In 1958 horticulturist and gardener Polly Hill began to grow an arboretum from seed at Barnard’s Inn Farm, situated on the island of Martha’s Vineyard off the coast of Massachusetts. Hill’s parents purchased the property in 1926 and converted it from an old sheep farm into a family vacation home. Historically, it was one of the sixteen original “home lots” established in 1669 in West Tisbury.
After Hill and her husband took over management of the farm, she planted her first seeds that formed the core of the arboretum, bringing 20 acres under cultivation with an additional 40 acres preserved as native woodland. The collection she established focused primarily on plants native to Martha’s Vineyard, the Atlantic Coastal Plain, and eastern Asia. Now spanning 70 acres, the arboretum’s setting is pastoral and naturalistic, characterized by open meadows, woodlands, and old stone walls. It is planted with witch hazel, magnolias, stewartias, hollies, camellias, conifers, and a unique collection of North Tisbury azaleas, all loosely organized by plant type. Historic structures, including the Homestead, ca. 1700s, have been renovated and repurposed as offices and event space. The arboretum became a public institution in 1998, with a new Visitor Center constructed that same year and a master plan completed in 2002 and revised in 2008. Today the arboretum serves as a public garden and an important island landmark, with a continued focus on plant research and education.