Wednesday, April 23, 2014
BOOTHBAY — When six-year-old Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens in Boothbay was named TripAdvisor's No. 1 public garden earlier this year, it beat out venerable public gardens like the Missouri Botanical Gardens in St. Louis and Longwood Gardens outside Philadelphia.
William Cullina, executive dorector of Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens, is surrounded by hybrid Peonies and a multitude of other plants in the Bibby and Harold Children's Garden. He and his organization won the Award of Excellence from the National Garden Clubs, Inc..
Visitors enjoy the Lerner Garden of the Five Senses at the Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens in Boothbay on Friday, June 14, 2013.
Gordon Chibroski / Staff Photographer
It wasn't long before William Cullina, executive director of Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens, got a call from someone in St. Louis, inviting him to speak there.
"She said, 'We want to find out what's so special about that place, and how you beat Missouri,' " Cullina said with a laugh Friday. "That's a good feeling, to be able to make Maine proud like that."
Cullina himself is a big part of the reason the 250-acre Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens is getting national attention and drawing close to 100,000 visitors each year. The 49-year-old horticulturalist has been given the prestigious Award of Excellence by National Garden Clubs Inc., the largest volunteer gardening organization in the world, the organization said in a news release Friday.
It's the highest honor a nonmember can receive, according to the organization's website, gardenclub.org.
Cullina is one of three recipients of the award nationally, said Nancy Hargroves, second vice president of the group, who led the selection process. The awards were presented in May.
Hargroves said Cullina was chosen because the scope of his work matches the goals of the garden club group, particularly in educational outreach. Cullina has written many books and articles on plants, and is in demand on the horticultural lecture circuit.
Hargroves also cited "his commitment to using plantings that are suited to this unique site, his advocacy for organic practices and integrated pest-management techniques, and his goal for the garden to be a good example to visitors of environmental sustainability."
Cullina said the award is special to him because it comes from grass-roots gardeners. (He was nominated by the Garden Club Federation of Maine.) The people who make up local garden clubs, he said, are the same ones who so believed in building Maine's first botanical garden that they risked their own homes to see their vision come true.
"They didn't have enough money to buy the property," he said, "so they put their homes up as collateral to back the loan. You co-sign for your kid; well, they were co-signing for the botanical garden, so to speak."
Cullina and the rest of the staff at the botanical gardens are focusing on the future and making plans to expand the attraction's programs and plantings. They are hiring a master planning firm to guide them into the gardens' next phase.
On the drawing board are plans for a pier and a dock next year so visitors can get to the gardens by boat. Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens will work with charter boat tours to make the attraction a part of their business.
"That's pretty unusual, to come to a botanical garden and be able to access the ocean like that," Cullina said.
The gardens will also work with the nearby Bigelow Laboratory for Ocean Sciences on educational interpretations of ocean life, giving people another reason to visit.
There also are plans for an indoor conservatory, a "winter garden," to broaden attendance to other parts of the year. And Cullina would like to bring back a 19th-century saltwater farm that's on the grounds and link it to 21st-century ideas about small-scale food production.
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Firewitch Cheddar Pinks contrast with the stone walkway at the Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens in Boothbay on Friday, June 14, 2013.
Gordon Chibroski / Staff Photographer