Working a desk job is not the life for Daniel Burleson. A horticultural specialist with Landscape Services, Burleson makes the Appalachian State University campus look its best at all times of the year.
Burleson has spent the majority of his life in the Southeast and is one-eighth Cherokee Native American. He has worked at Appalachian for about 15 years.
He recalls his family being in the shrubbery business since he was nine or 10 years old.
Having spent the majority of his life in the surrounding mountainous areas, he has impeccable knowledge of the area and native plant species. His favorite plants are perennials, especially Black Eyed Susans, which Burleson believes should be the official flower of Appalachian because of their gold petals and black core.
He cultivates all of the annual flowers in the greenhouse at the Physical Plant facility off State Farm Road. This cultivation process starts in early February and includes planting roughly 5,000 to 6,000 geraniums, impatiens, salvia and other plants. Every four to five years he does a replanting of perennial seeds to revitalize the campus flower beds. A lot of what he does at the Physical Plant is also trial and error, seeing what will and won’t survive. He attributes his wide range of horticultural expertise to years of experience in this environment.
A beautiful, safe campus
Burleson believes it is extremely important to have a beautiful campus because it is the first thing people see when they visit. He also believes that Appalachian’s campus is at the top of the list as far as beautiful college campuses go. “I’ve been to a lot of campuses and some I dislike and some I do like, but they all come second to Appalachian,” Burleson said.
In the off season, he and his team stay busy plowing snow off the campus walkways so students, employees and visitors can safely get where they need to be in the winter. He and his team also cut off perennial beds, prune, and survey potential tree work.
“During the breaks, that’s when we jump on the hazardous trees that are dead or pose threats to the safety of students. Students love to hammock in the trees on campus and sometimes they might not know a tree has dead branches and isn’t safe, so it’s our job to maintain those situations,” said Burleson.
Whenever his crew does fall cleanup, all leaves and wood chips get incorporated into the university compost. Year by year, the university cuts back on how much waste gets thrown away, to become more sustainable as time goes on. This practice benefits Burleson’s planting. He uses the Appalachian compost wherever he can – for soil amendments in his beds or sodding Sanford Mall. “Since I’ve been here, we have sodded Sanford Mall five times and when we do, we have emptied all of the compost on the lawn and sodded on top of that,” he said.
A commitment to service
Burleson’s commitment to the university goes beyond just his normal work responsibilities. He serves as a member of the Chancellor’s Commission on Diversity and helps contribute to group initiatives in order to make Appalachian a very diverse and welcoming community.
When he isn’t working or hanging out with his two children, he is picking up other outdoor projects and is always willing to lend a helping hand. Troy Tuttle, creative director in University Communications, remembers how Burleson helped him during a difficult time. Tuttle was trying to grow a daylily to permanently place on campus for a student memorial. However, there was not enough time to get everything done before the memorial ceremony. Burleson offered to help plant and nurture the flower. “Without his help, we wouldn’t have been able to get it all done in time,” Tuttle said.
Boone isn’t for everybody, Burleson acknowledges. “Some people I talk to just say there is nothing to do here. But that isn’t the reason you come here. You come here for the school, for the mountains,” Burleson says. He believes that the Appalachian community has a lot to offer people from all walks of life. “It is a great place to raise a family and a great place for kids of all ages. It is a great place to learn about life and figure out where you want to be,” Burleson said.
What is his favorite part about being at Appalachian State University? The people, the culture, and the landscape itself. “You can’t beat the Appalachian plant life, mountain region, and Mother Nature,” said Burleson. “I really enjoy the people here at Appalachian State, the faculty and staff, and getting to know the students.”