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The Gardens Alive! Story

Dedicated to providing gardeners with effective, environmentally responsible gardening solutions, Gardens Alive! began as a home-spun business in the kitchen and garage of founder and chairman, Niles Kinerk.

Niles Kinerk

Having grown up on a farm in 1950s rural Indiana, Niles Kinerk has loved gardening since his childhood. In the 1970s, he became increasingly aware of the hazards of chemical-based agriculture and began experimenting with new organic techniques. He soon realized that many other gardeners in the U.S. also craved natural, environmentally responsible products.

In 1984, Kinerk decided to combine his passion for organic gardening with his years of experience in the direct mail industry to launch Gardens Alive! From its inception, the goal of Gardens Alive! has been to provide gardeners with environmentally responsible products that work!

After nearly 30 years of innovations and testing, Niles Kinerk's home-grown Gardens Alive! is now one of the country's most successful mail-order companies. Offering hundreds of natural solutions for pest control and fertilization, including more than 60 exclusive items, Gardens Alive! never stops working on what's next for the natural gardener.

Message from Gardens Alive! Founder and Owner, Niles Kinerk:

Environmentalism wasn't a dirty word when I was growing up on the family farm in Yoder, Indiana. For all intents and purposes, it wasn't a word at all. To us, the then-recent breakthroughs in chemical pest control and fertilization were little short of miraculous. They made everything seem so simple. Every problem had an answer. From borers in our corn to parasites in our Poland China hogs, we had only to grab the right chemical. Every problem was distinctive, and there was a specific solution to each. It was a pie-in-the-sky promise of farming by the numbers!

It's no wonder that we weren't fearful, or even cautious, about using these miracle chemicals. Let me give you an example, one that certainly wasn't as uncommon as you might think...

Something in the Air...

There was a drainage ditch on our farm that had to be kept clear of the opportunistic plant life that thrives in such environments. We were modern farmers, so we solved the problem in a modern way. I was sent out to drive a tractor along the borders of the ditch, and liberally douse the offending waterside vegetation with the contents of a 55-gallon drum of the miracle herbicide 2,4,5 T (which later evolved into the notorious Agent Orange). I was young, all alone under a scorching sun, and maybe a little bored. When the winds shifted occasionally, blowing the spray back my way, I lifted my face to the cooling liquid like a boy dancing beneath a lawn sprinkler. It still gives me the shivers to remember that.

But I survived that chemical misadventure (and others), and my love for gardening survived as well. And then, in the early 1970s, out of simple curiosity and the openness of youth to new ideas, I picked up a copy of a strange little magazine called Organic Gardening. I wasn't far into its pages when the light bulbs started going off in my mind.

I quickly found that, though information about products to control pests and build your soil "naturally" was becoming more and more easy to come by, the products were not. Just identifying myself as an organic gardener to the clerks at the local nursery would usually earn me a chuckle, followed by some serious advice about whatever new product was guaranteed to do the job right.

The fact is, as I learned through trial and error in my own gardens, some environmentally responsible products worked and some didn't. I began to wish that someone would take on the job of sorting the eco-wheat from the eco-chaff, and making tested, organic products available to gardeners like me.

Working on "What Works"

I started Gardens Alive!, then called Natural Gardening Research Center, in 1984, and set about finding products that I could sell and that I believed in. Our first catalogs focused on now commonplace, but then hard to find, solutions such as:

• Bacillus thuringiensis — a bacteria that targets specific pests, but is harmless to birds, worms, wildlife and people

• Rotenone — a natural pesticide derived from the roots of a tropical plant

In 1988 we changed the name of the company to Gardens Alive! (Try saying "Natural Gardening Research Center" three times fast.), and we've continued to search out environmentally sound products that our customers couldn't find elsewhere — Environmentally Responsible Products That Work!

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