Adkins Arboretum: Advancing Toward a Green Legacy

The new Arboretum Center will include a large open pavilion, the Caroline Pavilion; a new art gallery for showcasing nature-inspired art; an outdoor classroom; and a library and resource center, more than doubling the meeting, program and event space for the multi-faceted programming offered each season at Adkins Arboretum. 

GreenLegacyPavillion.jpg“Keep Calm and Carry On,” a popular phrase from the 1930s that enjoyed a renaissance in 2000, reminds us to breathe deeply, to persevere and, one might infer, to have faith in a bright(er) future.

The work taking place at Adkins Arboretum, a 400-acre native garden and plant preserve just two miles off route 404 near Ridgley, could be framed in similar terms. It was 2005 when the Arboretum announced plans for its first multi-year capital campaign. The effort was designed to raise funds for significant, environmentally-sensitive site and building renovations, as well as to create an endowment for the non-profit’s future. Three years later, a period of gripping economic uncertainty struck the nation followed, predictably, by a pause in the campaign. No matter how laudable, the capital projects would have to wait.

Executive Director Ellie Altman is familiar with incremental and deliberate progress. She came to the Arboretum as a freelance landscape architect and board member in late 1997 and the following year was selected to oversee the organization. Ellie says, “With my background in education, landscape architecture and conservation advocacy, the Arboretum was like a homecoming for me. “ 


In her tenure at Adkins Arboretum, she has seen the budget triple, membership expand from 35 to 1,300, and staffing increase from two to 10 employees. She manages the center with meticulous dedication noting, “We are open and staffed every day. We approach our responsibilities with the standards of a museum. I’m really proud of that and look forward to seeing us grow.”

In her 14 years as director, Ellie has guided the organization through various magnifications of purpose. According to the website “the Arboretum was founded [in 1980] with the mission of displaying all of the forest types of Maryland. By the late 1990s, [it sought to] display and study the indigenous plant communities of the Delmarva Peninsula.” Today, 32 years after its inception, there is the sense that the organization has become like a beloved grandparent, enveloping the community, offering welcome to all and leading by example as it “promotes the conservation and restoration of the Chesapeake Bay region’s native landscapes, serves as a model for land management and ecological restoration, fosters community engagement and inspires the adoption of land stewardship practices for a healthier and more beautiful world.”


Remarking on the extensive reach of the Arboretum, Ellie says, “I feel we are a facility that is unique and critical to the region because we serve such a broad audience.” With adult and children’s programs, lectures and seasonal events, an art gallery and a book club, docent- and self-guided walks, and a developing interpretive Underground Railroad project, the Arboretum appeals to most. But, with its single small classroom also serving as art gallery and meeting space, the facility, which currently serves 18,000 visitors annually, is constrained.
As such, the organization has announced its plans to carry on with the “Campaign to Build a Green Legacy.” Sydney Doehler, President of the Board of Trustees, elaborates on the plan to shepherd growth in detailing the scope of the renovation project. “We want to be accessible to an even broader range of interests – nature, plants, horticulture, photography, the arts, programs to learn, programs to enjoy, volunteering, youth camps,” she says. “In my opinion, Adkins Arboretum is the jewel of the Eastern Shore. It’s a people’s place, not a private, elite group. It is experiential in whatever capacity is wanted and with so much possibility for the ways it can touch our communities.”  


The Green Legacy campaign, as described by Sydney, comprises “two interwoven projects unfolding in several phases.” The Native Garden Gateway project began in June with the transformation of the entranceway to the Arboretum. Upon completion, this portion of the renovation will include new and expanded native plantings, ecologically sensitive parking areas with permeable pavers, storm water and water conservation systems and a handicapped entrance. A second project, The W. Flaccus and Ruth B. Stifel Center at Adkins Arboretum, will provide the “bricks and mortar expansion so desperately needed by the organization,” Sydney says.­­ The building will use the latest technology for energy efficient buildings while greatly improving the Arboretum’s educational facilities. 


Thanks to the abiding efforts of volunteers and staff, as well as donations from hundreds of supporters, the Arboretum has already met more than half of its fundraising goal. Pat Bowell of Queenstown, an Arboretum Trustee and volunteer docent, is chairman of the effort. Pat discovered Adkins Arboretum in 2004 after completing the Queen Anne’s County Master Gardener program. As a docent, Pat speaks passionately about the opportunities to connect visitors with Adkins Arboretum. “When I see those people come back from their walk in the woods – well, they’re positively glowing. And I can understand why. This place is like a sanctuary to me. It’s a place where I can find my soul.”  GreenLegacy.jpg


Pat is particularly inspired by the story of the Arboretum’s genesis, made possible by benefactor Leon Andrus. “Here was one man who was passionate about something, made it happen and wanted nothing in return,” she remembers. “I feel a stewardship responsibility to take care of his great gift to the Eastern Shore and to all those in our community who have supported the Arboretum.”  


Leon understood perseverance. A native of upstate New York who lived more than half his life on a farm near Queenstown, he made a small fortune in the newspaper business but lost it before he was 40. Eventually, he made a full financial recovery and, himself a lover of nature, chose to direct some of his resources toward the establishment of Adkins Arboretum. Though it was a generous bequest from his estate that provided early financial support for the organization, Leon insisted that the facility be named not for him, but after longtime friends and Talbot County conservationists, the Adkins family. 


One gets the feeling that Pat is a bit like Leon Andrus: robust, capable, optimistic and humble. When she talks about spearheading efforts to complete the Arboretum’s capital campaign, she says, simply, “There are many people in our community to whom we owe a depth of gratitude and thanks…the early supporters have made the vision possible and reachable. When people ask me if I think I’ll get it done I say, ‘I don’t know that I can’t get it done,’ and after all, I’m asking for something incredibly worthwhile. What I’d like most is to let the place speak for itself. We have good words, we have our mission, we have a drive to move beyond our one room schoolhouse and become the one of the most significant cultural and educational centers on the Shore. The real power is in the Arboretum. This is the most leveling place I’ve ever experienced.”


American poet-naturalist, Henry David Thoreau, too, embraced the spirit inherent in the message of pressing earnestly forward with an end goal in mind: “I learned this, at least, by my experiment: that if one advances confidently in the direction of his dreams, and endeavors to live the life which he has imagined, he will meet with a success unexpected in common hours.”


Adkins Arboretum is ready to move forward with renewed vigor towards a long awaited vision. Contact Kate Rattie, Director of Advancement and Planning at or 410-634-2847, extension 33, for more information about how to support Adkins Arboretum. For more information about the Arboretum, visit


The team leading the Adkins Arboretum Campaign to Build a Green Legacy includes Ellie Altman (left), executive director; Sydney Doehler, president of the Arboretum board of trustees; and Patricia Bowell, Arboretum trustee and campaign leadership chairman. The campaign leadership committee also includes Arboretum trustees Henry Brandt and Alan Visintainer.