Saturday, May 25, 2013
By TOM ATWELL
Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens in Boothbay is celebrating a double anniversary this summer -- 20 years since the group was incorporated as a nonprofit organization and five years since its grand opening.
The anniversary celebration is going to be low-key. A president's reception will be held Monday honoring members who have played a role in creating what is now a world-class garden, and other events during the year will mention the milestone.
The publication of "Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens: A People's Garden" by Down East Books will also celebrate the event. The publication date is officially in July, but some early copies will be available at the garden beginning with the reception Monday.
The 192-page full-color book is written by William Cullina, executive director of the gardens; Dorothy E. Freeman, director of philanthropy for the gardens, and Barbara Hill Freeman, director of communications for the gardens, and costs $34.95.
The book is partly a history of the garden, describing how a group of people from midcoast Maine came up with the idea of the garden, researched how large it had to be, searched for and eventually found a suitable site, financed the project in part through mortgages on their own homes and set to work on garden construction.
But it also is a description of the features and goals of each specific garden within the 250-acre property, complete with excellent photographs.
Cullina believes the overall achievement at the garden is spectacular.
"I think it is kind of remarkable how the whole thing came together so fast," he said.
Botanical gardens the size of Coastal Maine are usually located in an urban area of 1 million population or more, he said, yet the garden in Lincoln County, where the year-round population is 34,000, is getting enough traffic to break even.
"That's just one thing that makes us different," Cullina said. "Most botanical gardens started as private gardens that became public or with municipal or university support. That this could have become one of the premier public gardens in the Northeast so quickly is just amazing."
This dual anniversary comes at a transition point for the botanical gardens. All of the gardens that were planned before the grand opening in May 2007 have been completed.
The Rose and Perennial Garden, visitor center and entry walk, Haney Hillside Garden, Burpee Kitchen Garden, Slater Forest Pond, Great Lawn and Giles Rhododendron Garden were built before the grand opening.
The Alfond Children's Garden and Lerner Garden of the Five Senses were planned earlier but built after the grand opening. The Bosarge Education Center and surrounding gardens had not been planned, but the unexpectedly fast growth in attendance and use made the additional building necessary.
Now, it is time to figure out what is next.
"I feel happy about the fact that we haven't peaked in attendance, that we are on an upward trend," Cullina said. "It would be nice to have a crystal ball and know that by 2017 we will be getting 150,000 (visitors every year,) or if it will level out at 100,000."
He cited statistics such as 5.5 million cars passing the intersection of Route 1 and Route 27, which goes to Boothbay, every year, so there is a chance for expansion.
"When we talk about the future, we look at ways to diversify what we have in order to attract a wider audience and attract an audience over a longer period of time, in the shoulder seasons, and attract people to the area for more than one day."
Cullina said garden officials are trying to decide what should be the next gardens added to the property, and one that is commonly mentioned is a 25-acre Wild Woodlands of Maine, featuring such native plants as lady's slippers, blueberries and bog and coastal plants -- although there is no firm commitment to go ahead with it.
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