May 28, 2017

Drifting Away on the Scent of Spring

Crabapple blossoms at Littlefield garden at the University of Maine

Janine Pineo Photo | Crabapple blossoms at Littlefield garden at the University of Maine

Note to Readers: Puttering Around is a new feature on Garden Maine. It is the place where Janine waxes on about things when the mood strikes.

Magnolia 'Elizabeth' at Littlefield garden at the University of Maine

Janine Pineo Photo | Magnolia ‘Elizabeth’ at Littlefield garden at the University of Maine

• By Janine Pineo •

The clouds in the sky all day Friday kept spitting water, but it wasn’t enough to deter me from heading to Orono for a stroll in a hidden paradise.

And to buy plants.

The gate at the South Entrance to Littlefield garden at the University of Maine

Janine Pineo Photo | The gate at the South Entrance to Littlefield garden at the University of Maine

As I parked my car on the University of Maine campus near the credit union building, my eyes were dazzled with the explosion of color. When I opened the door, my nose was assailed by the sweetest perfume wafting across the parking lot and wrapping me in what humans can never achieve in a bottle: the scent of Spring.

My destination Friday afternoon was the Black Bear Beauties Plant Sale, an annual event at the university with plants grown by students and faculty in the Environmental Horticulture program.

A fothergilla at Littlefield garden on the University of Maine

Janine Pineo Photo | A fothergilla at Littlefield garden on the University of Maine

Its locale is the oft-overlooked gem at the top of the campus: the Lyle E. Littlefield Ornamental Trials Garden.

Don’t let that name fool you. The garden may be the test spot for ornamentals, but the established plantings make it a divine piece of land since some of the ornamentals have been there since the 1960s.

I never visited the garden when I was a student. It was in the back 40, so to speak, and I never had time to wander up there. Of course, by the time school ended each May, the garden was just starting to get going, but the truth is that the land went a bit wild and restoration only started the year I graduated, in 1989.

One of the many lilacs, which are just starting to blossom

Janine Pineo Photo | One of the many lilacs, which are just starting to blossom

The work is obvious in the well-tended beds. Plants sprawl happily about, flowing from one to the other and creating nooks and crannies just waiting for visitors. From the stunning crabapple allee – an absolute must-see right now – to the magnolias to the massive lilacs, the garden is in furious bloom at this moment.

The scent of Spring are those three species at Littlefield. It is indescribable, but I will try: sweet, light, fresh. The notes change as you meander about, more lilac as you near a blooming bush, a bit of spice as you stand beneath a crabapple that is dripping with flowers.

After I took several score of photos, I headed for the center of the garden where the plant sale was under way. I looked at the carefully potted plants, found a couple I wanted and then spoke with Stephanie Burnett, one of the UM faculty and the ringmaster for the Beauties sale. We got talking about native plants, one of which I nabbed for myself. She said she always tries to have a new native each year to help people add them to their gardens.

For that I am thankful. Sources for native Maine plants can be next to impossible to find. This year’s offering is Actaea pachypoda, which you can read about here.

We talked a wee bit about the students, who always come up with interesting displays for the Bangor garden show, and then I admitted feeling badly about not coming more often to visit Littlefield, stating that I really must make it this year when the peonies are in bloom.

Stephanie told me not to feel badly. She said she had missed the peak of the magnolias and she works right on campus.

So if you get the chance, head to Orono this weekend and soak up some beautiful plants. Smell the scent of spring.

And buy some plants to take home with you.

The Black Bear Beauties Plant Sale continues Saturday and Sunday. Read times here.