Out and About with AOLCPs -

Living and Breathing Organic: Paula Kovecses Designs Healthy Landscapes

Paula Kovecses' grandson, RJ, means everything to her. When he was diagnosed Paula Kovecses

with high levels of lead in his 1-year-old body, she became increasingly concerned about "all the chemicals in everything, including toys" that he encounters daily.

Her landscape design business, T.W.I.G., which stands for "The Way It Grows" is a 100 percent organic company.

"Why would I want it any other way?" she asks.

While she loves what she does, she worries about the bigger picture, wanting to protect wetlands and shorelines, prevent chemicals from sickening her clients and educate as many people as possible about the benefits of working with the environment we all share, rather than seeking quick fixes and ignoring invasives for instance.

"Not all people want to hear 'the right thing to do' when it comes to landscaping, especially near wetlands and shorelines," she said. "I have lost a few clients due to the fact that they do not want to do the right thing, and only seek their own pleasure in the landscape. Conveying this to people is hard and there are many landscapers who have no knowledge of what they are doing. NH does not enforce landscapers to get certified."

Kovecses (NOFA 5-day class of 2010, Newburyport, MA), who recently downsized to a three-room condo with her husband, Laszlo, plans to move to Maine in three years to establish an off-the-grid farming/landscaping business where they hope to barter most of their products and services.

Meanwhile, she's working hard in New Hampshire to change mindsets and educate about organic land care.

Kovecses worked as the New Hampshire Landscape Association (NHLA) certification coordinator for several years and stepped down Jan. 1 in order to spend her time on the Education Committee of NOFA NH, where she is also the Winter Conference education coordinator. She'd like to help start an OLC Program there, so that NOFA's well established educational curriculum would be more accessible to NH landscapers. She has written articles for the NOFA NH newsletter on invasives and other OLC topics as well.

Kovecses currently is teaching one semester of woody plant material at the Thompson School of the University of New Hampshire, where she's making an effort to educate her students on invasives and natives.

"They learned about the consequences of invasives and the essentials of natives, as well as being able to identify the key woody invasives in NH," she said.

She will also teach sustainable gardening to three adult education school systems in 2012, an audience she has instructed in garden design for the last six years; and she led a native/invasive identification walk in Concord, NH in September.

"I have seen the 'light,' and I want everyone else to see it as well," she said. "So, I will educate everyone I possibly can to make our earth sustainable."

Before Kovecses founded her business, T.W.I.G. in 2005, she was a commercial grower, manager of a garden center, worked as a garden trainer for a big box store as well as office manager for a multi-service landscape company. "I learned a lot, including what I would not do when I started my business. I decided customer service was the highest priority."

She founded T.W.I.G. as a landscape design, consulting, installation and maintenance company, focusing on low-impact designs that maintain precious ecosystems and aiming to use at least one-quarter native plant material in all of her designs. Her husband works with her on the weekends, when he's not managing a tool company.

One of the main services that T.W.I.G. provides is landscape design for the do-it-yourself homeowner, where Kovecses will meet with potential clients for a free consultation, assess the property, discuss hopes and dreams with the client and even offer wholesale pricing on plants once the contract is finalized. She provides a visual plan of the property, a CAD drawing to scale, information sheets on plant material, the option of a one-, two- or three-year plan, and a trip to the wholesale nursery.

"My present goals are to educate my current clients on sustainability, incorporate at least three-fourths native plants into my designs, expand on new features on my website, get my permaculture design course certificate this winter, begin to organize AOLCP programs for NOFA NH, as well as more educational talks to the public," she said.

Kovecses has come a long way from horticultural technology college in the early '90s, when she was taught that chemicals were a cure for every issue in the landscape and commercial growing environments. For a short time she applied toxic chemicals to control pests in a commercial greenhouse where she worked, but soon realized her own health could be affected over time, and let her license lapse.

"In developing my personal landscape over the years, I came to notice the abundance of dragonflies, loons, frogs, etc. as I added more diverse plant material. Then I started reading on organics," she said. "At the end of the (NOFA 5-day) accreditation course, I knew this was something I had to work at. I now had the reasons for the 'why should we do this' that I had been preaching for so long."

"Going organic, educating organic, living and breathing organic for the future of my grandson has become our personal goal," she said. "I want him to grow up in a chemical free, diverse, ecological environment."

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