Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens’ first drive-through Gardens Aglow is on track for a Nov. 21 opening night. Bucket lifts are in the air covering the hard to reach places and staff are spread out along the one-mile long course working from the ground up to place over 650,000 lights.
CMBG Chief Executive Officer and President Gretchen Ostherr has been at the Gardens for months and, amid online meetings and learning all the new faces behind masks, the decision of whether or not to hold Gardens Aglow this year was hard and took into consideration CMBG staff, the community and economy and the tradition of a brightly lit Boothbay peninsula during the holidays, Ostherr said.
“Having all been through the experience of the lockdown and how hard that was … we really wanted to be a ray of light for people and actually give people something to do, so … we're very excited to have made this shift to a driving experience.”
Director of Marketing Kris Folsom said the decision has enabled CMBG to keep all its full-time staff. The change to drive through has required staff and volunteers to work together and learn new skills.
Said Folsom, “It's great for the community, it's great for the Gardens … Everybody's willing to learn a new trade almost. It matters, being able to keep people making an income so they can feed their families is really important.”
Horticulture team member Chloe Hoecker has been helping prepare large fixtures – creatures relating to the Gardens’ yearly theme of “Wicked Wetland Wonders.” Hoecker said the giant reptiles and amphibians might not look like much in their lobster-trap wire bodies, but once the lights go on and the fixtures are in place, they will look brilliant with the backdrop of all the rest of the lights.
“I love doing structures because they make me think a little more about how to do an interesting piece. With the trees, you just go up and down, but with this one, you have to go out on every leg and every toe. You have to really think about what you're doing. It's a fun rainy day activity.”
Around 150 vehicles recently tried the course and staff have identified areas in need of traffic direction to keep vehicles moving at a steady 5 mph for the entire 30-minute event. Ostherr said no one needs to exit their vehicles or worry about interaction. All tickets will be sold online or over the phone, will be emailed and must be printed out for collection upon entry to the Gardens. The quick exchange of tickets will help keep traffic moving steadily, but arriving during the time slot chosen for ticket purchase is critical as there are limits to the number of vehicles for every 15 minutes, said Ostherr.
The bright side about the change is that it will be a viable option whether or not the social landscape changes due to COVID-19, said Ostherr. The pluses about driving through the Gardens are that families with young children, the elderly and the disabled will have access like never before. “And it will be much warmer, too … I am cautiously optimistic. Certainly for this year I think it will be a great solution to enable us to continue having Gardens Aglow.”