A RETIRED DAIRY FARMER’S D
Willowlann Gardens offers a place to buy and sell
It’s a calm and beautiful day at Willowlann Gardens. The birds sing loudly in the trees overhanging the small, Amishbuilt shop filled to the brim with items to sell. Making a 360-degree circle, one can see the hobby farm the shop is located on is surrounded on all sides by a gorgeous view of the countryside: a landmark of a mound directly north and sprawling forests and farmland everywhere else.
“We are here next to the big south mound, which the locals call Walten’s Mountain,” said Marianne Hermann, owner of Willowlann Gardens LLC. “It’s a landmark; you can spot this thing a long ways away. It’s really just gorgeous in the fall, like a peacock. We’re kind of at home in the middle of nowhere.”
Located at W8627 26th Road south of Willard, Willowlann Gardens is indeed in the middle of nowhere. But like all things that are hidden away, there are treasures to be found and talents to be revealed.
Hermann enjoys finding both. A former organic dairy farmer who raised registered milking shorthorn outside of Neillsville before moving to her new home with her husband Fran, Hermann has a passion for finding things and sharing them with others.
“We’ve lived here for six years,” she said. “We’re retired dairy farmers, we were organic farmers for 20 years, worked with Organic Valley with registered milking shorthorn cattle. They were grazers, all grass-fed dairy. Now we have a 20-acre hobby farm.”
Take, for instance, her love of antiques. All throughout her life, Hermann said she has enjoyed collecting them. As they worked in the dairy industry and moved from place to place, she said she spent a lot of time traveling to flea markets and other antique stops to find items that would attract her interest.
“I have a lot of old stuff that I have collected over the years,” she said. “I was always into antiques. As a teen, I would go to flea markets and collect stuff. I would use it to decorate my property.”
As the years have gone by, the amount of antiques Hermann has stored up has grown, inspiring her to open up a little shop on their property in order to share her trove of unique items. With her husband’s consent, the small store was built last fall.
“We just opened up last September,” she said. “I had talked to my husband to maybe set up a shop, we have a lot of stuff.”
While antiques were the start, Hermann soon began to incorporate other things into her store, things she had a skill and interest in. With her background in organic farming, she began to raise crops in a large garden on the property. She also took on other projects, trying to give her customers exactly what they were looking for.
“I have a big garden where I grow organic vegetables,” she said. “We put in an orchard of eight different kinds of apple trees, cherries and domestic plum. I’ll do floral arrangements if I know there’s an interest, greeting cards, last minute gifts. We’ll find something that will be perfect. I need folks to tell me what they want, I would do anything for them.”
But Hermann didn’t stop there. Looking around the area, she saw that there were many people who had special talents and skills that simply weren’t getting noticed. With her little shop, though, she knew they could finally have a voice.
“Everyone is welcome (to sell items at Willowlann Gardens),” she said. “Mennonites, Amish and English like you and I. One of the ideas of the store is that it’s not just us, we help the community. There’s so many talented people, but they have no way to show off their talent.”
In total, Hermann said she has about 15 different people who make items and consign them to her store to sell. Walking around the crowded little shop, she knows them all. The Mennonite woman who makes baby bonnets. A pair of young girls who make wooden signs. A neighbor who paints decorative plates. Another who knits handbags. Each one brings something special to her store.
“There’s so much stuff here, collectors items, glassworks, antiques. I do organic teas and mints, all kinds of different things,” she said. “It’s all local, not a Walmart.”
The icing on the cake, though, is simply the natural beauty of the place, Hermman said.
“It’s really peaceful out here. There’s lots of wildlife,” she said. “I enjoy it, most people come here, they become very relaxed, they sit on the benches and talk, getting away from the humdrum. I know people love it here, they let their kids run around and play and run.”
Though Hermann is very proud of what she has been able to accomplish in the few short months since they opened, she said there are always challenges. Their location away from town can make it a challenge to spread the word on the nice things they have. Space is another issue, as she knows there are many other people out there who want to show off what they can do, but her little shop just doesn’t have the room for it.
“Starting a business can be hard, it is rather difficult to find the place, but people like to go on Sunday drives,” she said. “There’s lots of consigners, but I only have so much room in the store.”
Eventually, Hermann said she hopes to solve both of her problems, sharing what right now is only a dream. In it, she envisions another small store connected by a boardwalk to her current one. Her barn on the opposite side of the driveway — which once used to be the local schoolhouse — she wants to transform into a museum. With work and patience, maybe the day will arrive soon.
“I want this to be a peaceful place,” she said. “You’re welcome to come anytime, even just to visit. I’m thinking of expanding in the future as things allow. Add another building, make it look like an old town and connect them with a boardwalk like they were in the old days.”