|Those who take their
gardening seriously know that one of the determinants of plant selection is what is mandated by the USDA Plant Hardiness Zone in which you live. Plant hardiness is gauged by the average minimum temperature of an area; these
mountains' average low temperatures fall within the minus 20-30 range, which classifies us as Zone 4. When Nat Thomas and Mel Bellar decided to join forces in the creation of a landscaping business, their interests in working with
native plants made the zone classification a natural choice for the name.
Zone4 Landscapes provides a range of design, planting and maintenance services to property owners. The "normal" process begins with a consultation during which Nat and/or Mel discuss your
needs and walk the property to get a sense of the topography and see what is already growing. The consultation is free and followed by a letter of understanding when you agree to proceed. Using a state of the art architectural program, Mel then draft a
comprehensive plan of the land and its uses. while this might sound like a process appropriate to large plots of land, it is equally valuable for a simple backyard garden.
They conduct extensive research to identify plants that will propagate well in your soil, provide lush summer foliage and blooms and also have what they call "winter interest." Mel Bellar explains why they go to so much trouble, "We treat each garden as a new challenge and are constantly seeking individual solutions. It takes a lot of time and energy to produce a plan but the result is a truly custom designed garden. We will go anywhere to find the right plant for a garden and give it a truly personal touch." Indeed, for one job last summer they went to six different nurseries to find the various plants that met their scrupulous criterion for hardiness and that would
create the effects they were seeking to create.
Judging by the number of nominations they received, their approach is paying off for their customers. Zone4 Landscapes took
first place in the Landscaping and Yard Services category and their service approach is a primary reason why. "We've been more successful than we dreamed," say 20-year area resident
Nat Thomas,, "we took on some very exciting jobs in our first season and already have a great deal of work
lined up for the one to come. We are developing a trusted crew that will enable us to do any project we take on.
The two come to the business from very different backgrounds. Nat, who is known in the area
of his extraordinary art and quilts, has been providing his gardening expertise to customers for over 10 years.
Mel, who is the former Chief Information Officer for Ogilvy & Mather, the international
advertising and PR firm, decided to pursue his long-standing interest in gardening when he and his wife relocated full time to Andes.
Mel talks about their working together, "Nat and I have been friends for 30 years, but we were concerned about working together. It has really worked out beautifully. We are great foils for one another and naturally complement one another in the exchange and generation
of ideas. It is a real partnership."
In order to broaden their expertise, the two completed the 16-week Master Gardening Program from Greene County Cornell Extension. Mel is also in the Intensive course offered by the NY Botanical Garden and he has developed a mastery of the AutoCAD program that enables them to provide comprehensive computer-generated landscaping plans for their customers. For Nat the extra training "filled in the scientific gaps in my knowledge base.
| I already had a breadth of gardening experience; now I can read the land more knowingly and understand, for instance, how the sun's passage impacts growth patterns."
The partnership draws heavily on Mel's business skills and organizational savvy. "I
appreciate the importance of communications and follow-up. Our pricing is fair and we provide clear written documents so that people understand exactly what they can expect from us.
Their customers appreciate it so much that many are coming back for more. "When we do a plan, we present the grand
scheme and it covers work that can be done over several seasons as plants mature; additions can be made to fill in or, short term planting can be used to fill in the spaces that
trees and shrubs will grow to fill," says Mel. Nat goes on to say "Much of the work last season was repairing construction scars,
those places damaged by machinery or places around the house and decking that
need to be covered by plantings. We love being brought in prior to ground breaking for new homes."
They work in a variety of ways to produce what Nat calls an "Outdoor room." Their projects often include the building of
stone walls, creation of raised beds, as well as various plantings and whenever possible the use natural resources. "We used native rough-hewn hemlock
for one raised bed and fencing; the effect was even more dramatic than we hoped. we have a
pallet of evergreens to use so that each property can have just the right color, texture and size to complement the land." They are especially
excited about working with native plants (those that have been growing in the region
of more than 300 years) and have cultivated several local plant sources; however, they are not such purists that they won't use the cultivars that can add a special effect in just the right spot.