"Out & About with AOLCPs"
Lifelong Wildlife Lover Nash Pradhan Designs with Respect for Nature
By Kathy Litchfield
When Nash Pradhan told his parents he wanted to move to the United States, they thought he was "absolutely crazy." The Nairobi, Kenya native was just 24 years old and his three brothers and four sisters didn't share his aspirations. His father worked for a canvas sewing production company while his mother raised the family.
"I was the only wild one that decided one day, after finishing high school and a couple years of agricultural college in Kenya, to go the States," said Pradhan, who had worked as a courier taking tourists to the game parks and interpreting the flora and fauna of East Africa for them. He had always loved the flowers, trees and wildlife of his native country and enjoyed sharing his knowledge and taking photographs. He climbed Mount Kilimanjaro three times and also attended the Outward Bound Mountain School.
This foundation, combined with his passion for education, fueled his career. In 1972, he came to the U.S. and lived with a host family in Rye, N.Y. He graduated from the State University of New York at Purchase, then earned a master's degree in natural resources from the University of Connecticut at Storrs. While doing his thesis on the re-introduction of wild turkeys through the Dept. of Environmental Protection, he worked at a private 6,500-acre forest connected to the Yale School of Forestry and worked there for 8 years, increasing his horticultural knowledge while discovering his interest in alpine rock gardens.
In 1986 Pradhan founded his own business while also working at another nursery.
"There, I was growing on a production scale, container growing. I didn't really like production and I really didn't like using chemicals. I came from a country with a lot of wildlife and chemicals were always an issue for me," he said. "As I learned more about less toxic approaches, I quit that job and decided to do my own thing."
Ginger Creek Nursery in the tiny town of Norfolk, Conn. (1,500 residents in winter; 2,200 in summer) was founded on principles of least toxic and more natural approaches to horticulture and property management.
Pradhan was accredited by NOFA in 2006 (New Haven, CT course) and "immediately decided to go 100 percent organic with my practices." He learned to brew compost tea and ran a retail nursery on the weekends for about two years before deciding the time commitment was too much and focusing entirely on his design and installation work for clients.
"Originally the business was pretty traditional, then drifted more into woodland gardens, water features, alpine gardens using locally grown plants and some of my own. I start a lot from seed for my clients. I have a pretty sophisticated clientele - they want organic stuff, they don't want toxins on their lawns. It was an easy transition for me to get them on board," he said. Pradhan aims to educate his clients, encouraging them to have less lawn and more plantings, food gardens or specialty gardens.
"I'm a pretty old fashioned guy. I look at a site and create the design on the site. I don't get into fancy drawings or architectural drawings," he said. He often installs drip irrigation systems and encourages his clients - most of whom have old wells on their properties - to invest in rainwater catchment systems and install rain gardens to help conserve water.
While he's working on a simple website, Pradhan has never advertised and has found word of mouth to be the best referral. He has about 13 clients, give or take a few each year, and just two employees helping with installations and maintenance. He brews and applies compost tea to his clients' properties and subs out work requiring large equipment. He does not mow lawns but enjoys educating his clients on the proper techniques to help their grass plants thrive.
"I enjoy being involved right from the ground up through a project's completion," he said.
Three years ago, Pradhan began participating in the then-new Norfolk farmers' market with about a dozen vendors. Today the market boasts 35 vendors from May through October. There, he sells woody plants, native plants, alpine rock garden plants and dwarf conifers and meets new friends, many of whom become clients.
Last year he received a grant from the Natural Resources Conservation Service to construct a high tunnel greenhouse for organic strawberry production. His crop will mature in late August/early September, guaranteeing a market for his sweet fruits. He relies upon Cornell, Penn State and other universities as resources for new information on growing strawberries.
"I'm always hungry for information. I'm always tweaking and trying things and trying to educate the public about organic methods," he said. "It's never too late to learn and there is always more to learn!"
Pradhan also organically manages (and restored) a few apple orchards in town, inspired by education from Michael Phillips at a NOFA winter conference; and he delved into soil biology and the foodweb with Elaine Ingham at a course Todd Harrington hosted in Bloomfield a few years back. Pradhan said he takes every course he can and is a member of NOFA, the Ecological Landscaping Association and the New England Wildflower Society.
He also serves on the Norfolk Conservation Commission and is a co-author of a natural resources inventory (www.norfolkconservationcommission.org), and is a member of the Norfolk Curling Club. An arson fire destroyed the club's building in 2011 but Pradhan is fundraising to rebuild the facility. He enjoys restoring antique boats with a friend and helped to raise $23,000 by raffling off a handmade wooden canoe with cedar, spruce and cherry. He's presently working on a 1923 Old Town canoe "that's in pretty good shape" for another fundraiser.
He hopes to get back to Kenya to visit his siblings in a few years, with his 23-year-old son Ben and his granddaughter Avery, who just turned one. They live in Torrington, Conn.
"Family is so important to me. And I'm so passionate about the environment. I care about what people eat and also the immediate micro-environment they live in, which impacts the greater environment. For me, doing the right thing is working with nature and having a lot of respect for nature, while trying to get more and more people to realize the importance of taking care of it," he said. "When I'm doing a project I put my heart and soul into it. I want people to be happy with the final result, so they can smile and be happy that we've created exactly what they had in mind."