Lyle E. Littlefield
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How fortunate it is for people doing research that the Bangor Daily News kindly posts old newspaper articles on their website.  It seemed like quite a challenge to find out about Lyle E. Littlefield, the man for whom the Ornamental Trial Gardens at the University of Maine was named, since he passed away in 1988, over twenty-five years ago. 

An article in the June 28, 1988, issue of the Bangor Daily News about the contributions of Lyle Littlefield provided some information about his contributions to the field of horticulture at the University.  According to the author, (whose name unfortunately was not cited), Professor Littlefield was an instructor at the University of Maine’s College of Life Sciences and Agriculture and an Extension Specialist in ornamental horticulture for thirty-nine years.  He was highly regarded for his down-to-earth pragmatic and welcoming ways by landscapers, nursery workers, greenhouse growers, and home gardeners.

In 1965, Professor Lyle E. Littlefield established the trial hardiness gardens at the University of Maine which proved to be such a boon to individuals interested in establishing successful landscaped gardens that could tolerate the harsh New England winters.  As the years passed by, impressive collections of crab apple trees, lilacs, and magnolias were planted in the gardens which constitute approximately four acres.  There is a lovely pond in the garden and birds and wildlife seem to frequently navigate to this verdant and peaceful location.

Littlefield and colleagues acquired various plant specimens from several arboretums around the country including the National Arboretum in Washington D.C. and the Arnold Arboretum in Boston.  Throughout the gardens there are paths, arbors,  benches, and beautiful hidden bowers that are made from tree boughs and twisted vines.  The peacefulness and natural beauty of this hillside garden invites students, staff, and the public to enjoy a stroll or a place for reflection.  The use policies of the garden can be found on the University’s website.

According to the Bangor Daily News article, Forrest Carmichael, a colleague of Professor Littlefield, also contributed greatly due to the expansion of the garden.  Professor Lyle Littlefield was honored as the 1982 recipient of the Edward D. Johnson Award for service to the industry by the Maine State Florist Association.  He also edited the newsletter of the Maine Nurserymen’s Association.

Representing Maine at President Lyndon Johnson’s White House Conference on Natural Beauty in 1965 was quite an honor for Professor Littlefield.  He also hosted a very popular television series called Gardeners’ Notebook that spanned thirty-nine weeks and was viewed on a national level.

In addition to the ornamental trial gardens, Professor Littlefield left several other legacies.  He was known throughout the Northeast as the “Dean of Horticulture.”  Because of the interest in developing a four-year degree program in landscape horticulture from Professor Littlefield, Professor James Swasey, and Professor William Mitchell, a BS degree in Landscape Horticulture was approved by the UMS Board of Trustees in 1984. After Professor Littlefield’s passing, a trust fund was established that annually awards the Lyle E. Littlefield Prize to an outstanding student in the Environmental Horticulture Program who has demonstrated a passion for horticulture.

Kevin Kearns, the Seedling Program Director at the Morrison Center in Scarborough and a well-known orchid expert, went to the University of Maine at Orono for his Bachelor of Science degree and had Professor Littlefield for numerous classes.  Lyle was Kevin’s advisor and Kevin recollected about how he did work-study jobs for him and helped in various research projects that he conducted.  Kearns also was a teaching assistant for him in his greenhouse crop production classes.  He shared that Lyle became a good friend and a mentor and that he “cherished his memories of him.”  Kevin also commented that he thought it was wonderful that the gardens were named after him.  He explained that originally the gardens were crabapple and magnolia based because Lyle was into breeding both and looking for new varieties that could grow in our Maine climate. Kearns described Professor Littlefield as a “horticultural generalist” because he was talented in many aspects of the field.  When Kevin came to Orono he had already earned an Associates degree in horticulture and had worked for some well-known industry companies such as Olgelvee and Bryfogle’s.  He concluded his email with these words:  “Lyle took me under his wing and gave me opportunities I was able to run with.  Great, to feature him in some way as he was the ‘go to person’ in the plant industry for most of his career.”

This photo of Lyle E. Littlefield appeared in the “UM Gardens Labor of Love for Professor” article in the June 28, 1988, issue of the Bangor Daily News.  The photo was taken by Jack Walas and kindly shared with the permission of Brian Feulner.