REEDSVILLE — Chances are you’ve seen Clowns, Old Soldiers and, of course, Cheese Heads.
But how about Mother Teresa, Mrs. Franklin D. Roosevelt and the ever-elusive Great Caesar’s Ghost?
Well, now you can.
All of them are among the seemingly endless array of creatively named daylilies, peonies and true lilies at Solaris Farms, a family-owned nursery and American Hemerocallis (Daylilies) Society Display Garden in western Manitowoc County.
“This is an awesome place,” said Brenda Bartz, who for five straight years has made the nearly three-hour round-trip drive from her home in Shawano to browse the farm’s 8 acres of colorful, hybridized plants.
Her daughter, Kourtney Jones of Appleton, loves it as well, saying, “To have something like this in Wisconsin, I don’t know if everyone knows about it, but it’s very cool. That’s why we keep coming back.”
Whether they’re Welding the Titanic or Tranquilizing the Twerp, or even seeking out National Secrets or Catastrophic Events (all names of daylilies), visitors to Solaris Farms find perennials hybridized to produce many blooms and survive the rugged weather for decades in northern-tier locations like Wisconsin.
“I love to see new stuff that’s fantastic, out of this world, different than anything else,” said Nate Bremer, owner of Solaris Farms. “I love to see a plant that grows well, and I love to see people take joy in that — that’s very gratifying. It’s really the goal of any hybridizer. Yes, you want to grow it, but you also want people to appreciate it and realize there’s value in it.”
Nate and his wife, Kim, purchased the abandoned, century-old dairy farm in 1997. They lived in Neenah at the time, but “we really wanted to be out in the country,” he said. So the couple and their two young children, Ethan and Emma, moved to the Reedsville area.
What started out as a hobby soon evolved into a full-fledged business when Bremer saw the increasing demand for his product.
“There aren’t a lot of places like this in Wisconsin,” he said.
Cultivating hybridized plants is a labor of love for Bremer, who retired after teaching science for 31 years in Appleton. The job blends his passions for plant science and the outdoors.
“But it’s definitely a full-time job, there’s no doubt about that,” he said, sweat dripping from his brow on this particularly hot, humid summer day. “I’m retired from teaching, not from working.”
Hard work is the name of the game at Solaris Farms, which operates similar to other types of farms. It’s registered as an agriculture business with the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection. Bremer maintains a grower’s permit, and plant inspectors come out occasionally to analyze the plants.
And, like any other farm, Solaris Farms is susceptible to challenges presented by poor weather conditions (like this past winter), soil compaction (from the increasing numbers of visitors’ footsteps) and the constant removal of weeds.
Still, there aren’t many farms like Bremer’s, and there are even fewer worldwide that hybridize peonies. Business is still good for daylily growers, but it’s truly booming for peonies. A significant portion of those sales are handled online.
“There are a lot of peonies in development that people don’t even know about yet,” Bremer said. “And, people might not realize this is a little place in Wisconsin, but we are busy shipping all over the United States and the world.”
The most desirable peonies cost $300 to $400.
“This isn’t Walmart,” Bremer said. “These are quality plants specially hybridized, and people around the world are willing to pay for that,” in part because they also have use as cut flowers.
But don’t necessarily worry about sticker shock — many plants at Solaris Farms cost $6 to $15.
The farm opened for the season in early July and will close this year on Aug. 13. For a couple of weeks in mid-August, Bremer must devote his efforts to grafting tree peonies, which hopefully will be on the market after three years.
“In this business, you’re always keeping one eye on the present and one eye on the future,” Bremer said. “But it’s a great job. I really love it.”
If you go
What: Solaris Farms.
Where: 7510 Pinesva Road, Reedsville.
Hours: 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Wednesdays through Sundays (season closes this summer on Aug. 13).