Mike Daniel’s green thumb brings life to 11th Street

Downtown Columbus oasis

Mike Daniel has turned a downtown Columbus sidewalk into an urban garden that makes people want to stop and soak in the beauty.
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Mike Daniel has turned a downtown Columbus sidewalk into an urban garden that makes people want to stop and soak in the beauty.

While others are breathing economic life into downtown Columbus, Mike Daniel is breathing life of a different sort.

Just walk down 11th Street between Broadway and First Avenue to see his work. Daniel, blessed with a green thumb and a love of plants, has turned a downtown street into a little piece of paradise.

“I have this thing, when I get a plant, I can’t let it die,” Daniel said. “I don’t have any schooling in it, but I can do it.”

Yes, he can. Just ask his boss, downtown businessman Buddy Nelms, who turns Daniel loose to make the concrete sidewalk sing with color and texture.

“When you walk down that block, you know somebody cares,” Nelms said.

And you also see the work of someone who obviously knows what he is doing.

“He has a way of affecting our environment,” Nelms said.

The space is alive with a variety of leafy plants such as elephant ears, coleus and ornamental sweet potato vines.

People often stop to look at the plants and even take photos in front of them. They add a different kind of value to the public space that is downtown Columbus, said Trees Columbus Inc. Executive Director Dorothy McDaniel.

“The value of that from the perspective of an organization like Trees Columbus is it shows the impact plants can have on a small place,” McDaniel said. “They are not trees, but it is the same impact on the people walking by. It’s proven: plants relieve stress and that is why people stop and look.”

You can see Daniel’s work in parts of downtown and the Historic District. The largest collection of plants is along 11th Street. Daniel has been growing elephant ears and other plants in the city planters on the corner of 11th and Broadway. In front of the old bank building that Nelms owns, Daniel has put out nearly 50 containers, many of them large planters, and has turned the sidewalk into an urban garden.

And since he planted them in the spring, Daniel, 60, has tended to them daily, except one he missed because of a heart issue.

“He goes and visits plants like the rest of us go outside and visit our animals,” Nelms said.

Daniel is the maintenance man for Nelm’s downtown real estate holdings, and the plants are a side benefit for both of them.

“Those plants are his passion,” Nelms said. “They make some of the less pleasurable parts of his job not so bad.”

And Daniel has rewarded the community with something you don’t see in other parts of downtown.

“He has always let me do this and financed it for me,” Daniel said. “It is very expensive the way I do it. That is one of the reasons I do it on his property and not as much on my own.”

Daniel’s love of plants came from his grandmother, Luverne Daniel, who lived near the Columbus Airport before she died about 10 years ago. In fact, the elephant ears that Daniel grows are direct descendents of a baseball-sized bulb she gave him more 40 years ago.

“My grandmother gave me one when I was 19 years old, and I have thousands of them now,” Daniel said. “Everywhere I have ever lived the last 30 years, I usually take about half of them with me and start over. I got some at my house; I got some at my buddy’s house; I got them out on the street. I try and save every one of them I can.”

This year, Daniel has some elephant ears growing in the courtyard behind The Loft that are more than 9 feet tall with massive leaves.

“After a mild winter, like we had last year, they really come back strong,” Daniel said.

In addition to gallons of water, there is a secret to Daniel’s ability to grow lush and full plants — fish and seaweed emulsions, an organic fertilizer.

If you look closely at his work, you will see he leans toward colorful leafy plants and away from flowers.

“I like foliage plants and not flowering plants because there is no down time,” Daniel said. “They look good from the day you plant them until the first frost when the die.”

Chuck Williams: 706-571-8510, @chuckwilliams