Five years ago, Daniel Greiner and his spouse, Michael Crowley bought a dilapidated, 150-year-old Victorian-style house resting on three acres in a small Michigan farming community. Working as a departmental technician for Michigan Department of Treasury, most of his colleagues would be surprised to learn that Dan has the creative abilities of both artist and architect and a nurturing nature for plants, animals, and people-in-need.
Dan and his extraordinary flower gardens were recently featured with a full-color page in Great Lakes Daylily Magazine (p. 28). He is also a popular speaker at statewide horticulture conferences, conducts fundraiser garden tours on his property for local non-profits, ethically raises seven breeds of heritage chickens, cultivates and releases silk moths to rebuild the natural population, tends to 400 houseplants, and during the winter, competitively shows his nine, AKC long-haired dachshunds.
It’s a little like discovering the quiet guy working in the cubicle next to you is actually a Marvel Avenger. (Anyone who can keep 400 houseplants alive definitely qualifies as one of “earth’s mightiest heroes”!)
“My background is in horticulture and agriculture science,” explains Dan. “I originally went to Michigan State University to study and was hoping to work in plant breeding and development, focusing on ornamentals or food crop production.”
Realizing the job market was primarily centered in the middle belt states, Dan redirected his skills to the automotive field and eventually, to the Michigan Department of Treasury.
Purchasing the old house in Mulliken was Dan’s first step back toward his original passion for plants. The property was overgrown with pine trees and almost all were affected by a fungus commonly called ‘Needle Drop’. Once the 40 diseased trees were removed, the acreage opened itself up to Daniel’s garden artistry.
“It was like an empty palette for me to paint on,” enthuses Dan. “Prior to buying the house, I lived in a Lansing condo and was known for the garden I kept in front. But when I moved out here, it was like someone let me out of a cage! The garden just evolved; I never imagined it being what it is today.”
Dan and Michael’s house was built in the 1870s and sits quite close to the highway. Before cars, especially in rural areas, homeowners wanted to be near the road so they could get news and information from people driving by in their wagons or buggies. Dan knew he wanted to really dress up the front of the house to elevate and enhance its historical importance after its years of neglect, so he first created a very big garden that surrounded the entire house…and people started to notice.
“We live right off of M-43 and we’ve had people stop to look or put a note in our mailbox,” comments Dan. “One person who didn’t know us posted on the community Facebook page to thank us for the beautification. Another person added that she commutes from Mulliken into Grand Rapids, and she doesn’t particularly love her job but driving by our property was the highlight of her day. I was kind of blown away by that because you just don’t realize that what you’re doing has an impact on other people.”
MAKING AN IMPACT
From a garden surrounding his house to an immersive garden and orchard encompassing three acres, Dan works his magic without a plan. His designs are whimsical and wandering, and all of the plant beds layer each other so it appears like one gigantic garden, lush with color and layered with textures.
Shining among Dan’s perennials, hanging baskets and exotic plants are his famously gorgeous showstoppers: the daylilies.
“I avoided daylilies for a long time,” Dan admits. “I had this mindset that daylilies were cheap, trashy plants that only grew well in the South. I had no idea of their many different forms and shapes. They were truly the glamorous ‘missing link’ in my garden and have really amped up the color.
“And that’s the thing about gardening,” he adds reflectively. “You never perfect it. It’s always something that you grow and adapt and change — that’s how you get better and how you get to that next level.”
Sometimes that next level is a koi pond! Due to neglect, the barn on the property had to be torn down for insurance purposes and Dan and Michael were left with a lot of concrete from its foundation. Remediation to remove it all was many thousands of dollars, so instead Dan repurposed the concrete as a base for raised gardens and for a large patio complex. Since it was an old, Amish-built barn, they were able to excavate all the field stone used in the foundation and create a koi pond that Dan built and installed.
Three years after creating “Limberlost Gardens” Dan and Michael began to offer fundraiser garden tours. Living in a small rural town just outside of Grand Ledge, they were surprised to attract visitors from all over Michigan. The first fundraiser garden tour supported Eaton County parks and was a huge success. Last year, the couple was concerned about the rising cost of food for struggling community members, so they raised a little over $2,000 during a five-hour garden tour and raffle for a local food bank.
This summer, Dan’s gardens have been included on the regional pro-circuit tour for avid daylily gardeners from five states. Other gardens on the tour are three times as old as Limberlost and boast double the number of Dan’s 500 named varieties, but what Dan grows is spectacular.
“My aesthetic is very colorful,” he says simply.
Reporting to the office twice a week, Dan works from home the other three days (with the advantage of a five-star garden view). At the end of a remote workday he clocks out, closes his email, and gets his garden clothes on. He is very grateful for a remote work option and for the extra hour it gives him to get outside or give back to his community — or even share his skill with an interested gardening newbie.
People express shock that Dan opens up his private property to fundraiser tours because gardeners can be notoriously guarded about their flower varieties and designs.
“I’ve been involved in so many different types of hobbies where other people refused to share information or who weren’t very nurturing to me,” he says. “I just remember thinking to myself, if I ever get to a point where I can mentor or help someone else, I most certainly will do so!”
Dan has offered to establish a ‘Gardening & Horticulture’ group for his co-workers at Treasury. He envisions information sharing between beginning and advanced gardeners, and a newsletter that covers everything from vegetable gardening tips to indoor house plants.
GARDENING AS A GIFT
Growing up, Dan was a keen naturalist, spending hours out in the woods near his home in Stockbridge, Michigan. He was fascinated by everything in nature, and especially loved collecting insects. Dan describes himself as ‘that kid who would always go too far’ with his hobbies and his parents were unable to understand or support his deep curiosity.
“I was just obsessed with nature,” Dan recounts. “And as I’ve gotten older I’ve realized what a gift that is, and I’ve learned that gardening is my coping tool to help deal with stress and anxiety. I know my gardening comes across to other people as very intense but in a way it mirrors the intensity of what I’ve gone through, and it’s a beautiful byproduct of some challenging times. Working with plants is healthy and rewarding — and has a positive effect on everyone else, too.
“One of the things I love about gardening and horticulture is that when people are talking about plants, there isn’t this concern about race, ethnicity, or politics. None of that is discussed, none of that matters. It all just seems to melt away and people are immersed in the deep commonality of loving plants or enjoying flowers or connecting with nature.”
Late summer, it’s golden hour in Limberlost Gardens and the evening sun shoots angled beams across the flowers, highlighting their beauty. Temperatures are cooling, moisture condenses, you can smell the earth and the green, and as you walk with your spouse, three frisky dachshunds trot just ahead of your feet. Everything is magical and if you’re Daniel Greiner, you know that magic grows from heart and spirit and that your own touch (not Avenger superpowers!) has brought this garden to life. ~
[Images courtesy of Dan Greiner]