Some companies are very aptly named, but few more so than TERRA NOVA® Nurseries, Inc. Established in 1992 and based in Canby, Oregon, we are a tissue culture propagator and a grower of both annuals and perennials. Throughout our 25+ year history, we are constantly focused on our breeding, marketing, propagation and licensing efforts.
Our greatest claim to fame is the popularizing of new Heuchera varieties that emphasized foliage, not flowers. We have introduced Heucheras in a rainbow of colors. However, TERRA NOVA® is also the world’s most prolific breeder of new Coleus selections, and has introduced numerous new selections of Tiarella, Heucherella, Echinacea, Agastache, Coreopsis, Sedum, Kniphofia, Penstemon, Nepeta and Leucanthemum.
We hold more than 700+ active plant patents in the United States and Europe, and have introduced over 1,000+ new plants, including some developed by others. To drive this pace of constant innovation, the nursery has invested more than $1 million annually in plant research and development and built a team of top-notch in-house breeders. Chuck Pavlich and Harini Korlipara have earned patents for the company, in addition to Dan and Ken.
Royalty revenue makes up one-third of the company’s earnings. The rest comes through selling the plants that TERRA NOVA® Nurseries grows in our labs and greenhouses. The nursery produces 700 varieties and ships 3 million stage-three tissue culture plants every year, along with 5 to 6 million liners.
We sell to all sectors of the green industry, including wholesale growers, plant brokers, chain stores, independent garden centers, mail order nurseries, collector nurseries and specialty companies.
From the beginning, TERRA NOVA® has refrained from genetic modification of plants and has not used plant growth regulators to alter the final product.
Both Ken and Dan grew up in plant-loving households. Ken’s mom was a botanist and Dan’s was a gardener. One could say their mothers bred a love of plants into their sons, especially for house plants. In young adulthood, both amassed enormous collections.
In the 1970s, the two first met at a meeting of the Indoor Light Gardening Society in Portland. Not long after, Ken was speaking with a co-worker, Lynne Bartenstein, at Oregon Health & Science University, where both worked in a research laboratory.
A friendship soon formed between Dan, Ken, Lynne and Ken’s girlfriend and future wife, Jody. Although they attended each other’s weddings – Dan and Lynne in 1978 and Ken and Jody in 1981 – the two couples lost track of each other.
They reconnected years later when Ken and Jody attended a meeting of the American Hosta Society, where Dan was president. Without this chance meeting, TERRA NOVA® might never have existed.
Dan and Lynne invited Ken and Jody to their beach house, where Dan casually mentioned he’d been thinking about integrating a plant breeding company with a tissue culture company. It was a way to bypass the limitations of traditional plant division.
Meanwhile, Ken and Jody had been looking for a business opportunity. This was it.
All four friends had talents to contribute. Ken had a degree in microbiology and worked in quality control as an analytical chemist for Armour Foods.
Lynne, also a microbiologist, had lab experience. Dan was a skilled all-around plantsman and owner of a landscaping business, Terra Green. Jody was skilled in business, working in the corporate accounting office for Coca-Cola.
On that basis, TERRA NOVA® Nurseries Inc. was formed as an equal partnership. Each member took on a particular role.
Ken became the managing owner. Dan became president and the company’s main interface with retailers. He took on public speaking engagements to promote the business. Jody took charge of accounting and financial management. Lynne served as contract manager.
Ken and Jody made a makeshift lab in a spare bedroom of their home, but needed something bigger. The answer was to build a lab in their backyard. This gave them a place to propagate plants in tissue culture, but not a place to grow them into liners. They set up grow lights in that basement. The access was bad and there was no parking, but they made it work by accessing the facility very early or late in the day.
All four members of the corporation kept their day jobs as they launched the business.
In no time, TERRA NOVA® was rolling out new plant introductions.
Heuchera ‘Snowstorm’ and Heuchera ‘Plum Pudding’ were a couple of the company’s early hits, giving the company early income and momentum. These were quickly followed by three patent applications Dan wrote at the end of 1993, for Pulmonaria ‘Excalibur’, Heuchera ‘Chocolate Ruffles’ and Heuchera ‘Pewter Veil’. They were granted in late 1994.
The display garden at TERRA NOVA® Nurseries Inc. attracts visitors from far and wide to see the grower’s many colorful introductions.
Years of growth
By 1995, the day jobs were history. In fact, TERRA NOVA® was doing well enough to purchase a 2.5 acre nursery at the Macksburg location, an unincorporated community south of Canby, Oregon. This site would become the company’s headquarters, and it greatly expanded the company’s production capabilities.
Steady growth continued, as did continuous breeding of new plants. TERRA NOVA® pushed the new introductions out to the public with innovative strategies, including sending out sample plants to influencers, launching a website with extensive plant photos and information, and publishing themed yearly catalogs with photo CDs tucked into the back.
The company expanded again in 2001 with the purchase of a 5-acre parcel on Dryland Road, a stone’s throw from the Macksburg property. An adjacent 5-acre parcel was added in 2003, and a new tissue culture lab was built on the Dryland property in 2006. Growth was continuous.
As a result, the owners of TERRA NOVA® decided to start licensing their introductions to other growers in the United States. It was a way to keep market share and allowed the company to reduce freight costs, particularly to the East Coast.
The company expanded its tissue culture lab in 2011, and in 2013, the company began selling stage-three starts to licensees. These are starts grown from tissue culture that have grown large enough to be placed in soil by the customer.
As far back as 1995, the company expanded overseas with European labs. Now the company has licensee relationships with partner labs in China, New Zealand, Indonesia, Costa Rica and Vietnam, and is also working with unrooted cutting farms in Africa and Central America.
The global relationships TERRA NOVA® must manage due to the nature of its business are numerous and complicated, but constant breeding innovation remains key to our success. It’s how we stay ahead of competitors who are constantly trying to best us.