Creative Landscapes

Creative Landscapes
Making the Lehigh Valley more beautiful, one outdoor space at a time.

From an early age, Tom Schray enjoyed planting trees, shrubs, and flowers; he still remembers getting his hands dirty helping his dad tend to a small nursery and landscaping business in west Bethlehem.

“By day, my dad worked in sales in the cement industry, and on evenings and weekends he ran the nursery and landscaping business for mostly residential customers and a few commercial clients. It was a passion of his, something he enjoyed on the side, and I fell in love with it, too,” Schray says. “I got all my work ethics from my father, who at 95 years old still gives me advice whenever I need it or ask for it.”

The family’s nursery and landscaping bug followed Schray to college, where he graduated from Delaware Valley College in 1986 with a Bachelor of Science degree in ornamental horticulture and landscape design. The same year, he started Creative Landscapes from his dad’s West Bethlehem location and quickly expanded it to two additional locations to maintain a growing inventory of plants, landscaping materials, and bulk items.

After seeing a need to consolidate and expand operations in 1990, he purchased an 8-acre farm in Lower Nazareth Township, where Creative Landscapes is based today. Six acres are devoted to plants, and from the parking lot you can get a sense of the variety from the contours and colors of the foliage spread out over the property.

“The company maintains a fully stocked nursery of trees, shrubs, perennials, along with all kinds of paving materials for clientele to inspect and choose for their outdoor projects,” Schray says. 

“Over the years, we have landscaped thousands of homes in the greater Lehigh Valley,” he adds. “We’ve earned the trust of some of the finest builders, home designers, architects, as well as homeowners by following one simple motto — always do the right thing, no matter what.” 

“When someone trusts you with a project, whether it’s a $5,000 job or a $1 million job, we take that trust to heart and try to deliver 110 percent on it,” says Schray, adding that the business has expanded and flourished based mostly on referrals and word of mouth.

Creative Landscapes is considered a landscape design and build company, meaning that it builds what it designs. With one landscape architect and two designers on staff, all with at least 30 years’ experience each, it offers comprehensive design from site analysis to completed master plans drawn by hand or computer-generated plans with digital imaging. 

“Our designers know construction, and our construction crews know design. This design-build approach to landscaping drives efficiencies that significantly benefit the client,” Schray says. “What makes design-build beneficial is that it’s a seamless approach. We’re responsible for every aspect of the projects, which are led by our senior craftsmen, Boris Zydyk and Kevin Dollak with their 32-years of experience.”

“The process of imagining, designing, and sculpting your home site into an inspiring environment is everything to us”

Scott Bandics, senior designer and a Delaware Valley College graduate with a degree in ornamental horticulture and landscape design, says every project has its own personality.

“You have to consider everything — topography, the style of the home or structure, and many other aspects — and come up with designs that aren’t rubber stamps,” says Bandics, who’s been with Creative Landscapes since 1995. 

He helps manage the more than 200 jobs that come in every year and advises clients who are often inspired to take on an outdoor design project based on what they see on HGTV, Houzz, or Pinterest. Fire pits and outdoor kitchens have become popular in recent years, Bandics notes.

Whether it’s covered pavilions with kitchens and bars, sound systems, LED lighting, fireplaces, native plant gardens, water features, customized landscaping around swimming pools, or a basic patio with pavers, “if it’s outside, we’ll build it,” Schray says. “We can tailor a beautiful result for a range of budgets.”

To help make the dreams reality, Creative Landscapes employs about 25 people during the peak season, spring and summer, to keep up with demand, and about 15 year-round. Schray’s sister, Joanne Zsilavecz, has had a front-row seat observing the activity and growth through the decades.

“I’ve worked here for 25 years, and it’s been a thrill to interact with customers and see my brother expand the business from the original Bethlehem location,” says Zsilavecz, the office manager at Creative Landscapes. 

“The process of imagining, designing, and sculpting your home site into an inspiring environment is everything to us,” adds Schray. “So we push it. We jump overboard to make the magic happen. We grab you by the hand and take you with us. We hope that sometime, long after we’ve said goodbye, you will step into your yard and see or feel something in the landscape that you never noticed before, and you will think to yourself, ‘wow.’ That is our goal.”

Schray says “work” is not the word to describe the energy behind Creative Landscapes. “Yes, we sketch, draw, erase and draw again. We get our hands dirty and work up a sweat,” he says. “But it feels like play. We play hard to surprise and delight our clients. We can’t help it.”

Prep Next Spring’s Garden Now

Landscape maintenance in the fall has a direct effect on the quality of the gardens you will see emerging in spring. The following tips, from Tom Schray, owner and president of Creative Landscapes, will ensure that your gardens are well prepared to come back strong. 

Lawn care: The best defense against weeds is dense, well-rooted turf. Over-seeding and aeration in fall gives the lawn a head start in spring.

Planting: Fall is the best time to plant trees and shrubs. As plants approach seasonal dormancy, they switch their focus from above-ground growth to below-ground growth, gathering and storing nutrients for spring. The still warm soil and cooler air temperatures stimulate root growth without the threat of heat stress.

Watering: Dry winds of winter are harsh on trees and shrubs, especially evergreens, because their foliage is still exposed. You’ll want to ensure that trees and shrubs are adequately hydrated before they shut down for the cold season. Continue watering the ground before it freezes.

Sensitive plants: For plants such as hollies, rhododendron, and azaleas, Schray and his staff recommend spraying them with an anti-desiccant, which coats the leaves with a waxy substance that helps protect them from frigid, dehydrating winter winds.

Perennials: Cut back, split, or transplant perennials, which will in time dominate a plot so much that they can crowd each other out. They may also contract a fungus or not look as attractive because of crowding and too much competition.

Bulbs: Now is the time to plant spring-blooming bulbs such as daffodils, tulips, hyacinth, and crocus. Spring blooming bulbs need to be in cold soil so they can establish a root system before they sprout.

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