A Brief History of Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens

After 16 years of planning, planting and building, we celebrated the Grand Opening of Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens on June 13, 2007. This magnificent and ambitious project began in 1991 when a group of mid-coast Maine residents founded the grassroots organization. They, and those who worked with them and came after them, shared the belief that northern New England in general, and Maine in particular, were in need of a botanical garden.

In 1996, after a thorough search for an appropriate site, Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens purchased 128 acres of pristine land with 3,600 feet of tidal shore frontage in Boothbay. This was possible due to the unhesitating willingness of some Directors to use their own homes as collateral. With steadfast commitment to the organization’s vision, these members and hundreds of volunteers established a foundation of insightful planning, which helped to make Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens a jewel of rare quality among North American gardens.

The enormous scope of the plan included designs from Maine landscape architects, as well as firms of international renown. The Maine-based Leighton & Associates designed the very first master plan for the Gardens. Bruce John Riddell, ASLA, an exceptional landscape architect from Bar Harbor, Maine, was part of the design team for the Rhododendron Garden, and also designed the waterfront Vayo Meditation Garden, which features a carved stone basin and granite from throughout the state. He created initial planting plans for the Central Gardens and designed the Haney Hillside Garden with its one-of-a-kind landings and stone benches. Significant renovations to this garden to respond to changing light and drainage conditions began in late summer of 2010, and the reopening celebration was in June, 2011.

During Phase I of the Gardens’ long-range plan, completed in 2012, we relocated the main entry drive, constructed parking areas, completed the significant infrastructure, created the Birch Allée, built the Kulp Horticulture Building, Visitor Center, and Education Center, and created a dozen ornamental gardens.

Tom Flood became the Gardens’ first executive director in 2001 and served for two years. Maureen Heffernan joined the small-but-growing staff as executive director in early 2004. She contacted Herb Schaal, FASLA, a widely acclaimed landscape architect who is associated with Aecon in Colorado, and with whom she had collaborated on a previous project. He was then hired to complete the final landscape master plan for the Central Gardens. Terrence J. DeWan Associates of Yarmouth, Maine, also provided design services. Jorgensen Landscaping of Bath, Maine, built the Central Gardens. Concurrently, Quinn Evans Architects of Washington, D.C., designed the elegant Maine Cottage-style Visitor Center which officially opened in the spring of 2007.

In 2005, the Gardens received an incredible gift of an additional 120 acres from the Pine Tree Conservation Society. As a result of this generous gift of land adjacent to the original 128 acres, the Gardens now comprises 248 acres, which makes it the largest botanical garden in New England. The property boasts nearly a mile of tidal salt water frontage with tranquil island views. It is also one of a very few waterfront botanical gardens in the United States. Planning the potential uses for the newer, second half of the Gardens’ land is underway.

In June of 2009, we opened the Lerner Garden of the Five Senses. This exquisite garden of about an acre adjacent to the Visitor Center allows all visitors to get in touch with their five major senses. It includes many features that make its delights accessible to the disabled.

In July of 2010, the Bibby and Harold Alfond Children’s Garden opened. With themes derived from beloved children’s literature by authors with a Maine connection, this garden appeals to the imagination of youngsters and their grown-ups. It offers endless exciting opportunities to learn about and interact with nature.

Then in July, 2011, the Gardens celebrated the grand opening of the Bosarge Family Education Center – a LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) Platinum structure and the greenest building in Maine, planned to achieve net-zero-energy status. This building’s flexible plan allows for many different types and sizes of educational activities, as well as for office space for education and administrative staff. The landscaping is not only beautiful, but offers valuable lessons in ecologically sound planting.

In August, 2011, William Cullina became the Gardens’ executive director, after serving as director of horticulture for several years. Bill is not only a renowned horticulturist and expert on native plants, but is also a sought-after speaker and the author of five books that are as readable as they are useful for anyone interested in gardening.

- Revised January 11, 2013