WRITER | LISA BECKER CAMPBELL
PHOTO | BETSIE RIVER CENTENNIAL LILY FARM
Treasure in the Grand Traverse Region
A peaceful garden retreat lies just 35 miles southwest of Traverse City: The Betsie River Centennial Lily Farm. A loveliness permeates the 76-acre property, both amid the rows of colorful daylilies and in the persona of its colorful caretakers.
Dianna Rau is the fourth generation to work this officially designated Centennial Farm, which has been in her family since 1873. Today, she and Don, her husband of nearly 50 years, grow three acres of the namesake lilies and welcome the public to stroll among them and purchase their favorites.
Of more than 1,000 varieties, many have been cultivated by Rau, who earned her Advanced Master Gardener Certificate from Michigan State University. She has hybridized hundreds of lilies and has had nearly 50 registered in the US.
“After I learned how to hybridize lilies I ‘went a little crazy’ pollinating,” Rau divulged.
She opened the Farm to the public in 2003 and today welcomes busloads of people from all over the country who marvel at the colors and the peaceful surroundings. The peak time to visit is mid-July, but lilies bloom from May through September.
Offerings include early-, mid-, and late-bloomers as well as rebloomers in all sorts of varieties. The farm does not offer shipping but will dig the selected plants for visitors to take home for a nominal fee.
Lilies are beloved by gardeners everywhere because of their elegance and hardiness. They are drought-tolerant and can go six weeks without water, taking a toll but not dying. Once they are established, they require little attention and are close to indestructible. For these reasons, Rau advocates planting lilies for anyone – new gardeners to old, even people who have little time for gardening. If the farm’s plants can survive in Northern Michigan, they can survive anywhere.
“Come with a camera and comfortable shoes,” Rau advises. “The only requirements of visitors are a love of flowers and art.”
The art that populates the farm has been created by Don, a nationally recognized sculptor working in steel and glass. He also makes garden-related art and products for sale in the studio.
Whimsical bottle trees have “grown” over the years, among groves of blueberries and grapes and the woods that surround the Bestie River as it meanders through the property. The farm also boasts a barn built in 1890 by the son-in-law of the original owner and a garden gazebo sculpted from an antique corn crib. The gazebo invites visitors to rest and relax amid the beautiful surroundings, which include several third- and fourth-generation hybrid flowers, many of which are one of a kind.
Hybridizing is a lot of work and waiting, according to Rau, because it takes three years before you even see a flower. The second blooming year determines whether a plant is a success or a failure. Also, any new variety they intend to introduce must be allowed to flower for a few years before being made available to the public. Approximately 1,000 new cultivars are registered each year, according to the American Horticultural Society.
“When we are running around with big smiles on our faces and appear to be nuts, it’s because we’ve just seen a new flower for the first time,” states Rau.
Rau’s goals include creating unique color combinations and ruffled edges that match the center eye in each flower. She describes her most recent favorite as “tangerine with yellow ruffled edges.”
She’s also striving to cultivate plants with a heavy bud count so that the flowers bloom for a longer time, despite the fact that each bud lasts only 24 hours – thus the name daylily. The plant’s Latin name is Hemerocallis, hemero meaning “one day,” and callis meaning “beauty.”
Last summer, Rau was delighted to have achieved something she’d never accomplished before: to create “doubles,” where additional petals or a second flower replaces the plant’s pistol and stamens. This process extends the duration and scent of the blossom and is common in plants such as peonies. Her experiments will continue this summer, and only the coming years will prove whether this experiment is successful.
“This has been a wonderful experience,” states Rau, who just turned 70 and is a three-time cancer survivor. She appreciates the beauty at the farm every day. She radiates this appreciation by keeping a lovely smile on her face and making every day count – gestures that remind us that our lives, like the daylilies, are beautiful, fleeting, and to be treasured.
Betsie River Centennial Lily Farm
17745 Moore Road, Thompsonville
Open mid-May through Labor Day.
Retail Farm Hours are Wed-Sat from 10:00 – 5:00. Closed Sun – Tues, except for groups.