As Chilmark School children celebrated May Day by performing their spring maypole dance, winding colorful ribbons around a tall pole, Craig Leitner and Dave Ferguson dug spades into the grass across the lawn, planting a tree.

Tea Lane Nursery had donated a 15-year-old Stewartia tree to be planted on Arbor Day next to the Chilmark Community Center in honor of Herbert Hancock, a longtime Chilmark selectman who died in 2001.

At the conclusion of their maypole dance, plus a potato sack race, egg run and rolling relay, a few Chilmark students wandered over to find out about the newest addition to the campus.

Stewartia trees are full seasons trees, blooming with white camellia-like flowers in July and August, the foliage turning orange and pink in fall and producing pussy willow-like pods in the spring. They are also known for their colorful motley bark.

Chilmark school May Day festivities are perfect accompaniment to Arbor Day tree planting. — Heather Hamacek

This particular Stewartia is an Islander, a self-seeded offspring of a tree on Tea Lane Nursery owner Matt Tobin’s property. Stewartias are not native to the Island, but this particular sapling sowed its roots here of its own accord.

Chris Carroll, Mr. Hancock’s grandson flipped a quarter into the hole awaiting the tree. The hole for the tree was half the size of the root ball, Mr. Leitner said.

“You plant it high, it will never die, that’s a famous Matt Tobin saying,” said Mr. Leitner. Trees should be planted so the “root crown,” where the trunk begins to flair out, is above the soil. Mr. Tobin likened it to a neck, you don’t want to choke the tree.

Mr. Tobin is a repository of gardening knowledge, much of it garnered from his great Aunt Mattie, for whom he is named. Compost from her 70-year-old garden was the “mother” of the compost poured into the new tree hole.

And she's up, Stewartia trees can live longer than 70 years. — Heather Hamacek

The Stewartia was swaddled in rich compost, half a wheelbarrow full dumped in before the tree was placed, along with rock fertilizer to stabilize it.

“We’ll never be in the bottom of the hole again if we do the job right,” Mr. Tobin said. It was a three man job to get the tree into the hole. At it’s young age, the tree already stands about 18-feet tall and weighed an approximate 500 pounds. A Stewartia can live longer than 70 years.

After a quick prune of the topmost branches by Tea Lane manager Avril Espy, the tree was hoisted into an upright position and the tree roots were then surrounded by more compost and soil. A well was built around the tree using the clumps of dug up grass covered in soil and then covered in compost. The well insures water will run down to the roots. Finally, the tree was rewarded with a drink in it’s new home.

Mr. Leitner stood back, looking up at the Stewartia.

“That’s a nice tree, man,” he said.