About Us

That’s me, Mel Bellar, in the red glasses next to the red Japanese bloodgrass.  BTW, I am well aware that Imperata cylindrica is on the invasive species list but in our zone 4 climate it is lucky to just survive.  I am the current owner of Zone4 Landscapes.  I am also the designer, bookkeeper, sometimes backhoe operator,  webmaster, plant shopper, a shoveler of gravel and the list goes on.  I love getting to do a little of everything but we do have a great team.  Between us we can do most things required for our projects but we do engage the services of other artists and tradesmen when needed.

I have a Landscape Design Certificate from the excellent program at the New York Botanical Garden.  I also have a Master Gardener Certification from the Cornell Cooperative Extension of Greene County.  I am very active in the landscape design community and continue to take a variety of classes and workshops to keep up with the industry and acquire new skills, as well as giving lectures and participating in special projects and workshops. 

My passion for gardening and design has been developing for many years but it took a leap when I purchased an apartment in Manhattan  specifically to gain roof rights.  I then proceeded to create a 1200 square foot roof garden where I  spent almost all of my time away from the office.  After exhausting the limitations of the roof garden I purchased a log home with 5 1/2 acres in Andes, NY  in order to expand on this obsession.   I finally decided to give up my lucrative career in Information Technology (and my roof garden) in Manhattan and  move to my home in the Catskills and start a landscape design business.  It has been a challenge but you couldn’t drag me back kicking and screaming.

I am originally from Louisiana and did all my undergraduate and graduate work in music composition and piano performance with a focus on classical or “serious” music although I was a rock & roller in high school.  When I moved to NYC in 1975 to pursue my musical career it took a strange twist and I ended up playing at CBGB’s in a new wave rock band, not Carnegie Hall.  I switched gears a couple of times and after a wild journey ended up at Ogilvy and Mather as the Chief Technology Officer of the Interactive Division.  That is all behind me and now Zone4 is now starting its sixth season and I am loving it.

I believe that I have a good combination of skills, natural affinity, experience and knowledge to guide Zone4 to provide excellent solutions for clients in a cost effective and enjoyable manner.  I am totally jazzed by creating functional and beautiful solutions to living situations and the exterior environment provides a great canvas.   My designs are very  sensitive to environmental and ecological concerns including using indigenous plants and avoiding invasive species and unnecessary chemicals.

Meet Our Team

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Mel Bellar

Pres, Jefe, Designer, Chief Bottle Washer

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Agustin "Gus" Torres

Field Manager, Real Boss II

Gus is the man! He runs the installations and keeps me honest. Since Gus started with me in 2010 he has learned to read my mind and beyond. He has a great eye, great organizational skills and will not let me cut corners at the end of the day even if is it cold and rainy and we are exhausted.

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Phyllis Horowitz

Head Angel

Phyllis is a super organizer, artist, whitewater kayaker, DOG LOVER and gardener extraordinaire. She is the head angel and helps me keep things together and get everything done.

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Jonathan Torres

Chief Humorist and Field Dude

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Sandy Valk

Chief Hugger and Angel's Angel

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Gerda van Leeuwen

Angel

Angel without fear. Gerda is one of my favorite artist and a serious gardener. I have admired her art in and out of the garden for years. She is tenacious and adventurous in both worlds.

Dudes & Angels

Our crew is roughly divided into two teams:  the dudes do the excavation, stone work, backhoe stuff and heavy work and the angels do the weeding, pruning, deadheading, general garden maintenance and fluffing.  This terminology developed because the “angels” are all women (and not under 50) so when I would refer to them as a group it didn’t feel right to say the ladies (not terrible), the girls (older women don’t mind this so much but I have been trained to consider it very un-PC), the women (definitely not!), the gals (yikes!).  Anyway to solve the problem I started calling them “the angels” and it just stuck so now the clients all know them as the Zone4 angels.

So after we had the angels we needed some way to refer to the installation crew, all men, so they became the dudes.  Now these terms are not necessarily gender specific and we are all fluid.  I am particularly fluid and work as both dude and angel on a regular basis but we all do that from time to time so please don’t judge me harshly on the terminology.  We are pretty modern and with it, or at least we like to think so.

All of the dudes and angels are dedicated professional and love what they do.  We have a great time working together to make the world a more beautiful place.

Some Things that Our Clients Say

After years of bland landscaping results we engaged Mel to wow us. Away while Mel worked we returned to a magical transformation. Where we had a void, we now have an exquisite dry brook. The attention to detail, sense of scale and creation of a look that competes with our creator is truly over the top. Mel also cleaned up the rest of our property adding drainage trenches and much needed pruning.

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Heather Brighton

Mel is an artist. From our first meeting, he quickly understood our style and aesthetic. He then proposed work that exceeded our expectations, and the finished product blew our minds. We are thrilled with the transformation of our property. Mel has an immaculate attention to detail, a discerning eye, and cares deeply for one's land and home. We couldn't recommend him more!

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Paul Tamaccio

Mel, worked with us throughout the year to establish new gardens and a stone water course with plantings. Zone 4 worked very collaboratively with us and came up with plans based on our initial ideas. I have found the pricing fair and the work of very high quality.

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Curtis Cravens

I've been to many sites in the Catskills and find that Zone 4 Landscapes Ltd. is the most creative, landscaping company in the area. Mel Bellar's designs take into consideration each unique site. Starting with the hardscaping, he creates a four season garden that fulfills the owner's desires and profoundly enhances their property.

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Ellen Fauerbach

The Zone4 Philosophy

First and foremost, from a business perspective, I like to be able to give clients what they want even if they are not able to describe it or are not sure of what they want.  At the same time I have to feel good about it and be willing to claim it as a Zone4 piece of work.  I would, of course, like to be able to do what I think is beautiful, cool, appropriate or even ground-breaking but I enjoy working with the property owner to come up with a plan that will make them very happy and have an outcome that I think works well within their parameters.  I strongly encourage the client to get involved and make the whole design effort a collaborative process.  This not only makes the project much more enjoyable but it makes it much more likely that he or she is going to be pleased the results and feel like the garden is theirs and not something that was done to them.

Secondly, from a business perspective, I try to give the client the most value for their money.  Landscaping is expensive and there is just no way around that unless you do it yourself and are willing spend a huge amount  time in the process and are prepared to wait many years to see the landscape you envision.  There will be a  tremendous learning curve and many mistakes along the way.  A professional designer with some experience can actually save money in the long run and provide much better results much sooner.  I like to work with clients to maximize their budget because I would like to get as far toward our goals as possible.  Granted, I would like to have enough budget to do it all in one fell swoop and have a beautifully implemented plan in the first season.  Unfortunately this is rarely the case requiring projects to be broken down into a staged approach, possibly deciding to start with smaller plants and/or filling in with plants that reseed and propagate easily while waiting for more costly specimens to grow.  I simply cannot approach landscape design from a money-making point of view first and foremost; I consider each project as a challenge to create the most functional and beautiful landscape with the resources available.  Oh well, I didn’t choose this to get rich.

Lastly, I believe that money spent on landscaping is money well spent and that we provide a very valuable service.  The exterior of your property is what you and your guests see first when you arrive at your home.  It is so compelling to have a good experience when first seeing the property, entering the driveway, moving toward the house, getting out of the car and walking to the entrance.  It is more than just curb appeal; it is the whole experience of arriving and being there.  Having the property work well for your lifestyle and provide a beautiful environment that makes you smile and feel good seems “priceless” to me.  Having outdoor areas that are inviting for entertaining, relaxing and recreation make it much more likely that you will enjoy your investment and get the most out of your property.

There are a few things that are very important to me from a design point of view.  I feel strongly that a project should start with a top down approach as is the case with any good design.  This means that after a thorough site analysis where we determine what existing features should be saved and reused we measure the property, capture the existing state and then develop a big-picture design for the whole property or area under consideration.  This approach insures that we address all of the “requirements” or wish list of features and desires and saves a lot of time in the long run.  It produces much better results than creating a bed here and there and improvising our way to a design over time.  It also provides the basis for staging various components and developing the most efficient long-term plan.

Secondly I am a huge advocate of the year-round garden.  I want to enjoy my landscape throughout the year having components for the fall and winter as well as the expected spring and summer gardens.  Creating paths, patios, garden structures and vertical interests are major contributors to the overall success of a garden space.  Seasonal interest can be accomplished by planting conifers and broad-leafed evergreens, plants with interesting habits, barks and fruits, ornamental grasses and other plants with interesting winter carcasses for starters.  Not all clients are interested in having an all season garden because they may be second home owners and primarily use the property in the summer.  This is a valid reason to focus resources on a particular season and I will not try to bludgeon you out of it.  There are those clients that I call “flower floosies” who are unabashedly only interested in flowers:  blooms, blooms and more blooms.  We love them too and do our best to please them and perhaps try to sneak in a little nutrition disguised as the foliage that supports the flowers.

I am a fan of using as many “native” or indigenous species in the garden as possible while achieving the desired affect.  This is true for a number of reasons:  native plants are well-suited to the environment and tend to do very well (duh!) and they also support the local ecosystem providing homes and food for insects which feed the birds which do their jobs of propagating plants and eating the “bad” bugs and so on and so on.  I am not a fanatic about using native plants and employ a wide palette of material suitable to our region and am constantly searching for new useful species.  I will not, however, plant invasive species.

As I began this pontification, I will try my best to give the client what they want but if I were given complete freedom I would lean toward the following.  I like more flowing natural looking gardens with curvilinear lines and a feeling of informality but with a sense of order and clean lines.  The line is very important to me and the success of a garden. I love to mix in blue, bronze/purple and chartreuse/yellow foliage as well as a variety of greens to create depth and texture.  I like to use mass plantings, particularly to get a strong color impact but having a variety of heights and textures is a vital component  in most cases.

I could continue endlessly on this subject but if you read this far I should give you a break and sign off for now.  Thanks for your interest.

—  Mel