December 03, 2022
A couple of years ago British gardening TV personality Monty Don made a 3-part series about US gardens to answer the question, “What is an American garden?” Turns out, it’s an impossible question to answer satisfactorily in a country that spans a continent, 13 hardiness zones, and climates ranging from temperate forests to subtropical plains to desert to mountain to foggy coast to…well, you get the idea. Plus he focused largely on estate gardens maintained by dozens or more staff gardeners.
A much better take on the American garden can be found in new book American Roots: Lessons and Inspiration from the Designers Reimagining Our Home Gardens by Nick McCullough, Allison McCullough, and Teresa Woodard. Nick and Allison are a husband-and-wife team who operate a landscape design company and nursery in Columbus, Ohio. Nick curated the featured gardens and took most of the photographs in the book, Allison designed it, and Teresa wrote the text. Their partnership resulted in an excellent book with eye-candy pics and engaging stories about the gardens and gardeners who created them.
There are 4 things I love about this book. One, it includes 20 gardens from across the continental US, not just gardens along the coasts — my perennial complaint about many gardening books. Two, it features the personal gardens of designers or other garden creatives. Seeing what designers create for their own homes, where they feel freer to experiment and test plants and also make a personal space that reflects their own taste, offers up lessons in good design and livability. Three: top-notch photos (and lots of them) and writing. Four, the featured gardens are, every one, interesting, beautiful, and worthy of inclusion. There’s diversity in regional style and plant choices, and a strong sense of place is evident.
The book is organized into broad regions: Midwest, East Coast, South, and West. I love that “flyover country” (I hate that pejorative, but garden publications so often overlook the vast midsection of the US) comes first! It’s also Nick and Allison’s home region, and their own stunning garden starts things off. If you appreciate elegant floral harmonies plus bold containers featuring foliage plants, all organized within contemporary straight lines and English-style hedges — a style they dub Midwest Modern — you’ll love their garden. Follow Nick on Instagram for frequent glimpses of it.
I was delighted to see that Austin’s own Tait Moring, whose Texas-native, ruggedly contemporary garden I’ve had the pleasure of photographing many times, is featured in the book’s South chapter. The above photo is from his garden.
Each featured garden is given a long spread — 12 to 14 pages — of photos and text, which really gives you a feel for it. Since a garden is a reflection of the gardener, each person is given space to share their background and influences, how their garden originated and how they use it.
The final two pages in each garden’s spread is called “Learn from [Gardener’s Name]” and includes their favorite plants and design tips specific to their interests, for example “Inviting Spaces for Entertaining,” “Thrifty Garden Secrets,” and “Rock Hounding Tricks.” It’s a nice touch, giving the reader a lesson to take away from each garden.
If you love garden design and seeing what contemporary designers are doing in their own gardens across the US, I highly recommend this book.
ALSO: I’m excited to announce that authors Nick and Allison McCullough will be in Austin on January 26th for a Garden Spark talk about the book! Join my email list today (the link is below in Digging Deeper) to be notified first when tickets go on sale in early January. Nick is an engaging and entertaining speaker, and you won’t want to miss his presentation and the chance to meet him and Allison.
Photos courtesy of Timber Press.
Disclosure: Timber Press sent me a copy of American Roots, and I reviewed it at my own discretion and without any compensation. This post, as with everything at Digging, is my personal opinion.
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Come learn about garden design from the experts at Garden Spark! I organize in-person talks by inspiring designers, landscape architects, and authors a few times a year in Austin. These are limited-attendance events that sell out quickly, so join the Garden Spark email list to be notified in advance. Simply click this link and ask to be added. You can find this year’s speaker lineup here.
All material © 2022 by Pam Penick for Digging. Unauthorized reproduction prohibited.