Daniels died in January at age 62 after a brief illness, but recognition for his work lives on. Friday afternoon, Daniels’ widow, Linda, accepted a Calhoun County Beautification award for the garden which was her husband’s labor of love since moving back to Piedmont from Atlanta in 2005 to be company for his mother, Martha.
Daniels was a three-time cancer survivor. In 2000 he lost his vocal cords to cancer and talked with the aid of an electrolarnyx device which he held to his throat. It was frightening to hear him talk at first, Floyd said, but he got used to it, and would walk next door anytime he could to hear his adult friend tell stories about his six years living in Israel, or about all the flowers with the funny names that Daniels kept bringing home.
Family and friends gathered in the garden in May for a memorial in Daniels’ honor. For Linda, getting the garden ready this past spring without her husband was as hard physically as it was emotionally, but she also found a degree of comfort in the work.
“As I got into it more and more it became a labor of love, because I knew how much Paul loved it,” Linda said.
This isn’t the first beautification award for Daniels’ plot of land. Featured in several magazines and newspaper articles, the garden won in 2009 as well. While walking through the garden Friday, Floyd recalled Daniels’ sharp sense of humor, and how he always found a way to inject that first award into a conversation.
“He’d always say ‘It isn’t just anybody that gets to live next to the 2009 beautification award winner you know,’” Floyd said.
As he made his rounds in the garden Friday, filling birdfeeders and pruning dead flowers among dozens of containers and row after row of plantings, Floyd said that he still loves working in the garden and visiting with Linda and Martha, but it’s not the same.
“It’s different. You just don’t hear his voice, you know,” Floyd said. In a 2005 photograph, Floyd walks with Daniels across the pre-garden empty backyard, the 6 feet 8 inch man towering over the boy.
Daniels taught him about flowers and birds, Floyd said, giving him a book about birds that he calls his “Bird Bible.”
Linda is working in Tennessee now. Daniels’ mother still lives in the home in which her son grew up and to which he later returned with plans for his dream garden. While Linda comes back often to work in the garden and visit with friends, she plans to move much of the garden to a new location in town. She’s working with the city to find a suitable spot, and hopes that by fall they’ll have found one.
An avid reader and writer, Daniels filled a blog with stories about Piedmont’s past and his own. He wrote about gardening and about life, funny stories and sad ones as well. Linda said he would always be so surprised when someone complimented him on one of his stories, as if he never really knew how good a writer he was.
In his last post, on Sept. 14 of last year, Daniels wrote about why he hadn’t been writing much in the weeks prior:
“Now on a nice day like today I’d usually be outside piddling in the garden from morning till night and then coming in and writing about either what I did in the garden that day or some fool thing I did 30 years ago. But I’ll tell you again fellow gardeners, I just ain’t felt like writing about anything and that’s the truth. The absolute truth coming from a person we both know is the biggest liar you’ve ever known, me.”
Linda is compiling a book of Daniels’ stories which she plans to self-publish, the proceeds of which would be used to care for flowers for years to come, she said.
Until the garden is moved Linda will split her time between Tennessee and Piedmont, and with the help of friends she will care for the flowers her husband loved.
“It’s good for me to be out there and close to him,” Linda said. “Close to where he was and to be reminded of him.”
Star staff writer Eddie Burkhalter: 256-235-3563 or on Twitter @burkhalter_star