Seven years ago, when local landscape designer Nick McCullough first got the call to collaborate on the installation of a New Albany garden created by legendary landscape design firm OLIN, he jumped at the chance. Little did he know the project would lead to a long-standing client relationship and an important career boost. Today, the 34-year-old has expanded his landscape business, McCullough’s Landscape & Nursery, to 35 employees, built an impressive client list, started nursery and cut-flower farm Red Twig Farms and earned accolades including the Perennial Plant Association’s 2013 Young Professional of the Year at its conference in British Columbia.
Columbus Monthly Home & Garden caught up with McCullough for a tour of his New Albany clients’ lovely walled estate garden and to hear valuable lessons he learned from its care.
THE GRAND TOUR
McCullough begins the tour beneath the large yellow buckeye tree at the boxwood-lined entry of this stately Georgian residence—one of the first homes built in New Albany in the 1990s. When McCullough’s clients, a couple, purchased the home, they first focused on renovating interior spaces and then moved outdoors. For the initial landscape design, they called on Philadelphia-based OLIN, whose principal Laurie Olin helped establish the grand theme for New Albany’s master plan. For this Georgian home’s garden, OLIN proposed a walled garden to be viewed from inside the home and along its rear brick patio. The plan called for a central lawn trimmed with bricks, lined with wide perennial borders and framed with flowering and colorfully foliaged trees and shrubs like magnolias, ash, maples, beeches, gingkos and viburnums. Working with OLIN’s initial design, McCullough and his team selected plants that are well-suited to Central Ohio’s growing conditions.
“An initial goal was season-long interest and color,” McCullough says.
Today, the garden blooms in spring with a profusion of soft pastels—magnolias, rhododendrons, hellebores, spring bulbs, white astilbes, yellow lady’s mantle and purple cranesbill. By midsummer, the garden takes on a different look with a combination of lush green foliage and white flowers, including white coneflowers (Echinacea purpurea “White Swan,”) Phlox paniculata “David,” Shasta daisies and butterfly bush (Buddleja). To add season-long interest on the patio, McCullough fills massive green-glazed French urns with rosemary topiary, trimmed boxwood and herbs like oregano and thyme. In the fall, the garden showcases more richly colored and textural foliage and more white blooms, from tardiva hydrangea and the floral spikes of “Sixteen Candles” summersweet. In the bareness of winter, the garden’s holly and winterberry close out the yearlong show.
Just outside the walled garden, a breathtaking rose garden lines the brick wall along the carport. Here, as they come and go throughout the day, the homeowners enjoy a collection of David Austin roses with large rosettes and heady fragrance. These famed English roses provide prolific blooms in eye-stopping colors like creamy apricot, rich yellow, salmon pink, cherry red and deep magenta. For 50 years, Austin has been breeding these hybrid roses that capture the physical and aromatic features of century-old garden roses and the vigor of more modern blooms. No doubt, these diva flowers with names like Graham Thomas and Gertrude Stein put on an amazing show and produce stunning bouquets, but they require plenty of care. A crew visits twice weekly to deadhead, defoliate, clean for disease and cut bouquets.
“It’s the highest maintenance of a 100-foot stretch in all of New Albany,” McCullough says. But there’s no denying the results are spectacular, with repeat flushes of deeply cupped and multi-petaled rosettes. Clematis vines and sweet peas add further charm to this patch of heaven.
McCullough concludes the tour in a courtyard filled with bottlebrush buckeye, large-leaf rhododendron, dogwood and accents of art. As intended, the garden provides a serene view from the second-floor master bedroom suite.
Throughout the tour, McCullough generously sprinkles in lessons he has learned in the care of this estate garden. He says the homeowners’ high standards have pushed his company to do their best work—at this garden and others. They’ve even adopted the motto, “What would Mrs. X do?”
Consider some of McCullough’s universal gardening tips learned from lessons inside this New Albany oasis:
Start with a plan. Determine how you will most enjoy and use the gardens. McCullough says his clients were seeking garden views from the home and patio as well as a beautiful setting for entertaining. “The homeowners started with a big-picture plan, and we’ve modified this plan as the garden has aged,” he says.
Layer plants for seasonal interest. Combine a mix of plants with varying bloom times to achieve sequential garden interest from spring through late fall. McCullough says they more recently noticed some voids in the garden in late summer, so they added the white coneflowers and tardiva hydrangea.
Maximize containers. “Containers are a great way to ensure there’s always a pop of beauty,” McCullough says. The homeowners invested in quality, handmade French containers and fill them each year with culinary herbs and flowers in monochromatic color schemes.
Consider views from indoors. The homeowners appreciate the formal central lawn and various blooms of broad-sweeping perennial beds from all three levels of the home.
Attract winged wildlife. McCullough says the homeowners love goldfinches, so he planted plenty of the birds’ favorites—including coneflowers, tall verbena and hyssop. He also added summersweet for hummingbirds.
Create outdoor living spaces. The patio is the prime viewing area for the garden’s show, so the clients set up plenty of furniture to appreciate the scene. McCullough says the space is also ideal for cocktail parties. “The patio offers a great garden perspective without having to go into it,” he says. “In the evening, it’s amazing as the sun sets and creates a glow inside the quiet of the walled garden.” They even have landscape lighting, which allows them to continue to revel in the space at night.
Strive for organic. Over the years, the landscape crew has worked to become as organic as possible, especially because the homeowners’ Norfolk terrier and Portuguese water dog love to play on the lawn and chase chipmunks through the beds. To minimize the need for lawn chemicals, they selected disease-resistant turf fescues. They also aerate and top-dress the lawn with organic fertilizers. In addition, McCullough’s team adopted organic fertilizers for the beds to help build the soil.
Finally, adapt to change. McCullough and his team have modified the garden as trees have grown and created more shade. For example, a grass path was transformed to a stone one when the nearby trees grew large and created too much shade for the grass to grow.