Just Do You spotlights Chris Daniel

June 15, 2011 – Chris Daniel zips around campus in a white pick-up truck, plugging leaks and putting out small fires. The affable, silver haired, Warner Robins resident is a plant operations grounds maintenance supervisor; but the lines of his responsibilities blur daily. One minute, he’s peering over the shoulders of the Huntington Hall construction crew making sure they don’t drill underground pipes. Hours later, he shows up on the back end of campus to help fuse a busted gas line. “Chris is a multi-use team player who I depend on to always go the extra mile,” says Associate Vice President and Director of Plant Operations Dwayne Crew. “He practically lives on campus,” Crew added.

The University of Georgia graduate majored in landscape architecture. When he came to Fort Valley State 28 years ago, the plan was to use the opportunity as a stepping-stone to another position. Instead, the easy-going, 56-year-old employee planted his roots deep in Wildcat Country and never looked back. He is a “jack of many trades”, but remains a master architect of all things green and keeps the grounds and plants blooming in brilliant colors. Daniels designed the Betty Jean Rivers Camellia Garden located on FVSU’s main campus and he’s currently creating a new structure where Wildcats can relax at the corner of Rayfield Wright Street and State University Drive.

What brought you to Fort Valley State?
I was working for a private company and was looking for something better. I saw a job ad in 1983. I had some experience in every area they asked for – greenhouse experience, grounds maintenance and landscape design. I had everything they wanted, so I said “Shoot, I might as well go apply for that.” I didn’t think I’d be here this long; but I like working in the same area. When you’ve been some place a while, you understand it much better. You can do a better job.

What do you enjoy most about your work (although this really doesn’t seem like work to you)?
I enjoy seeing the plants grow and bloom. The work changes through the seasons and the grounds change through the seasons.

What are you doing to make sure the scrubbery and plants on campus remain green?
With this drought we’re having, everything is not green; but, with some water, it’ll all come back. I’m most concerned about the scrubbery and trees. If the grass gets rain, it’ll come back. It’s durable enough. If the drought continues for a couple more months, we’ll really be in trouble.

Are there any special trees or plants on campus?
The largest, oldest tree on campus is in front of Ohio Hall. It’s 100 years old or more, at least as old as the building. Construction crews are being careful to work around it.

What are some of your favorite plants in the garden?
The Black-eyed Susies. One year I tried them, but it rained too hard, it killed them. I had them in places that didn’t drain well. I’ve got them in a place that drains well now no matter what. They’ll bloom until frost. They go dormant and die back in the winter; then come back in the spring, twice as nice, twice as big.
This is the first year I’ve planted plumbago. That’s another one that comes back. They’ll grow to three feet tall. It’s a real drought tolerate plant, like the Black-eyed Susies.
They are perennials. The lantana is a good, durable, tough perennials that come back every year. The main feature of the garden is Mrs. Rivers’ camellia. It blooms from February to March normally. They only bloom for a few weeks and are one of few that bloom that time of year. It signifies the beginning of spring.
As the seasons change, plants bloom and die. Describe their transition?

This past winter, the garden started looking poor. It’s a trick to have a vibrant garden year round. There are peaks and trials, no matter what. Some years will look better than other times. Fall will look totally different than spring. We’ve got to get more varieties of permanent plants. I’m going to try to keep something blooming all year round; but December and January are months that hardly anything blooms.

Insects teach us. For instance, ants gather and store food in the winter. Is there anything that plants teach us?
Plants sit in one place. They sort of get used to that place and enhance it. That’s sort of like me. Some people stay for a few years and move on. There’s an advantage and disadvantage to both. I stayed here a long time and hopefully enhanced the place.

What advice do you have for gardeners concerned about their plants struggling to survive this dry summer heat?
When you water, water thoroughly. Water deeply. When you water a little bit every day, only the shallow roots will stay alive. If you skip a few days, they’ll die. If you give it a deep watering, it’ll last more days. The roots tend to grow deeper. If you water for 2 hours at a time every third day, the water will penetrate deeper and the roots will penetrate deeper. Ideally, the best time to water is 2 a.m. until 8 a.m. in the morning to control fungus. It’s a lot cooler then and allows the water to go into the ground instead of evaporate.

You’re getting close to retirement. How will you know when it’s time to leave?
My retirement was planned out before I got married three years ago. Things were a lot simpler. But it’s changed some now. It’s going to depend on financial and physical considerations.

We never see you without your Salem cigarettes.
One of my goals is to drop them this summer. I’ve been smoking since I was 22. I’m 56 now. I quit twice. I want to quit for money and health reasons. I’m not having any health problems right now that I know of; but, I’m getting older.

Is there anything that you’d like to add to our conversation, Chris?
Mrs. Rivers came up with the idea of having the garden to raise money for scholarships. I’m glad she came up with it because it gave me a chance to do something nice. With budget issues, we’ll have to complete it in phases to get it like I would like to see it, but it’s been a good opportunity. I’ve enjoyed doing it. These block walls were not fun to build, but they turned out nice.

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