Attendees to the 2022 Lilyfest mill about under a canopy of trees at the Bishop Educational Gardens.
Attendees to the 2022 Lilyfest mill about under a canopy of trees at the Bishop Educational Gardens. [Payton Szymczak | WOUB] 

Lilyfest welcomed large crowds and balmy weather for 2022 event

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ROCKBRIDGE, Ohio (WOUB) — Every year thousands of people migrate to a wooded area at the Bishop Educational Gardens to celebrate the beauty of art and flowers at Lilyfest, claiming this particular weekend is unique compared to others.

It all started with a little pottery sale in Worthington. Back in the early ’90s, Bruce and Bobbi Bishop started working with gardens in Rockbridge, and it sparked an idea to move the sale down there. It’s grown ever since.

“It was just our friends that we would invite,” Bobbi Bishop, the festival organizer, said. “One year, one of our friends put it in the Logan Daily newspaper. We had 1,500 people that year.”

The small sale turned into a festival drawing an average of 5,000 people annually, although the pandemic dragged the numbers down. Even though a few vendors dropped out due to the pandemic this year, the visitation rate is close to normal again.

“It’s already bigger than last year,” Bishop said. “We had 1,800 and some yesterday.”

Bishop was excited about the new music the festival had to offer this year, and a recently cleared area of trees that allowed more sunlight for a greenhouse. What Bishop was most excited about was this year’s flowers, considering the deer ate them all last year.

Children are highlighted at the event. Face painting was a hit, along with the fairy gardens dispersed throughout the site. Rebecca Miller, one of the event’s organizers, said there were brand new events for kids this year.

“We have a Forest Friends trail,” Miller said. “We converted a section of the trail for kids just to be kids in nature.”

It takes a village to put on the event. Volunteers come out every year and Bishop makes sure they are taken care of.

“We have a dinner for them afterwards,” Bishop said. “They can all come back and not have to work.”

Not only do Bishop and Miller appreciate the relaxation the festival offers, but so do the visitors. Returning visitors Julie and Scott McMiller said this was their 10th time coming.

“It kind of stays the same, and that’s what we like about it,” Julie McMiller said. “The lotus pond, the bull frogs singing, the music, the artists.”

Not only do the McMillers enjoy celebrating the beauty of the gardens, but they enjoy perusing through the more than 60 vendors scattered along the path. They were especially fond of the baskets made of pine needles, and the new wood carver they bought.

Lilyfest gives off an aura that not too many festivals have to offer, according to visitors. Cale Burke, executive director of the Southeast Ohio Hope Center, said that one of his favorite parts of the event is the fellowship.

“It’s a mellow vibe,” Burke said. “No one’s angry, everyone’s in a good mood, people walk by and they’re smiling and saying hello. That’s the thing I like most about it.”

The new experiences for him, like throwing axes in the Viking village, were appealing. He appreciates the wonders of nature available.

“I’ve never had the opportunity to be out in the woods. I’m from Columbus,” he said. “I’m a city kid. I grew up in apartments.”

Lilyfest annually draws back returning visitors, and Miller said it’s almost like a small family. For both Bishop and Miller, it’s not just about the weekend festivities – it’s a lot of hard work to pull it all together, considering the entirety of the property comprises 36 acres. Miller said the experience would not be possible without the volunteers, and the group of returning helpers are appreciated.

The Bishop Educational Gardens serves communities beyond the festival visitors. Youth programs are offered throughout the year. Field trips, hikes, and camps are available for children.

The gardens are located in Rockbridge and can be reached at 740-385-3016.