Bayard Littlefield has a job people dream about, surrounded by riots of color and a million shades of green, immersed in the wind-borne brine of Maine’s coast and the luxurious scent of roses. Littlefield plans, plants, and tends to summer gardens and landscapes throughout Lincoln County.
Littlefield is the youngest of three children and her father named her Bayard, a family name of French origin that means “with red brown hair,” which tracks given the extravagant curls she inherited from her grandmother.
“I’ve grown up surrounded by plants my whole life and by very serious gardeners,” Littlefield said. “My great uncle bred peonies, my step-grandfather bred plants, and my mother was obsessed with roses.”
“When you grow up with an obsessed rose gardener like my mother, you tend to be like ‘oh no I have to go water them again.’ As a kid it’s not that much fun but for whatever reason it sticks with you,” she said. “I always stop and smell the roses.”
Littlefield is a product of New England, with roots in Connecticut and Vermont. She spent summers in Rhode Island. Everywhere she lived there were gardens. “I’ve always had my hands in the dirt,” she said.
She studied communication and art in college, but neither pursuit stuck. “I didn’t realize I wanted to do horticulture,” she said. “I was brought up with the expectation of a 40-hour-a-week job and gardening was what you do on the weekends.”
But she found work with high-end nurseries and designers. She landscaped nursing homes and landed commercial accounts. She developed her skills over the years. “I just built my knowledge and got to this point where people allowed me to add to their landscapes,” she said.
She had one early client who entrusted her with a 1,500-square-foot bank. “I conferred with people in the trade and that got me started. I worked for him for 12 years developing that property,” she said. “He was a really generous client who allowed me to do whatever I wanted and that really jump started this work.”
Her business had 19 separate accounts when she left Vermont for Maine nine years ago. “I wanted to be close to the ocean,” she said. “I like the combination of ocean and trees, sort of like Rhode Island and Vermont put together.”
And she enjoys the challenge of Maine’s topography. “Here you have all these cool islands and these trees and you still have the ocean and it’s great aesthetically,” she said. “I sort of stagnated in Vermont — I’d done mountainous, I’d done urban. Here it’s a whole other world, with this sea breeze. You have to deal with salt and 70 mph winds.”
Still, Littlefield said Maine is fortunate to have the climate it does. “We do generally have ample rainfall and we do have some mildness on the coast of Maine for the summer,” she said.
Littlefield’s week consists of consultations with clients, seeing what their needs are and what issues they’ve noticed. With new clients she asks what colors they like, what they envision, and what budget constraints they have, and then tailors their ideas to the landscape of Midcoast Maine.
She keeps a roll going so she knows what tasks need to be done — like seasonal pruning. “If you have a lilac you need to prune it right after it blooms,” she said. “Today we were cutting back blossoms that were spent, hoping to get a second bloom. Nature gives you a timeline and you just kind of go with it.”
“You can see how things evolve in a garden — it keeps me totally interested,” she said. “It’s just a constant, changing palette.”
While Littlefield said she likes the English garden designers like Penelope Hobhouse, her personal garden is not as orchestrated. She favors more of a permaculture approach using swathes of material, not quite as architectural.
“Meadows are fun,” she said. “Or fields. You could get some seeds and throw them in there, add some native plants, and develop it a little bit — that could be fun.”
Littlefield doesn’t recommend lupine, which is not native to Maine. While she acknowledges its beauty in bloom, she said that when the blooms are done, the plant turns black and unattractive. She recommends echinacea, also known as cone flower, and goldenrod. “Or any of the yarrows if you could get that show going.”
Winter is her downtime, although with several of her summer clients recently becoming year-round residents, she has become a little more focused on winter plantings.
Varieties of evergreens add interest to a snowy landscape. Grasses add height and form to a garden bed that has no blooms. There’s not much maintenance in winter, according to Littlefield, beyond perhaps some pruning while the trees are dormant.
She said she emerges from her recliner in March to start organizing her approach for the spring beds. She likes cooler colors in the spring — pinks, yellows, whites. The colors get hotter as the summer goes on and then oranges and rust colors arrive in the fall.
She plans around textures too and the varying shades of green that add dimension to a garden. “You want to put as much interest as you possibly can throughout the seasons,” she said.
Littlefield loves the glaucous tones — the pale grays and delicate blue-greens, the silvers that come out when the wind ruffles some of the ornamental grasses.
“We live on the ocean and it’s natural to reflect that,” she said. “In Vermont I’d use chartreuse quite a bit but I haven’t really wanted to use chartreuse here — we have all these silvers and blues.”
Littlefield said she is always experimenting with new material and keeping up with new cultivars. “There are always new hydrangeas, like 50 new hydrangeas every year, “she said.
One of the challenges she faces is that never knowing when things might bloom. But she has a strategy to address the problem. “You just have to design with that in mind and utilize the same color palette for a longer period of time,” she said. “You can’t radically change your color palette.”
“When I started gardening at 25 I was a very different gardener,” she said. “I had such arrogance. I thought I knew everything.” Now she advises those new to the hobby to go to a reputable nursery or have someone come and do a consultation. If starting small, just get a raised bed and put something in it to grow. “But if you want to do a whole landscape, get an expert. It’s good to have a humble approach,” she said.
Littlefield recalled a huge installation she once planned and implemented in the mountains of Vermont. “There was no maintenance contract and when I went back it was gone,” she said. “It was really sad to see all that work disappear because nobody had taken care of it.”
“You can’t ignore gardens,” she said.
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