State budgets and daylilies mix just fine


Higher Fire is a daylily grown at Along the Fence Daylilies in Dansville, Michigan. Image: Saundra Dunn

By Stephanie Rauhe

On Parman Road in Dansville, Michigan, is a hidden oasis of beauty called Along The Fence Daylilies. A flower farm run by Saundra Dunn and Mary Ann Cleary, this acre is home to around 12,000 plants.

The farm, southeast of Lansing, was founded in 2008 when Dunn attended a class about photographing daylilies. She had long pondered opening a daylily farm, and Dunn and Cleary already had around 400 daylilies on their land. Dunn happened to meet a woman selling her daylilies, but this gardener had different flowers.

“We both love flowers and farms,” said Cleary, a high-level state agency head by day. “One thing led to the next and we purchased her collection and started a farm.”

Mary Ann Cleary, left, the director of the House Fiscal Agency, and Saundra Dunn, a retired school psychologist, own a daylily farm in Dansville. IMAGE: Daundra Dunn

Cleary and Dunn’s families help them run the farm, but what began as a small business evolved into something larger. Cleary said their goal is to employ high school and college students to work at the farm, but the priority is family.

“I would define us as a family-owned and operated farm,” said Dunn, a retired school psychologist. “The majority of people who work here are family members. We just happen to have a lot of nieces and nephews.”

During the peak of COVID in 2020-21, while other businesses were declining and closing, the farm experienced the exact opposite.

“Those two summers were the busiest we’ve ever been,” Dunn said. “The farm was outdoors and gardening became a big thing during that time.”

Pre-COVID, a majority of the customers were older and had more time on their hands to spend gardening. During those years, the farm saw an increase in young families and their children.

Along The Fence has more to offer visitors than just daylilies, including horses, dogs and cats.

While parents walked the rows of daylilies, kids were in the barn playing with the animals. Dunn said the horses love people and stand by the fence to see the kids.

The daylily season runs from July to August, which works perfectly for Cleary’s job schedule. She is the director of the nonpartisan House Fiscal Agency, which analyzes state budget and tax issues for the state House of Representatives.

“On any given day I can run into someone in the elevator or at the [state] Capitol and end up talking about budgets or daylilies,” Cleary said. “Both are enjoyable.”

The busy budget-making season ends just in time for Cleary to step back into her farm role and prepare for the bustling crowds.

Along The Fence has participated in the farmers market at the Capitol with a booth of daylilies for sale. Cleary’s two worlds intersect, as many state employees visit the market.

Incredible Ada is a purple daylily grown at Along the Fence Daylilies in Dansville, Michigan: Image: Saundra Dunn

The farm was also a tour stop at the 2023 American Daylily Society – Region 2 Summer Meeting, where busloads of enthusiasts traveled around central Michigan visiting farms.

Dunn said she never expected the farm to become as popular as it is, but she isn’t complaining.

“We have three main goals for the farm, and one of them is to provide a respite in people’s busy lives,” Dunn said. “I want to offer this peaceful experience to other people.”

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