized garden partially shaded by a native oak forest and surrounded by a 10-foot-high deer fence.

Mrs. Hill became known for her experimental approach to horticulture and for the detailed records she began keeping in 1957, maintaining a “dead file” as well as a history of her successes. She nurtured one plant, a rhododendron grown from wild seed gathered on the Delmarva Peninsula, for 29 years before it produced flowers.

By 1997, when Mrs. Hill was 90, her garden contained about 1,700 different kinds of woody plants. The property was renamed the Polly Hill Arboretum and established as a nonprofit organization for research and education. Mrs. Hill acted as hostess for arboretum events and maintained daily records of blooming and fruiting plants until retiring at age 97.

Mrs. Hill is survived by a daughter, Louisa Spottswood Coughlin of Philadelphia; two sons Joseph J. Hill, of Radnor, Pa., and Jefferson B. Hill of the District; a brother, Keen Butcher of Philadelphia; five grandchildren and three great-grandchildren.

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