Terra Nova Ecological Landscaping blog

28 Dec


We love the Good Times article ‘Bright Ideas for 2013 and we especially love idea number three to ‘Create Food Not Lawns’. This has been our passion here at Terra Nova going on 25 years now. We want to help. To that end: WE ARE OFFERING A FREE EDIBLE LANDSCAPE DESIGN *TO THE FIRST PERSON TO MENTION the Good Times article ‘Bright Ideas for 2013  and the third idea to ‘Create Food Not Lawns’.




cover 2garden


At Love Apple Farms, we teach folks how to grow their own food. In my gardening classes, I point out that probably the best sunlight to achieve this is smack dab in the middle of their front or back lawn. In fact, I urge them to take it out altogether. They’ll get more use out of it by installing some garden beds and growing vegetables. But people say they need the lawn for their kids or dogs to play; that the lawn is more attractive than their garden would be.

But they should read the emails I get from students who take the leap and have removed their lawns. One of my most heartfelt messages was from a student who told me how surprised she was by an unexpected perk of growing her own vegetables—the community and togetherness that it engendered. All of a sudden, the kids wanted to know what was going on out there. “Look at that pepper! How do we cook these carrots, Mom?” And, “Wouldn’t Uncle Ted love to have some cherry tomatoes?”

It didn’t stop there, either. All of her visiting guests ended up out in the garden, admiring the lettuce and helping pick fresh herbs for dinner. It didn’t take a lawn for her vegetable garden to be the natural gathering place of her home. It stunned her that what she expected to be a solo pursuit brought so many people together.

I believe we have a primal drive to grow our own food. Our very survival over the ages has hinged on whether we can coax something from the soil to sustain us. Many of us have lost the skills that our ancestors acquired to keep us nurtured. It’s no wonder that when we use our precious plots of land to feed ourselves, our families, and our neighbors, that we reconnect in primal ways to those around us. No lawn, no matter how pretty, can achieve that. | Cynthia Sandberg, Love Apple Farms


04 Dec

Two Holiday Specials to Help You Celebrate the Season!

Tranquility Garden image

(Tranquility Garden design by Terra Nova)

Holiday Garden Clean Ups

Whether you are having guests over or just want everything to look spic and span for the holidays, take advantage of Terra Nova’s Holiday Garden Clean Up service for a limited time at a discount. Clean ups include:
  • Leaf removal
  • Deadheading
  • Pruning
  • Mowing and edging
  • Anything else we can do to get your garden into shape, including decorating or adding plants for winter interest.
Call 831-425-3514 now to schedule a free estimate by December 10, 2012 and get a 10% discount. Garden Clean Ups may be scheduled through the end of December 2012.

Gift Card imageTerra Nova Gift Cards

Show your friends and loved ones how much you care this holiday season with the lasting gift of a garden or landscape services! Terra Nova is now offering gift cards in any amount to apply towards our services, including:

  • Consultation
  • Design
  • Installation
  • Clean-ups
  • Pruning
  • Maintenance
Our garden designs and installations truly are the gifts that keep on giving, as we strive to create gardens that are beautiful, easy to maintain, and bountiful in fruits and flowers for your family. Our low-maintenance, drought-tolerant designs save you time, money, and water, which is good for your pocketbook and the environment.
Gift cards apply to all Terra Nova services. Use by February 14, 2013 and recipient will also receive a 10% discount on their project or 1st maintenance visit. Includes free estimate upon receipt.

To schedule a free onsite estimate or purchase gift cards

Call 831-425-3514 

For more information about Terra Nova services, visit our website:www.terranovalandscaping.com

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12 Nov

Get Ready for Winter Weather and Save 5% Through November!

Protect your property and landscape before the big rains hit.

We are experts at routing rain-water away from structures to avoid mold and water damage that threaten your family’s health and home. And beyond just moving winter rains through your landscape to eliminate erosion and pooling, we build systems that are attractive and ensure plant and soil health well into the dry months.


A bio-swale like this is a functional dry creek bed where storm water can go without causing a problem.

Act now and save 5% on the design and installation of:

Bio-swales, used to gently move water away form your home while allowing soil percolation
Rain-gardens that collect water for deep penetration
French drains and, if necessary, sump pumps for rapid dispersion of water away from buildings.
In addition to the function of these important systems, we work to ensure that the methods and materials that we use blend beautifully with your landscape design.To schedule a free onsite estimate:Call 831-425-3514
(mention “5% Winter Special”)
For more information, visit our website: www.terranovalandscaping.com

Rules: 5% offer includes labor and materials on design and installation of bio-swales, rain-gardens, French drains, and sump-pumps only; project must be under contact by November 30, 2012 to apply.
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Copyright © 2012 Terra Nova, All rights reserved.
We send our newsletter and special offers to customers who have provided their e-mail address.
Our mailing address is:
Terra Nova
P.O. Box 677
Santa Cruz, California 95061

05 Nov

Thank you for all the work you guys did. We really love it and enjoy it every day. :)

This is an e-mail exchange I had today with a Terra Nova client with a three year old son:

Mary planted a bunch of seedlings from  an organic place in Palo Alto called common ground.  Thank you for all the work you guys did.  We really love it and enjoy it every day.   :)


Here’s the photo he sent.

Here’s my reply:

Hello Jordan,

I am glad you are enjoying it!  Gardening will be life long pleasure for your son. This is a good time to start!
Here is one of the questions I included on the midterm test I gave the students in my Permaculture class at Cabrillo College:

A key hole garden bed provides easy access with minimum path to bed ratio.

True / False

The answer of course is true.

All the best,
More about Key Hole garden beds.

08 Oct

Conserving water at home


Replacing water thirsty lawns with native grasses can help reduce dependence… ( @Shmuel Thaler ) Article reprinted from the 9/29/12 Santa Cruz Sentinel by Jason Hoppin
SANTA CRUZ — When it comes to conserving water around the home, 13-year-olds can be excellent barometers.

That is true in Sherry Bryan’s household, one of many locally who’ve managed to compress their water use to a few dozen gallons a day. Together, they stand as an example of what the future may hold for everyone around the Monterey Bay, as the region grapples with pressures on its water supply, weighing a controversial desalination plant while critics say conservation is the way to go.

Raising two 13-year-olds with her partner, Bryan has convinced them to save water, even convincing teenagers to use a shower shut-off valve when not rinsing. With a few household changes, their use is down to an average of 37 gallons a day each, roughly a third of the county average.

“It’s pretty basic,” said Bryan, a consultant and water conservation specialist. “You just have to have the consciousness about it.”

Most of the conservation changes involve low-water household technologies, such as low-flow showerheads and toilets, or more efficient dishwashers and washing machines. Together, those measures can save dozens of gallons a day.

Other changes are behavioral — from not letting sinks run unnecessarily to using a basin to wash dishes to scraping dinner plates. And some push the envelope further, using grey water to support landscaping.

There are even conservation renegades, people who flirt with crossing legal lines. Their tactics include using wastewater to recharge toilets, capturing urine to condition soil or even composting human waste with special toilets.

It is those kinds of measures that make regulators — who’ve spent a career keeping new and used water separate, enforcing the division through building codes and fines — nervous.

“I think it’s important to remember that it’s only 100 years ago that entire cities were dying because of plague and various illnesses,” said Tony Falcone, Santa Cruz County’s top building inspector. “Where we draw the line currently is at bringing reclaimed or recycled water back into the house. … (T)hat’s just not allowed.”

But Falcone acknowledges that some milder conservation measures are probably here to stay.

“This is exactly what we’ve argued against for the last 100 years, and now we’re going backward. But water’s the new oil,” Falcone said.

Numerous water conservers contacted for this story stressed that the lifestyle changes needed to achieve major water savings are pretty basic. You don’t have to give up your vegetable garden or quit showering.

One local conservation evangelist is Arlos Anderson, who has drained his water usage to 17 gallons a day.

“I’m kind of over the horizon on this,” he admits.

Anderson’s home is a virtual conservation laboratory, including household inventions with pending patents that he eventually wants to give away to the public. He overflows with ideas, including using local abandoned quarries to capture winter runoff as an alternative to desalination plants, solving a water problem at a fraction of the cost while creating a new recreational destination.

“If we waited for the government to come up with the solution, we’d be standing on the docks waiting for Columbus to leave Spain,” Anderson said.

But Anderson also raised an ongoing debate about building codes often getting in the way of conservation. As an example, he points out that reused water must often be brought up to drinking water standards, even if it’s headed for the head.

“We need to stop thinking we’re going to be drinking water out of our toilets,” Anderson said.

Despite official warnings and legal prohibitions, it is widely believed that people around the county are experimenting with extreme conservation measures anyway.

“In Santa Cruz, we’re good pirates. Much to the horror of the county — and I’m just going to make some conservative estimates — there are dozens of homemade composting toilet systems where people are composting waste in their own backyards,” Anderson said.

Landscaping changes can be a big source of water savings, and through the years the county’s developed a cottage industry installing lush but low-water gardens, supported by several native nurseries and a UC Santa Cruz Farm and Garden project that has drilled generations in sustainable ecological practices.

One local specialist is Ken Foster, who started Terra Nova Landscaping 25 years ago and teaches permaculture at Cabrillo College.

“You can have a very attractive landscape without having it be high maintenance,” Foster said, who finds a local trove of customers anxious to convert water-consuming lawns into ecologically friendly landscaping.

Click this link to see time lapse of lawn removal by Terra Nova… http://crimdom.net/photos/2012/landscaping/movies/time-lapse.mov

Golden Love of Love’s Gardens installs grey water systems and said entire backyards can be watered with a 6-gallon load of laundry. Many are drawn to it because it keeps water out of overtaxed septic systems, but Love said environmental concerns are at the forefront of people’s minds.

“What a lot of it is, these are the early adapters. A lot of these people just want to do the right thing. They have solar panels on their house already, and they say, ‘What’s the next thing I do? Oh, it’s grey water? Let’s do that,’” Love said.

Anderson and Bryan may seem like conservation extremists, but they stand on a horizon toward which the rest of us are traveling. The state wants water use slashed 20 percent by 2020, and local water agencies are setting even more aggressive goals — and not just in water-strapped Santa Cruz County.

The Monterey Peninsula Water Management Agency has set a minimum figure for how much each person requires: 35 gallons, less than what Bryant’s family uses. In theory, people could be asked to use that amount during severe droughts.

“Thirty-five gallons is plenty of water for indoor needs,” said Stephanie Pintar, water demand manager for the agency.

But the county’s bang for its conservation buck could be reaching limits. Many county water users already have cut their use far back from what other most Californians use.

Partly because of the cool, foggy weather, the Central Coast uses far less water that the Central Valley, and Santa Cruzans use even less. Over the past 10 years, the state’s per capita average daily use is 133 gallons, though the number drops to 109 gallons along the Central Coast.

Over the same time, Santa Cruz Water Department customers have used just 67 gallons a day, and in 2010 it was down to 56. Soquel Creek Water District customers are also far below the statewide average, using just 66 gallons per day, according to the most recent figures.

For many who practice water conservation, the issue of a desalination plant bubbles just below the surface. Despite evidence of growing saltwater intrusion into area aquifers and even the abandonment of some wells, they see a desalination plant as unnecessary, even a sign of surrender.

“Part of it is, ‘How can we have a sustainable water system?’” Foster said. “And a desalination plant is not part of that.”

28 Sep

Blown Away

Article reprinted from Sept. 25th 2012 edition of Good Times.

Local landscaper leads anti-leaf blower task force
A brief jaunt of Googling “leaf blower” invariably finds you product promotions, bureaucratic jargon, and flaming forums where users challenge to blow “California hippies” off their property and where non-users share stories about how their grandmother almost out-raked a gas-powered leaf blower.

Locally, however, the leaf blower discussion is headed in a more environmentally minded direction. The discussion started when Terra Nova Ecological Landscaping owner Ken Foster wrote an open letter in the Santa Cruz Sentinel’s Feb. 12 issue, calling on landscapers to reconsider their reliance on the blower. A few weeks earlier, Foster had published a manifesto of sorts on the souring aspects of leaf blowers to his company’s blog.

In his letter, Foster challenged landscapers to dramatically reduce their use of gas-powered, two-stroke leaf blowers and instead supply their debris-clearing arsenal with rakes, brooms, and, as a last resort, electric blowers. Listing air pollution first and noise pollution third in a list of five reasons, Foster evidently drew the focus away from typical neighborhood complaints about blowers’ high-pitched whining noise and challenged landscapers to go a step further in their overseeing the health of the landscape.

Foster says that he got “a lot of response” from that letter, as several thank you cards and calls rolled in. In response, Foster mounted a call-to-task-force, inviting a dozen homeowners, professional landscapers and community activists to research and represent the woes of the device. The goal of the task force (called Leaf Blower Task Force Santa Cruz) is not to reinvent the rake, but to find dogmatic solutions to technology’s side effects.

However much his 2,768-word blog post attempts to discredit the common landscaping appliance, Foster’s sunset standpoint is more moderate. “An all-out ban is the wrong idea … we really just need to educate people,” Foster explains. “Since I’m a landscape contractor, I understand what contractors have to do to stay in business. At the same time, I just feel like we could be more careful about the community and the people we work with.”

With more than 300 cities across the nation—two dozen of them in California—which currently ban or restrict leaf blower use, Santa Cruz is not new to the issue: A proposed ban failed in the City of Santa Cruz in 1998.

Foster, who is also a permaculture instructor at Cabrillo College, wrote his own personal manifesto, titled “My escape from the land of the two-stroke backpack blowers,” in the 1990s.

“We have this attitude that we need power in the landscape,” says Foster, “and I think that a lot of people that are doing the [machine-assisted] work could easily be doing high-quality work with a little bit of training.”

The Environmental Protection Agency, American Lung Association, California Air Resources board and UC Riverside have published preliminary findings about leaf blower pollution, but further information, clearly and cleanly obtained, may help the dust settle.

The lure of irresistibly sardonic nicknames like “polluting noise bazooka,” “Lucifer’s trumpet,” and “death metal sur l’herbe,” have yet to convince Santa Cruz to abandon the device. But Leaf Blower Task Force Santa Cruz is nearing a “critical threshold,” as Foster puts it, and they hope to research, document and present their findings to the city council soon. Stay tuned. | KellyAnn Kelso

27 Jul

Herbal mandalas created by Terra Nova

The story of the photos below goes like this…

Good Earth Tea Company had a warehouse located on the west side of Santa Cruz for many years. Over the years they would call me when they had product that for one reason or another was going to the landfill. When they closed their Santa Cruz warehouse they called and said they had a semi-truck worth of herbs going to the landfill! “I’ll take it” I said, without thinking. I ended up with One Thousand + pounds each of Rooibos tea, Chamomile tea, Rose hip tea, Hibiscus tea, Papaya Leaf tea, Eluthero tea, and get this, over nine hundred pounds of Kosher food grade crushed pink rose petals among many other teas and herbs. We also have our ongoing Chai Mulch to add into the mix. What ever to do with all these teas and herbs???


Well, I have given a lot of good quality tea away to friends, made sachets with the rose petals and then started to play with mulching pathways with the herbs. From the beginning I saw these herbs as a resource, even as artist materials. The ground has become my canvas and the herbs my paint. The next thing you know I was making herbal mandalas whenever Terra Nova had a table or a booth at an event. These photos are from a variety of venues. The Home and Garden Show at the Santa Cruz Cocoanut Grove, Earth Day, The Spring into Summer Festival and the Garden Faire. Enjoy our little foray into herbal mandalas, mulched pathways and even welcome signs written with the herbs.

Some of the herbs piled in my driveway.


 Ken gives a talk on making herbal mandalas.

  Jillian Steinberger makes a welcome sign.





26 Jun

A Sustainable Alternative to Power Leaf Blowers

Reprinted with permission from Owen Dell’s Sustainable Landscaping Blog, The Earthworms Lair.

June 9th, 2012 by Owen

My dear friend and colleague, landscape contractor Ken Foster of Terra Nova Ecological Landscaping in Santa Cruz, California, has been one of the few brave landscape professionals to speak out against that sacred cow of the garden maintenance industry, the gasoline-powered leaf blower. And he speaks out well, having marshaled the many troublesome impacts of blowers into his definitive blog post of January, 2012. He has even founded a Leaf Blower Task Force in his community in order to bring some sanity to the unfortunate and widespread deployment of what he calls “Polluting Noise Bazookas” (also known in some circles as “Lucifer’s Trumpet”). Others too have decried the folly of the leaf blower, and there is even good data showing that there is no actual efficiency to be gained by their use.

But what are the alternatives? Well, of course brooms and rakes still work as well as ever, and there is much to be said for their revival. They are fossil-fuel-free, they always start right up, don’t make a racket, and are dirt cheap to purchase and maintain. But there are those whose dispositions seem to require a more elaborate technology in order to feel good about their gardening chores. To help meet their needs, I recently set out on a quest for an ideal, pollution-free alternative blower, and I believe I’ve found something that really works. It has taken no small amount of research, but I’m proud to say that I’ve come up with a great little device that’s human-powered, recycled, and, believe it or not, that also eliminates a completely unrelated but quite troublesome problem.

A little background: Not long ago I attended a concert of Celtic music. Things were going along pleasantly enough until they brought out the bagpipers. As you probably know, bagpipes were developed to use when sending armies off to battle. Medieval military strategists discovered that the sound of only two or three of the instruments was sufficient to stimulate the murderous impulses of up to a thousand soldiers. Bagpipes work fast, as I was reminded at this concert. After just a few seconds of exposure to the awful droning I was more than ready to slay a few of my neighboring audience members. As I gripped the arms of my seat, I realized that a great deal of wind was being blown about to no apparent purpose. That’s when it dawned on me that the bagpipe, properly modified, would be a wonderful eco-friendly substitute for the leaf blower. I envisioned teams of kilted gardeners roaming suburban streets, pumping the distended bladders of their instruments and happily whooshing litter into tidy piles.

Back at my laboratory, I put on my best tartan coveralls and began to tinker with a set of bagpipes, working out the details of its transformation into a fine gardening implement. (Tip: Used and reclaimed bagpipes are easy and inexpensive to come by. Neighbors of bagpipe players are often happy to break in and steal them for you, usually at no charge.)

I discovered that a few minor alterations (easily accomplished by any reasonably handy person using a power drain auger and a ball peen hammer) can quickly render the typical bagpipe mute, while retaining and even enhancing its Aeolian properties, sort of like de-scenting a skunk. This results in improved conditions in two entirely separate realms, in the manner of Will Rogers’ observation about the Dust Bowl migration: that it raised the collective IQs in both Oklahoma and California. Without bothering you with the technical details, I can tell you that a properly transformed set of pipes and a strong pair of lungs can equal or exceed the 200 mile per hour streams of air touted by power blower manufacturers.

Using the Scottish Leaf Blower™ is easy. Just mount the device under your arm in the traditional position, exhale into the blowstick to fill the bag, point the drones at the ground, and pump away at the bag to achieve maximum velocity. You’ll find that using the SLB, as I’ve come to call it, is quiet, easy, and enjoyable, and every bit as effective as that gas hog you’ve been using.

For detailed instructions on converting a set of bagpipes into a Scottish Leaf Blower, please contact me. I am making this information available as a public service to gardeners and music lovers everywhere.

In my next post I’ll show you how to turn a vuvuzela into an eco-friendly bulb planter. For now, happy puffing.

The Earthworm’s Lair: Owen Dell’s Sustainable Landscaping Blog

19 Jun

Ecological Landscape Management and the big picture

What is the best way to achieve a landscape garden that hums like a humming bird?

By designing it from a birds eye view of course.

This high level perspective brings the big picture into view and with it the information needed to create systems that tend to regenerate the landscape rather than deplete it. Being a maintenance gardener for some twenty years my appreciation for thoughtful design and careful installation has grown. One of my mentors, Bill Mollison encourages “Prolonged and thoughtful observation rather than protracted and thoughtless action.” Unfortunately conventional landscape maintenance is defined by and even based on protracted and thoughtless action. The need for endless toil may be interpreted as job security by landscape maintenance contractors but this does not consider the environmental impact. It is wasteful landscaping with a heavy carbon-foot-print exacerbated by ill-conceived design and hit-and-run installation. A truly ecological landscape is designed, installed and maintained to work with nature while many conventional landscapes seem to work at odds with natural processes and require maximum toil to maintain. I believe that tending the garden will always be a valued and honored skill. The toil on the other hand can and should be designed out. If we really want to we can replace leaf blower toil with broom use or even using Owen Dell’s famous Sustainable Alternative to Power Leaf Blowers, a modified Scottish bagpipe. ( See Owen’s article here)

We say it’s time to replace lawn maintenance chores with food forest management skills.

The ecological view of the landscape fits well with this big picture approach. When one thread of the fabric of the ecological system is pulled it becomes evident that it is connected to the next thread in the weave. Being able to identify what the different threads represent is essential. When considering the health of a garden the ecological gardener looks beyond the leaves of the plants and seeks to gather information from multiple sources, starting with the soil below, moving up into the canopy of the trees and into the sky above. It is a, “toe bone is connected to the foot bone and the foot bone is connected to the ankle bone’, kind of thing. With this in mind let’s take a look at the snap shots that make up the big picture of the ecological landscape.

Starting from the ground up.


Soil health is the first piece. There is a vast network of life in the soil referred to as the Soil Food Web.

The interconnected nature of this web is it’s hallmark. Care of the soil is central to the ecological approach to the landscape and is a whole book in itself. It is interesting to note Leonardo Da Vinci’s insight that “We know more about the stars in the heavens than the soil beneath our feet.” While we know a good deal more than we did in Da Vinci’s time, there’s sure to be a boat load that we don’t even know that we don’t know about the stars and the soil.  The fact that there are billions of microbiological life forms in a single teaspoon of healthy topsoil is a hint at the wonder and complexity teaming therein. (see “Nurture the Soil” on StopWaste.org) When we understand the amount of life at play it is easier to appreciate the care and management needed. This teaming network of life has it’s ideal conditions and conversely it’s threats. It may not be a big surprise that human activity brings with it multiple threats to the soil. In fact just about everything we humans do to the soil causes it harm sooner or later. For instance both cultivation and overgrazing cause erosion due to exposure to sun, wind and rain.  Let’s assume a threat is anything that diminishes the soil life. The life in the soil matters because healthy living soil makes for healthy plants and is the cornerstone of the ecological landscape. Compaction and stagnation are further effects on the soil from human activities. Then toxification from pesticides and chemical fertilizers. When the overall health of the soil is disregarded and it is overused and abused there tends to be a negative feedback loop in which each ill affect compounds the next.

“The skin of the Earth must be approached with great sensibility. It is alive and it contains a spirit. It is easily bruised or damaged. In some respects, it is even more delicate than the bloom on the surface of a plum. Approach it without sensitivity, or at the wrong time, and you will damage it.” - Alan Chadwick

Alan Chadwick UCSC garden


Learning about these threats is the first step towards reducing or eliminating them.

The problem: Compaction causing reduced water penetration and oxygen availability.

The solution: Reduce or eliminate pedestrian or vehicular traffic in planted areas. Manually aerate compacted lawn areas annually. When possible only work the soil in dry conditions, avoiding wet or muddy conditions. Working wet soil destroys its structure and its ability to except water and hold onto oxygen.

The problem: Erosion due to wind, rain and runoff.

The solution: Protect the soil from the affects of wind, rain and baking from the sun with mulch or other erosion control measures such as jute netting or coconut fiber blankets. Work the soil when it is not wet, muddy and saturated.

The problem: Stagnation due to covering soil with impervious material like black plastic and concrete.

The solution: Use porous materials like pervious concrete, pavers, rock or brick laid on sand and alternatives to plastic like cardboard or newspaper or biodegradable weed barrier paper.

The problem: Plants showing signs of nutrient deficiencies.

The solution: Testing the soil to find out if there are deficiencies. Request recommendations for organic soil amendments.

The probem: Toxification from pesticides, fertilizers and other chemicals.

The solution: Discontinue or reducing the use of synthetic pesticides and chemical fertilizers.


Water management is one of the most important responsibilities of the ecological landscape gardener. From a design perspective this includes the integration of aquatic areas from large estuaries to small ponds and fountains, with terrestrial areas. Integration is an important consideration because water elements add an aesthetic function for humans and is an attractor for insects and wildlife.

“Just as water is the foundation of life it must be the foundation of design in the built environment.” Betsy Damon

As water becomes an evermore precious resource, how we manage it rises in importance. There are many tools to achieve water conservation.

Terra Nova and water conservation.

The problem: Water waste

The solution(s):

  • Performing a water audit to determine how, how much, where and when water is wasted. Pinpointing more solutions such as…
  • Designing with hydrozones so plants with similar water needs are placed in the same irrigation zone. This helps prevent waste from under and over-watering plants.
  • Use drought tolerant plants and Xeriscaping techniques where appropriate.
  • Employ low flow irrigation, like drip systems that are designed to conserve water.
  • Install intelligent irrigation controllers. ‘Smart’ timers can integrate data on soil, plant and irrigation type, zip code and slope to achieve maximum water savings.
  • Repairing irrigation leaks
  • Install graywater systems, Taping household water such as shower, bath and laundry for reuse in the landscape.
  • Install rainwater catchment cisterns. Storing and using rainwater for use in the landscape.
  • Use reclaimed water where possible.
  • Slow it, Spread it, Sink it - Earth works such as bio swales and rain gardens to redirect storm water to be absorbed into the soil instead of drained and piped away.
  • Mulching to prevent evaporation.

Thank you very mulch!


Every plant species has its ideal conditions for sun, shade, chill hours, water, soil type, nutrients, drainage and space. For this reason it is important to know the specific species needs. This is the first piece of information when looking for answers regarding plant health. For optimum plant health placing it in the right place from the beginning is essential. Once it is clear these requirements are being met other possible causes can be investigated. No amount of fertilizer will fix a plant in the wrong place. Often plants will have pest problems simply because they do not have the correct conditions to start with and pests prey on plants that are stressed.


Just as with humans there are many organisms that can cause disease or damage. Plant Diseases have two large categories. Non-parasitic disease caused by cultural conditions like incorrect pH balance in the soil, too little fertilizer or excess humidity and Parasitic diseases that are contagious and caused by fungi or bacterial passed from one plant to another through hands, tools, insects or other means of contamination.

The Problem: Plant health issues

The Solution: Get symptoms diagnosed. Identify if it is cultural, a disease or a pest problem. Treat specifically for the cause not the symptom.

The Problem: Leaf damage from insect

The Solution: Get pest identified before treating. Seek organic controls for specific pest. For example Holes in lettuce leaves. Early morning observation of snails on lettuce. Place empty plant pots propped up slightly for snails to hide from daylight, then collect during the day and feed to chickens. Use the organic snail killer called Sluggo.


Weeds are ubiquitous and as George Shultz once said, “The way to keep weeds from overwhelming you is to deal with them constantly and in their early stages.”

With the ecological approach to weed management persistent and toxic herbicides are not an option, therefore the weeds have to be out-smarted or manually removed. Hoeing, Solarizing (using temporary plastic tarps over the soil surface to trap the suns heat to kill weeds) , sheet mulching or just regular mulch are the primary control methods. There are a few organic herbicides available but they are expensive and are often not economically feasible. White vinegar is one exception for small weeds in pavement cracks. Weeds can be designed out of the system by a method called sheet mulching. With this method the weeds are cut down low then covered with multiple layers of cardboard and then the cardboard is covered with 4 to 6 inches of wood chips or other mulch. This smoothers the weeds and prevents new sprouts from reaching sunlight. In general mulch is one of the most important weed deterrents. Mulch helps cover the soil, keeps moisture in the soil and prevents weed seeds from sprouting in soil areas.


For safety and liability reasons it is important to check how infrastructure is functioning in the landscape. This includes irrigation, drainage, retaining walls, pathways, parking lots and seating areas.


How is the landscape looking as a whole?

How are the individual elements contributing to the unified look and feel?

Is the current look consistent with the original designer’s intent?

Are there aspects that need to be redesigned?

The Problem: Dead branch at eye level:

The Solution: Prune out dead, diseased and damaged wood as soon as it is noted regardless of time of year.

Terra Nova maintenance client property

As we gain this higher view we can paste all the snap shots together to create a panoramic image with a check list. This checklist can be revisited weekly, monthly and/or annually as needed and can be a management tool for workers on site, landscape designers/architects and the home or property owner. It is important for all concerned with site management to have unambiguous indicators of quality, health and sustainability in the landscape. The following checklist is meant to help quantify these indicators for that purpose.

-Ken Foster

Ecological Landscape Management check list

Soil Health

How is the soil health over all?


Over or under watered?

What % of organic matter is in soil ?

Are leaves allowed to create natural mulch when possible?

What type of soil is on site?

Jar test conducted?

Is there a need for a soil test?

Is there sufficient mulch to cover soil?

Water management

Irrigation controller schedule?

Irrigation efficiency?

Coverage uniform?

Hydrozones? Is the irrigation plant appropriate?


Mulch in place to prevent evaporation?

Weed management

How is weed management working?

Are weeds controlled before going to seed?

Is sheet mulch being employed?

Are weeds: hoed, pulled and mulched often enough?

Non toxic herbicides being used? Vinegar, Burn Out (product), etc.

 Plant health

Are plants in the right place for sun and shade requirements?

Is appropriate pruning being employed?

Irrigation: over or under watering?

Nutrient deficiencies?

Pest problems?

Damaged foliage?

 Is the landscape serving best needs for all users?

Humans? Pets? Wildlife?

How is it looking

How are the aesthetics of the site. Is it consistent with the intent of the design?


Individual elements? ie, the plants, water features and other design features, the hardscape and the mulch?

Is there a need for re-design?

 Has the site had a Sustainable Landscape Audit performed? Would the owner(s) like one? Have they been asked?

Has the site had a water/irrigation audit performed?

Would the owner(s) like one? Have they been asked?

- Terra Nova Landscape Management Team

23 May

The company retreat

Harvesting the abundance from the garden is one of the great joys of life. The fruits of your labor in a harvest basket. Lettuce and salad greens, greens for a super food smoothie, tomatoes for a sandwich, potatoes for soup or fruit for a salad.

A feeling of accomplishment and wholeness ensues and sharing this with family, neighbors and friends is the unavoidable benefit. I recently had my friend Eric over for lunch and most of the ingredients for our soup came right from the garden. I also had my 90 year old dad who has Alzheimer’s disease over for lunch and he enjoyed the omelet made with fresh eggs from my hens. A great way to share the joy of the harvest with my dear old dad.


Okay, so you get my point, the joy of the harvest is an unexpected fruit of our labor and makes all the work worthwhile. This is one reason why the design science of Permaculture admonishes us to obtain a yield from our designs regardless of whether it is a garden, a business or an art project.

I mention this because although it wasn’t a traditional garden harvest there was a very similar feeling present at a recent Terra Nova company retreat. The harvest was of our collective brilliance. We took the opportunity as a company to hold a retreat where we had the time to listen to each other and speak about the things that we thought would help the company thrive. Spending this time together we are doing our best to live up to our stated vision which is that, “We are proud to be a triple bottom line company. We achieve our goals of financial profit as we care for our people and our planet.” Steven Covey’s time matrix from his book ‘The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People’ is a good reference point to see why this kind of time together is so beneficial. The opportunity to find commonality and a bond as a company falls into the surprisingly important second quadrant of the Time Matrix. This is time spent on important but not urgent tasks like designing, strategizing and planning. Sometimes these activities seem like a waste of time yet without this kind of focus we revert to crisis management simply because we did not think ahead. The saying, “planning is best done in advance” becomes well heeded advice.

Here is the Time Matrix.

So there we are at the retreat and our primary exercise in the four hour retreat and lunch was for each person to present three ideas that would further the company as a whole. Ideas that would help us create the ideal company, where we are doing exciting work, we are paid what we are worth, we are serving the community and making a difference.

So there we are at the retreat...

Everyone presented their three ideas and then we were going to vote on five ideas that we collectively thought were the highest priority. The goal was to walk away with action items that we would pursue together and individually to further the company. When everyone had presented their ideas and we discussed them together we discovered that most of our ideas fell into three categories…Accountability, Mission and Marketing. So without voting we came away with three ideas and action items that we could work on as a company. We had lunch together and took a company photo for prosperity.

Terra Nova Crew: Ken Foster, Rupert Poole, Kate Brovarney, Kyle Sanders, John Kostoff, Zeya Schindler and Kory Mc Adam - March 29th, 2012

Quality time together produced a yield that the company will benefit from for months or even years. The experience had me drawing parallels between garden design and business design. Mission, focus and commitment produces a yield.

We held a similar yet more intensive company retreat years earlier in 2003. At this two day retreat we had an unexpected yield that benefited the company long term. We called this retreat a Collaboratory.  The first day of our Collaboratory we invited members of the community to join company staff for a brainstorming session. Our financial advisor present that day offered a piece of advice: he said we should install a garden at the San Francisco Flower Show and win first place! Well as it turned out a landscape designer, Susan Wyche who was at the retreat and heard the advice came to me a few days later saying that she wanted to have a garden at the San Francisco Flower Show and she wanted us to join her in the project. Together we designed a garden and it was accepted for the show. We planned and prepared for months and at the show our garden won Sunset Magazine’s “Western Living Award” which is considered the “best of show” award. A year later our garden was featured in two full pages of Sunset Magazine.

Sunset Magazine's "Western Living Award"

Terra Nova garden at the SF Flower and Garden Show 2004.

This is the kind of yield I’m talking about. The kind of yield that is a permanent shining feature of a business portfolio. Regardless of whether it is a “best of show” award or a beautiful purple cauliflower, when time is spent on important but not urgent concerns the yield is bound to be beneficial.

Ken Foster


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