For his remarkable career as an award-winning horticulturalist and author, and his longstanding commitment to his community, William G. Cullina ’86 was honored this month with the Hobart College Alumni Association’s highest honor, the Hobart Medal of Excellence.
Cullina, the executive director of Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens (CMBG) in Boothbay, Maine, is renowned for his extensive knowledge of native North American plants. He joined CMBG in 2008 as director of horticulture and plant curator. Today, he leads the staff in their mission to forge connections among people, plants and nature through horticulture, education and research. Under Cullina’s leadership, CMBG was named Trip Advisor’s No. 1 botanical garden to visit in America.
“In his professional and personal accomplishments, Bill Cullina exemplifies the curiosity, creativity and innovation that we value at Hobart and William Smith,” said HWS President Mark D. Gearan, who was one of the many guests who attended the regional HWS gathering and presentation ceremony at CMBG. “Bill’s successes ripple outward, touching the lives of his family and friends, improving his community and the environment, and strengthening his professional field and his alma mater.”
Cullina “joined CMBG at it’s ‘mezzanine level’ of growth, but without question, he is the one who has put it on the map — competing with longstanding gardens in New York City, Chicago, St. Louis and Philadelphia,” said Nick Hurd ’64, who, with his wife, Joan Hinton Hurd ’65, hosted the Aug. 6 gathering.
Hurd, who is a former board member of CMBG and was involved in the decision to appoint Cullina as interim and then full-time executive director, noted that CMBG “is a very special place and it has very special leadership. Hobart is proud to have Bill Cullina among its many noted graduates who have excelled in a broad variety of fields.”
Currently, CMBG’s 270-acre grounds boast gardens with various themes. Approaching its 10th anniversary, CMBG is on track to see more than 150,000 visitors in 2016 and is embarking on an ambitious 20-year master plan to broaden its appeal and underscore its role as a regional economic driver.
Cullina began his career as a retail greenhouse manager and later as a research aide, performing experiments and collecting data on forest ecology and silvicultural practices. These positions led to his appointment as greenhouse manager for the University of Connecticut’s department of ecology and evolutionary biology, and then nursery manager of Niche Gardens in Chapel Hill, N.C. For 13 years, he served as nursery director and head propagator at the New England Wildflower Society, where he developed New England’s largest native plant nursery, producing 75,000 woody and herbaceous plants annually for garden and restoration use.
In the years since, Cullina has published several books on native plants and has become a regular contributor to popular magazines and technical journals. In addition to his written work, he has appeared on television and radio shows such as “The Martha Stewart Show” and NPR’s “Living on Earth.”
As a student at HWS, Cullina majored in psychology and was elected to Phi Beta Kappa. He went on to earn a graduate degree from the University of Connecticut.
Among his many honors and awards, he has received the Scott Medal for lifetime achievement in horticulture, the Award of Merit from the Perennial Plant Association, and the George Robert White Medal for “advancing horticulture in the broadest sense.” In May of 2013, he received the prestigious Award of Excellence for advancing the goals of the National Garden Clubs of America.
Beyond his horticultural work, he serves as a volunteer firefighter, on the board of the Boothbay Region Land Trust, and is a part-time lobsterman.
As Hobart Alumni Association President, Frank V. Aloise, Jr. ’87, remarked, “The Alumni Association is honored to welcome Bill Cullina into its group of distinguished alumni who, over the course of 46 years, have received the Medal in recognition of their extraordinary professional accomplishments and the honor they bring to our alma mater.”