Like a kid counting down to summer vacation, Julie Taylor draws Xs on her calendar to mark the days until Lilyfest. “This will be my fifth year at the festival,” says the Columbus resident. “The gardens are so stunning, and they look a little different every time I see them. It’s always exciting to get down there and see what kind of color is in bloom.”
For residents of the Hocking Hills and surrounding towns, Lilyfest (July 11–13) has carved its place into the list of anticipated local traditions. Started by schoolteachers Bruce and Bobbi Bishop in 1992, the first festival showcased the Bishops’ lily gardens and the works of just five artists. This year, Lilyfest hosts more than 70 artists and 12 musical acts, as well as a crop of Master Gardeners who are on hand to solve the gardening dilemmas of the nearly 8,000 enthusiasts like Taylor who dig a path to this three-day event every July.
And while Lilyfest has grown bigger and better with each incarnation over the past 16 years, its continued evolution is particularly apparent this year with the addition of two new areas that reflect Bobbi Bishop’s commitment to use their property as much for educational purposes as aesthetic ones. (Bruce Bishop passed away several years ago; a memorial garden on the property pays tribute to him.)
“We’re planning to have a butterfly house up,” says Bobbi Bishop, explaining that she and her steady crew of volunteers were building it themselves. “It will be a teaching center about the butterflies of Ohio. Right now, we’re trying to find the chrysalis,” she says. The house will be a screen-tented room filled with plants that Ohio’s native species favor. Bishop says the plan is to keep the house open for three months, so school groups can visit the house as well.
“We’re also planning to have a soil tunnel,” she says, which will be organized through the Hocking Soil and Water Conservation District, a local agency dedicated to facilitating conservation and development through the wise use of land, water and other related resources.
“The soil tunnel is a 10-by-10-foot tent that feels like you’re walking underground,” explains Rebecca Miller, Hocking SWCD education specialist. “It shows root growth, as well as how things like putting in a basement impacts the ground,” she says. The SWCD is particularly involved with Bishop’s property, since it helps to organize the various educational walks, programs for home schoolers and other events that are held on site throughout the year.
It’s a natural partnership for Bishop, who is in the process of donating all 36 of her acres to the Hocking SWCD. She expects the transaction to be completed by the end of this year.
“I want it preserved, but I want it used,” she says, adding that her property contains its fair share of the natural wonders, including craggy rock formations and interesting caves for which this area of the state is known. “Hopefully, there will be a point where we’ll have FFA kids managing the forest here,” she says.
Of course, there are plenty of other new things to experience, even for the most seasoned Lilyfest veterans. Tagged as a garden and arts festival, Bishop says four new Ohio artists have joined the ranks of the nearly 70 artisans and craftspeople selling their work. Among the tables of local and national artists, shoppers will find everything from garden art and glass pieces to paintings, carvings and birdhouses (for a sampling visit www.sculpturebyspirit.com
). Twelve musical acts — which generally favor traditional Appalachian and folk styles — offer background music while you browse, although Bishop says this year’s line-up has a small twist. “We’re adding an opera singer [soprano Susan Cheuvront] on Sunday,” she says.
Also added to Lilyfest is Hocking Hills resident Derrick Mills, aka the “apple guy” (profiled byOhio Magazine in 2005), who will have apple trees for sale. “Derrick is a wealth of information and an excellent teacher,” says Bishop. “We’re happy to have him here.”
Like other festivalgoers, Taylor says she comes armed with her camera and notebook, looking for inspiration from the property’s three acres of gardens (Bishop’s hydrangeas are known for
being showstoppers). The Master Gardener area offers a small respite for those who need help with their own gardens.
Mary Holl, Master Gardener and one of the nearly 100 volunteers who make the festival possible, says she gets a wide range of questions on techniques and tips for home gardens. Still, there are two that stand out as the most common: “[How] to get hydrangeas to bloom like Bobbi’s and how to keep the deer away,” she laughs.
For some visitors, however, there will really only ever be one star of this show. “I love seeing the sculptures and the garden art, but the lilies — they’re really my favorite part,” says Taylor, echoing the consensus of the informal parking lot survey we conducted among the license plates from California, Virginia, Michigan and beyond last year.
Bishop’s acres of daylilies, orientals and Asiatics, even amidst her bamboo trail, garden sculptures and the overall natural beauty of the property, continue to be the festival’s focal point. All signs indicate that they won’t disappoint in 2008. “We try to make sure there’s always something blooming,” says
Bishop. “Last year the daylilies bloomed a bit early,” she says. “But so far, they’re not as far along. Hopefully, we have good color in store for this year.”