About Zone 4

Dan and Andra Spurr

After moving to Bozeman, Montana, 10 years ago, and making many costly and frustrating mistakes not only in the garden, but planting the wrong shrubs and trees in the wrong soil, we began to realize that what works in New England and the Midwest and the South and the Pacific Coast doesn’t necessarily work here. More often than not, it doesn’t. Rainfall averages less than 20 inches annually. The growing season seldom safely extends beyond Memorial Day to Labor Day. And in many locations topsoil is poor, requiring significant amendment. Our house sits on 10 acres of what Montanans derisively call "gumbo." A dense clay that when wet is slick as ice.

When our growing efforts were successful (hey, not everything died!), often the fruits of our labor were plucked by foraging deer or moles or skunks just hours before harvest. Not just vegetables and plants, but the deer also mangled spruce and pine trees! You’d think the needles would be like eating a mouthful of porcupine quills, but it is said and it is true: If they’re hungry, they’ll eat anything. Some experts recommend spreading human hair, blood, and mountain lion urine—all purported to offend deer. Others promote plant species that deer supposedly avoid. Others say ruefully that the only guaranteed way to keep deer out is a tall fence. We tried everything.

To improve our knowledge, we read books and even took the Master Gardener’s course at Montana State University. We also looked at a lot of magazines, but none addressed, in any real depth, the challenges associated with growing in zone 4 of the high country West. So we decided to create the magazine we wanted, but could not find, when we moved here. It’s written by experts for real people with real concerns who want to learn more about successful gardening, landscaping, and healthy local foods raised and grown in in the Rocky Mountain region. But it's not just about what you can grow in your own backyard, it's about your local community, including restaurants, cafes, bed-and-breakfast inns, farmers' markets, wineries, garden centers, nurseries, green-thumbed entrepreneurs, family businesses and small farming operations.  It's about people from all walks of life who share a passion for gardening, sustainable practices,  outdoor living and healthy lifestyles.

When you spend a lot of time gardening and landscaping, you want to be able to enjoy it more intimately than through the kitchen window while you wash dishes. Patios and decks provide comfortable spaces that can be integrated with your organic work. In the summer, we frequently cook and dine outdoors. Grills and outdoor fireplaces enhance the experience, and compliments from friends and guests make all the hard work worthwhile.

Outdoor art is a beautiful companion to the natural elements of your home’s outdoor spaces, whether it is a mural or wind chime or welded steel sculpture or an arrangement of found rocks and wood. So if we see something we like, we’ll show you. And if you see something you like, show us.

Over the past five years, our understanding of zone 4 and all the USDA zones in the Rocky Mountain states of Montana, Wyoming, Colorado, Idaho and Utah has constantly evolved and with it so has the content of Zone 4 Magazine. While we have expanded our reach and editorial content far beyond Montana, we haven't forgotten our roots and our editorial offices remain in zone 4.

As always, we welcome your comments and suggestions.

Andra and Dan Spurr