The Polly Hill Arboretum has appointed Stephen A. Spongberg as its first executive director, effective Feb. 16.
Recognized as one of the world’s leading horticulturists, Mr. Spongberg is currently the horticultural taxonomist at the Arnold Arboretum of Harvard University.
Appointed to the staff of the Arnold Arboretum in 1970 after completing his graduate studies for his Ph.D. at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Mr. Spongberg has played a major role in the recent development of Arnold’s living collection, library, herbarium and computer system. He has also developed, procured and supervised a number of scientific and education grants.
Colleagues cite his quiet, effective leadership and emphasize that Mr. Spongberg “is known particularly for his ability to address or write to audiences ranging from interested amateur to professional scientist with each coming away with a wealth of new information.” In recognition of his service to the Arnold Arboretum, Mr. Spongberg will become Curator Emeritus when he assumes his responsibilities at the Polly Hill Arboretum.
Author of more than 50 publications, Mr. Spongberg is a leading scholar of north temperate woody plants, specializing in studies of magnolias, stewartias and mountain ashes. (The former two groups are favorites of Polly Hill, who has selected superior cultivars which have been introduced widely in American gardens.)
Mr. Spongberg’s recent book, Reunion of Trees, is already recognized as the standard on the history of plant exploration, and was designated by the American Horticultural Society in 1997 as one of the “75 Great American Garden Books.”
Mr. Spongberg is recognized for his plant explorations in China, where he has participated in a number of plant collecting expeditions, including one in September 1997. He serves on a number of international commissions and organization boards, and was the editor of the Journal of the Arnold Arboretum for 12 years. Currently, he sits on the editorial boards of the Harvard Papers in Botany, Arnoldia and The New Plantsman, published by the Royal Horticultural Society.
In 1996, Mr. Spongberg received the Gold Veitch Memorial Medal, considered one of the highest accolades in the world of horticulture. Presented annually since 1873 by England’s Royal Horticultural Society for outstanding contributions to the “science and practice of horticulture,” it is the highest award the society can make to a non-British citizen. Mr. Spongberg is one of only 15 American recipients of the medal since its inception.
Mr. Spongberg has had a warm friendship with Polly Hill since his first visit to her arboretum in 1970, and he has greatly admired, supported and participated in her studies. (His analysis has been one of the key elements in the designation of certain of Polly Hill’s stewartias and magnolias as worthy of cultivar designation.)
Polly Hill said, “I couldn’t be more pleased. Mr. Spongberg is the best possible person to direct our future activities. His leadership will benefit Martha’s Vineyard and carry the programs in the Arboretum to their highest potential.”
David H. Smith, chairman of the Polly Hill Arboretum, stated, “This is an extraordinary appointment and a unique opportunity for all of us. We are blessed by Steve’s decision to join us. And many thanks to Polly, who initially suggested we approach Steve.”
Mr. Spongberg will be joined on the Island by his wife, Happy, and their daughter, Nia, who is a freshman at Bowdoin College.