When Nancy Austin of Yarmouth saw Kathleen Carr Bailey driving her Finishing Touches landscaping truck a decade ago, Austin stumbled on the answer to a question she’d been asking herself: what to do with the house with seven gardens that she and her partner had just purchased.

She’d also added a new wrinkle to Bailey’s career.

Austin had never had a flower garden, didn’t know which plants were weeds and which were flowers, knew she needed help, and liked the fact that the landscaper was female. So she telephoned Bailey.

“I told her (that) what I wanted her to do was show me what to do,” Austin recalled. “I wanted to work by her side as she was doing it, so I would know what to do. And she said to me, ‘So you want me to work myself out of a job?’ And I said, ‘Right.’ ”

The arrangement worked for both of them. They spent three years working in the garden together, with Austin’s partner, Dick, working with them on occasion. After three years, Austin felt confident in tending the gardens herself.

Working with Austin and her partner turned out so well that Bailey added “garden coach” to the services offered by Finishing Touches.

“People have lifestyle coaches, nutrition coaches and fitness coaches,” Bailey said, “so why not a gardening coach?”

Austin’s partner has since died, but as a result of her work with Bailey, she said she feels confident tackling any task in the garden (that said, she recently mowed over one garden because she no longer had time to tend it).

Karen Porterfield of Scarborough, who works as Mrs. Greenjeans, had a gardening coach long before she became one. She took Master Gardener courses in Penobscot County and became certified, and then bought some plants to put in what she called a proper flower garden.

“Despite the Master Gardener courses, I was overwhelmed,” she said.

She called John O’Keefe at Rocky Ridge Perennials (it has since gone out of business). O’Keefe came to her home, laid out gardens with hoses and placed some plants. She started planting herself, but kept O’Keefe on speed-dial as long as she owned that house.

Eventually she moved to Scarborough, gave up her high-stress job, worked at O’Donal’s Nursery, had a son diagnosed with autism, got divorced and decided she needed a job with a more flexible schedule – so she became Mrs. Greenjeans.

Coaching is only about 20 percent of her business, Porterfield said, but it is her favorite part. The remaining 80 percent is taking care of other people’s gardens.

“I have one client who wanted a garden for her 9th birthday,” Porterfield said. “So her parents contacted me. Olivia comes out when I show up and she works side by side with me, and I quiz her on what we’re doing.”


Finding a garden coach in Maine can be tough. There is a national garden-coach group, but it doesn’t list any Maine coaches on its website. A Google search for garden coaches in Maine didn’t turn up a single coach.

Porterfield said she gets almost all of her contacts by word-of-mouth. Bailey has a website and also gets clients through the classes she teaches at Skillins Greenhouses in Falmouth or through referrals from other garden centers. I learned that she does garden coaching several years ago when I was chatting with her at the Portland Flower Show.

Hiring a garden coach isn’t cheap. Bailey generally charges $75 for the initial consultation, then $50 an hour when she is coaching – although the price varies depending on how much physical work is involved.

She said her clients often have an intellectual understanding of what they need to do, but get stage fright when faced with an actual plant. When she is coaching (as opposed to teaching), Bailey can offer instruction while the garden work is actually being done.

Still, if coaching will set you back some, remember that it costs less than hiring a landscaper. That’s because much of what a landscaper does is grunt labor – digging holes or spreading mulch. Under the guidance of a coach, the homeowner can take care of those tasks, as well as more complicated projects, like pulling weeds or pruning. Having a landscaper do these jobs is a bit like hiring a surgeon to cut your toenails.

If you’re looking for a garden coach, I suggest you contact a local, and locally owned, garden center or nursery, and ask for recommendations. Also, if you see a landscaper working in your neighborhood – and not just someone who mows lawns – find out if they consult or coach on the side.

Portland resident Ann Deutsch found Bailey through her work at Skillins. Deutsch had received an estimate for installing a garden at her home that she thought expensive. “She (Bailey) made some suggestions that I liked, and we worked together pretty much,” Deutsch said. “Her recommendations turned out to be wonderful, and I am really happy with the results.”


Sometimes, the job of a coach isn’t teaching would-be gardeners what to do, but rather what not to do. Porterfield said her job often entails talking people out of ideas they have for their garden.

“They have these grandiose plans,” she said, “and I ask them how they are going to find time to take care of it.”

She admits that she is willing to do garden maintenance as part of her gardening service; still, she does want her clients to know what they are getting into.

Personally, once I finally figure out gardening, if I ever do, I’m getting a lifestyle coach.

Tom Atwell has been writing the Maine Gardener column since 2004. He is a freelance writer gardening in Cape Elizabeth and can be contacted at 767-2297 or at:

[email protected]