Read This: American Roots – Digging

December 03, 2022

A few years ago British gardening TV personality Monty Don produced a 3-part series about American gardening to answer the question, “What is An American garden?” Turns out, an impossible question to satisfactorily answer in a country spanning a continent, 13 hardiness zones, and climates ranging from temperate forests to subtropical plains to deserts to mountains to misty coasts… Well, you get the idea. Also He mainly focused on estate gardens maintained by a dozen or more staff gardeners.

A better take on American gardening can be found in the new book American Roots: Lessons and Inspiration from the Designers Reimagining Our Home Gardens By Nick McCullough, Alison 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 book’s photographs, Alison designed it and Teresa wrote the text. Their partnership resulted in a wonderful book with eye-candy pictures and engaging stories about the gardens and the gardeners who created them.

Photo: Nick McCullough

There are 4 things I love about this book. One, it includes 20 gardens across the continental US, not just gardens along the coast—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 free to experiment and experiment with plants and also create a personal space that reflects their own taste, offers lessons in good design and livability. Three: Top photos (and lots of them) and text. Four, feature gardens are, each, attractive, beautiful and worthy of inclusion. There is a variety of regional styles and plant choices and a strong sense of place is evident.

Photo: Nick McCullough

The book is organized into broad regions: Midwest, East Coast, South, and West. I love that “flyover country” (I hate that pejorative, but gardening publications often ignore the vast middle of the US) comes first! This is also Nick and Alison’s home territory, and their own stunning garden begins. If you appreciate elegant floral harmony and bold containers featuring foliage plants, organized within contemporary straight lines and English-style hedges — a style they call Midwest Modern — you’ll love their garden. Follow Nick on Instagram for frequent glimpses of it.

Photo: Nick McCullough

I was delighted to see that Austin’s own Tait Mooring, whose Texas-native, ruggedly contemporary garden I’ve had the pleasure of photographing many times, is featured in the book’s southern chapter. The above picture is of his garden.

Photo: Nick McCullough

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 came to be, and how they use it.

Photo: Caitlin Atkinson

The last two pages of each garden spread are called “Learn From [Gardener’s Name]” and includes design tips specific to their favorite plants and their interests, such as “inviting spaces for entertaining,” “thrifty garden secrets,” and “rock hounding tricks.” It’s a nice touch, a lesson to take the reader away from every garden. gives

Photo: Bob Stefko

If you love garden design and seeing what contemporary designers are doing in their own gardens across the United States, I highly recommend this book.

Also: I’m excited to announce that authors Nick and Alison McCullough will be in Austin on January 26th for a Garden Spark talk about the book! Join my email list today to be the first to know when tickets go on sale in early January (link is below in Digging Deeper). Nick is an engaging and entertaining speaker, and you won’t want to miss his presentation and the opportunity to meet him and Alison.

I welcome your comments. Scroll to the end of this post to leave a. If you’re reading an email, click here to go to Digging and find the comment box at the end of each post. And hey, did someone forward you this email and you want to subscribe? Click here to have Digging delivered straight to your inbox!

Disclosure: Timber Press sent me a copy American route, And I reviewed it at my own discretion and without compensation. This post, like everything in Digging, is my personal opinion.


dig deep

Learn about garden design from the experts here Garden Spark! I host private talks with inspiring designers, landscape architects, and writers several 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. Just click on this link and ask to be added. You can find this year’s speaker lineup here.

All material © 2022 by Pam Penick for Excavation. Unauthorized reproduction prohibited.

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