Although he’s hung up his gloves as an Emeritus Ohio Master Gardener, Charlie Harper has continued to promote the benefits and interests available through gardening.
He is now serving as president of Region Two of the American Daylily Society. District 2 is one of 15 geographic regions in the world. Each region represents an appropriate climate for their daylily cultivars. Region Two includes Ohio, Indiana, Michigan, Wisconsin and Illinois.
He is also vice president of the local Black Swamp Hosta and Daylily Society. The purpose of both groups is to encourage people to join in the member’s love of the many varieties of hostas and daylillies.
His most-noted contribution to the Bowling Green gardening community was his assist with developing the Simpson Garden Park on Conneaut Avenue.
Harper said quite a bit of his involvement was serendipitous. He explained that once he retired 20 years ago. He and his wife Dr. Carol Harper had moved back to their home town of Bowling Green, and he knew he wanted to expand his interest in gardening so signed up for Master Gardener training over at the Toledo Botanical Gardens.
“Coincidentally, it was just when I finished my Master Gardener classwork that the Simpson Gardens was being established,” he said. “A whole bunch of us Master Gardeners sort of adopted that as a project and spent four or five years helping design it, select the plants for it, planting the plants and care for the gardens in the eleven acres of land available.
“When I started volunteering in the area, there wasn’t much doing in Bowling Green, but when Simpson Gardens started up, it was like a big magnet that drew all the local people here.”
“The main thing that I did out in the garden was establish the Daylily Walk along the main walk from the parking lot leading toward the back of the garden,” he said.
Harper estimates around 400 or 500 hundred varieties are in place there. Worldwide, he said there are around 90,000 varieties of registered daylillies.
What he likes about daylillies is that they are very low maintenance, very reliable and productive in their flowering.
“Although each bloom only lasts for one day, they turn out twenty or more blossoms,” Harper said. “Different cultivars bloom at the different times of the growing season and so you can have blooms the entire summer. Also, since they are perennials, they come up every year.”
He said his interest in gardening began at home in his youth.
“My mother and father used to plant a big garden of annuals every year and I really liked that,” he said. “When I got a place of my own, I started to do some gardening, too.
After obtaining his bachelor’s degree at Bowling Green State University, master’s degree at the University of Southern California and doctorate in zoology at the University of Southern Florida, he was hired by Bechtel, an engineering construction management company. Over the course of his career, Harper has traveled the world and carried his love of gardening where ever he went.
For example, he said while stationed in San Francisco, he found that nearby Walnut Creek, California, was a beautiful place to garden. It was during his assignments in Houston and London that he became interested in hostas and daylillies. Although he said apartment living in Beijing China allowed no room for gardening, during his sojourn in Jubail, Saudi Arabia, he had a garden primarily composed of tropical plants.
For those who would like to begin to develop an interest in gardening, he suggested joining Master Gardeners.
“Training takes a month and a half, twice a week. It’s not like a college course, but instead is taught by guest speakers in specific subject areas.”
He said the course opens a world to budding gardeners.
“The idea is not to turn everybody into plant Einsteins, but to turn everybody into an excited and knowledgeable group of people who are aware what makes plants grow and not grow, pest control, etc., so that they know how to be successful,” Harper said. “You become more aware of plants, and their beauty. You also learn about sources of plants when they would like to have different varieties in their own gardens.”
Although not a breeder of daylillies himself, he is nationally known in daylily circles and has been honored three times with having new daylillies named for him. They are “Charlie Harper Is Bizarre,” “Dr. Charles Harper” and “My Friend Charlie.”
“These names are meaningful to me because they reflect the close bonds among friends,” Harper said.
His efforts have been recognized twice by the North American Hemerocallis Society. His article, “A Feast for the Eyes, The Harper AHS Garden,” appeared in the fall 2018 edition of the “Great Lakes Daylily,” Region 2’s newsletter. In 2005 he was honored with a plaque from the Bowling Green Parks and Recreation with their Spirit of the Foundation award for his leadership in creating Simpson Garden Park.
Simpson Garden Park is 11 acres of rolling gardens in the middle of an urban landscape with a Children’s Sensory Garden, Japanese Gardens, Hosta Garden, Daylilly Garden, water features and sculptures throughout. The focus of the garden park is a display of plants that grow well in the local climate and an education on the role plants play in the web of life.