Coconuts are known for their ability to fall off a tree and into the sea in one place, drift across the ocean, and take root after washing up ashore somewhere else.
The journey of Dart Nursery Senior Manager Landscape Services Anand “Andy” Adapa from his native India to the Cayman Islands is metaphorically similar to a coconut’s method of ocean dispersal, but there’s a big difference: Coconuts, if they germinate, will always grow into coconut trees and Adapa developed into a role he couldn’t have imagined when he first arrived on Grand Cayman in 1997.
“I had done my bachelor of science in India and then my master’s at University of Western Sydney in Australia,” says Adapa. “I studied plant biotechnology for my master’s and was working on Australian endangered species for my thesis. It was a great subject and the programme at the university was so good, I wanted to continue on to get my PhD.”
There was a problem, however.
“As an international student, I couldn’t afford it,” he says. “A friend of mine, who had worked in the Cayman Islands and had come to do hospitality studies in Australia, gave me an idea. When he was going back to Grand Cayman, he said, ‘Why don’t you come to Cayman, make some money and then you can come back and finish your studies?’ I came and never left.”
Things are constantly changing. It’s a very unique situation that really fits my personality because I get bored easily if something is always simple and straightforwardAndy Adapa
With a primary goal of making some money, Adapa took a job at Sunset House. There he met Elsy, the woman who would become his wife, and his Cayman Islands roots started to take hold.Not wanting to lose touch with his plant biotechnology work, which primarily takes place in a laboratory, Adapa eventually reached out to the Department of Agriculture.
“One day I went to the Department of Agriculture and told them I would be happy to spend some time in the lab to assist and use the library,” he recalls. “To my surprise, they smiled because their library was just a couple shelves of books. The equipment in the lab was very limited. I said to Elsy, who I was just dating at that time, ‘I don’t think I have any prospects in this country.’” Elsy had a suggestion.
“She said, ‘Why don’t you at least stay in touch with the plant world? Why don’t you work at one of the nurseries?’ That’s how I ended up at Every Blooming Thing as a horticulturalist.”
Working at Every Blooming Thing had nothing to do do with plant biotechnology and as Adapa was to learn, didn’t have much to do with being a horticulturalist either.
“It was more the business side of plants over there,” he says. “I was literally running the shop as a store manager. It really wasn’t the kind of work I wanted to do, but I got experience on how to import plants, ordering plants on a weekly basis and that sort of thing.”
While working at Every Blooming Thing, Adapa also had his first interaction with the Dart group, when he met former Senior Vice President Design Sandy Urquhart.
“Sandy used to come into the nursery and buy plants,” Adapa says. “He looked at me one day and said, ‘Anytime you’re ready, I’d like to talk to you about a job.’”
At the time, Camana Bay was still years away from the start of construction and when Adapa left Every Blooming Thing, he opted to join the Hyatt Regency Grand Cayman hotel as its landscape manager. However, after the September 2001 terrorist attacks in the United States and the subsequent significant decline in stay-over tourism, theHyatt released Adapa among much of its staff.
“They didn’t want to pay a manager’s salary for their landscaping at that time,” he says. “They retained some key basic landscaping staff and let everyone else go. That’s when I came to Dart. It took about six months to get hired, and I just stayed home while I waited. My son was still in diapers at the time, so I was home changing diapers and looking after him.”
GROWING WITH THE JOB
Adapa joined what was then called West Indian Club Nursery as a landscape maintenance supervisor in 2002, three years before construction started on the Camana Bay Town Centre. At the time, Dart’s big landscaping projects consisted of the district parks and creating the private Dart family garden, a project Urquhart headed up.
When Camana Bay got under way, the need for a dedicated person to work with the development team became apparent and the commercial Camana Bay nursery operations and non-commercial family garden aspects were separated. Adapa was promoted to the operations manager of the commercial nursery and got his first big opportunity with the Salt Creek development.
“I was so excited because Salt Creek was the first budget of a million dollars that I developed,” Adapa says.
When it came to Camana Bay, Adapa initially found himself in awe of the talent assembled on the project, including the renowned U.S. landscape architecture firm, Olin Partnership.
“When the Camana Bay drawings were first presented to us it was so overwhelming,” he says. “It was a world-class project and because I had seen other projects like this in the U.S., I knew what the intent was. But I wasn’t a landscape architect able to understand the drawings and the intricacies of a project of that magnitude. With me being put at the forefront, I was bombarded with questions like, ‘What are we going to do with this tree?’, and I’m like, ‘Why are you asking me? You just tell me where to put the tree.’ When I look back at where I’ve come from and the challenges I had to go through, it was like taking somebody and throwing them in the ocean and tell them to learn to swim.”
Still, Adapa had the confidence in his local knowledge at that point to stand his ground at times.
“When you’re dealing with award-winning landscape architects and everyone is more senior than I am and older than I am and I’m sitting in a room and saying, ‘No, that can’t work,’ I had to convince everyone that I was right.”
One of those cases concerned the date palm trees that line the Camana Bay Crescent.
“They were actually designed to be royal palms,” says Adapa. “Olin was adamant about needing royal palms because they’re regional, would be so majestic and would cast some beautiful shade.”
But Adapa had been on Grand Cayman long enough to have experienced what Hurricane Ivan did to trees, including royal palms, and had a better suggestion.
“After Ivan, I studied all the plants on the island, looking at what survived and what got beat up and how they responded. I noticed all the date palms in the Westin Resort parking lot,” Adapa says. “The Westin parking lot was submerged in five feet of salt water and the date palms survived well.”
Adapa also knew that eventually, royal palms could grow more than 50 feet tall, potentially creating a hazard from dropping leaves on people on the lawn. Their enormous roots could also cause a problem for the surrounding hardscapes.
“I had to literally lobby and push to say, ‘No, that’s not going to work,’” he says. “Finally, everyone agreed to change it to the date palms we have now. Giving feedback like this is one of the ways I’ve gained respect over the years.”
SOWING THE FUTURE
Adapa has worked on many different Dart projects. In addition to Camana Bay, Salt Creek, Kimpton Seafire, the district parks and the Dart family garden, he has also been involved with the North Sound Golf Club, the Cayman Islands Yacht Club and more recently, the Esterley Tibbetts Highway roundabouts and parkway.
“The variety of projects is the most interesting part, because the challenges never stop,” he says. “Things are constantly changing. It’s a very unique situation that really fits my personality because I get bored easily if something is always simple and straightforward.”
Twenty years after arriving on Grand Cayman, Adapa’s career is much different than it would have been had he had the money to get his PhD in Australia. Instead of looking at how to genetically modify plants with biotechnology, Adapa is planning the tree needs for the next 10 years of Dart developments on Grand Cayman while managing the elaborate nursery operations.
For someone who thought he had few prospects in the Cayman Islands, Andy Adapa found plenty of fertile soil in which to plant his roots.