Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens’ Board of Directors is pleased to announce that, as of July 6, Gretchen Ostherr will become the Gardens’ next president and CEO.
“Gretchen brings a strong record of vision and commitment to mission,” says Judy Parkhill, head of the search committee, “a passion for the outdoor environment, demonstrated leadership, and superb communication skills. It was a unanimous decision.”
Ostherr succeeds CMBG Vice-Chair of Administration & Operations and Volunteer CEO, Mary Neal, who took on the role after former President and CEO William Cullina stepped down to take the position of executive director of the Morris Arboretum of the University of Pennsylvania.
“I am so excited to welcome Gretchen as the next president and CEO of CMBG,” says Neal. “Her commitment to our mission is part of who she has been for years. As the volunteer CEO and member of the search committee, I’m confident Gretchen’s visionary leadership will create a remarkable next chapter for the Gardens and the Boothbay region.”
Indeed, a connection to nature is nothing new for Ostherr who joins the organization following her position as director of the Outdoor Discovery Programs at L.L. Bean. “I can’t say enough about the importance and relevance of connecting people to plants and nature, especially at this time in our history. CMBG’s mission is closely aligned with my own goals of having a positive impact on people and the planet through transformative outdoor experiences,” she says. An avid gardener, she loves plants and designing gardens. “I am rejuvenated from digging in the dirt,” she says, “picking flowers, weeding, planting, and walking in my garden. Gardening is how I relax — to merge what I love with my work is a dream come true.”
Her experience with nature runs deep, as does her history in Maine. “My father was one of the founding trustees of Hurricane Island Outward Bound in Camden, and I spent many summers in Maine before I moved here year-round in 1997. Those early experiences with Outward Bound — self-sufficiency and slowing down to meet nature’s pace — shaped who I am.” And those experiences, Ostherr says, are often closer at hand than we realize. “There are bodies of research focusing on the benefits of the outdoors — even spending time in our own gardens, in our own backyards makes us happier, healthier, more connected, and better stewards of the environment. The Gardens is a living example, an accessible outdoor space dedicated to such connections.”
These relationships — and the Gardens’ facilitation of them — become more profound in light of current events. “For so many reasons, the pandemic has us thinking more about all kinds of connections, especially juxtaposed against increased screen time. We’re feeling the need for balance, and time outdoors can give us that balance.”
Ostherr holds a BA in women’s studies and government from Hamilton College and an MA in education from Harvard’s Graduate School of Education. She has held senior leadership roles at Outward Bound USA and Hurricane Island Outward Bound School in Rockland, Maine. The common thread running through her work has been sharing the importance of nature and its impact on human well-being. “In one way or another,” she says, “I’ve always been a teacher. I believe that’s how we can change and save the world, and I believe that’s what CMBG is doing—teaching us all, through its educational programs and by example, how to become simultaneously more self-reliant and more connected through gardens, gardening, and the simple act of walking outside.”
The Gardens began its search for a CEO in August, 2019. “After consulting with staff, volunteers, donors and community members, we conducted a lengthy and exhaustive search, committed to finding the right person to achieve our mission and goals, to meet our challenges, and to be the right fit with our staff, our board and constituents,” Parkhill says. “I am very pleased to say that, in Gretchen, we have found her.”