Devoted fans of free-to-air television’s home improvement show, “This Old House,” wondered what could have made Roger Cook, the series resident garden and landscape contractor, give up his lucrative spot on the show. In 2020, it was reported that he’d hung-up his garden shears, and said goodbye to the fans via a letter. He claimed that he had several health issues that made it hard for him to continue filming, and asked the viewers to respect his family’s privacy, assuring everyone that he’s in very good hands.

The show, “This Old House”

Four decades ago, when the do-it-yourself show, “This Old House,” premiered on national TV, it started a genre that captured America’s love for home renovations, that would normally only be seen on or in lifestyle magazines.

With 19 Emmy Awards out of nearly 90 nominations and several parodies under its belt, it’s unsurprising that it continued to attract a huge viewership in the US. It was basically the reason why many TV shows on HGTV were launched successfully.

The show was built on the premise that it would be primarily an informative show given by experts in home improvement, such as Norm Abram as the Master Carpenter, Richard Trethewey as Plumbing & HVAC guru, Tom Silva as the General Contractor, and Roger Cook as the Garden and Landscaping Contractor. The TV show creator made sure that each episode wouldn’t produce content based on deceptive glamour improvements around the house, or allow personal drama within the cast to make it more entertaining to attract a wider audience. Most of the viewers resonated with this type of old-school programming, so it’s remained one of the most-watched shows on TV.

Viewers can easily look at the video archives of the show if they need references for something they want to fix in their homes.

The first episode of “This Old House” was aired in February 1979, on Public Broadcasting Service (PBS), produced by its Boston station WGBH-TV, until it was acquired by Time Inc. in 2001. A new production company was launched called This Old House Ventures, which handled the TV series production, and chose Warner Bros. Domestic Television to distribute it for commercial TV syndication. In 2016, This Old House Ventures acquired new owners, Eric Thorkiisen with TZP Growth Partners, and in March 2021, it was sold along with its thousands of videos to an American digital media powerhouse, Roku Inc.

Roger Cook, “This Old House” Garden & Landscaping Expert

Roger Cook is a certified American landscape contractor, and with his wife Kathy is the owner of K&R Tree Landscaping.

No green thumb? No problem! Learn the best tips and tricks from our landscape contractor Roger Cook on This Old House: Trade School!

Posted by This Old House: Trade School on Friday, September 21, 2018

He was born in 1955 in Winchester, Massachusetts; his interest in gardening started as a kid while following his mother around, outside their house, and it became a passion as he grew older. He also developed a great love for animals and nature in general.

He graduated with a bachelor’s degree in Wildlife Management and Conservation Law from the University of Maine in 1977. Roger landed his first job in a landscaping firm, and was assigned to pruning ivy bushes in some windows at Harvard University. However, he realized it wasn’t the right job for him, and only lasted doing the work for three days. The owner offered him another job using backhoes, so he then learned how to pave ,and that’s how he found his niche. He stayed with the company for five years before launching his own company.

The Massachusetts Arborist Association gained an active member, as Roger shares his passion and expertise in their local tree care industry. He became the president of the Board of Directors of the New England Grows, and the Association of Landscape Contractors in Massachusetts.

This Old House

Roger’s Three Decades in the Show

Roger Cook’s credibility on improving the lawn, or making the garden looked impeccably healthy, was never tarnished during his participation in “This Old House” for more than 30 years. As promised by the show’s producers, they were careful not to focus on personal stories, or highlight personal brands that could easily affect its editorial independence. His contribution over the decades has been highly appreciated by the fans. Here are just some of the most significant things he did on the show:

His first TV appearance in the show

Many people thought that Roger began his journey with “This Old House” in 1988, when he was already a landscape contractor with his own company. However, he actually made his television debut in the show back in 1982, when he was still a landscape foreman for Frost and Higgins Company.

The producers already saw that they could rely on him based on the several projects that they did in some of the episodes on the show, as he readily shared his ideas on how to go about it, particularly in the Woburn House and Bigelow Project.

As a regular cast member in 1988

In season 10, changes were made to the show and cast, as it featured more episodes focused on the outdoors, specifically about improving the garden and sharing landscaping ideas. It was around this time that they hired Roger as part of the main cast through Tom Wirth, the resident landscape architect back then.  Six years after his first TV appearance, he was introduced by the original host, Bob Villa, as the new garden and landscape contractor, when they were doing the Lexington Bed & Breakfast Project. From the get-go, the viewers easily noticed how Roger made sure that his team, the K&R Tree Landscaping firm, were careful with their job.

He proudly shared that they found a way to extend the warmer season so that they could replant a tree, even up to the time the ground became solid due to the start of the winter season. He said that the secret was to add lots of mulch into the soil, and sprayed an anti-desiccant to coat the leaves in order to lessen water loss. His expertise was on display during his first full episode as the onboard landscape contractor.

Top two most-watched videos on the show’s official YouTube Channel

With numerous video clips along with more than half a billion channel views, Roger’s video entitled “How to Fix a Patchy, Weedy Lawn” was the second most-watched video on the official YouTube channel of “This Old House.” His video with close to six million views showed how he taught the owner to understand the things that needed to be changed on the lawn, starting from the soil up to the kind of grass seeds to use. Instead of just showing how to use the tools to achieve the perfect lawn grass, he explained each step of the process, so that viewers could easily follow the instructions.

It’s easy to understand how he became one of the most favorite cast members of the TV show, like having a talking “lawn maintenance for dummies”, as he makes landscaping simple and unintimidating.

Roger’s Favorite Project in the TV Show

When the landscape contractor was asked what his favorite project was, out of all the things he had done, he said that it was the Manchester by the sea. Roger shared during the 35th anniversary of the show that he’d met such great clients who love the outdoors so much. With such open-minded clients, he did many things without any problem, including hardscaping patios along with putting in a hot tub. He was most excited when he said that he created a little patio near the water, with just pieces of granite he scavenged from the neighbor’s yard. He placed a couple of benches where the owners could just drink coffee comfortably each morning, while watching the boats sail by.

This Old House

The Bob Vila Controversy

Roger was already part of the main cast when the show became controversial, following the termination of Bob Vila in 1989. As the host of the show, Bob became the face of “This Old House”, and along with the show became synonymously successful. However, Bob accepted endorsements that ran in conflict with the TV show’s ideals, and became a threat to the national and local funding they could potentially receive each season. Bob retained all his lucrative deals with various home improvement tools and appliance brands, but lost his position in the show after 10 years. The show creator/producer, Russell Morash, said that it was an amicable separation, but Bob’s agent said that the move surprised them, and claimed that the producer knew of Bob’s personal endorsements. All the other cast members, including Roger, never gave their views on how they felt regarding the issue.

What really happened to Roger Cook in the show?

On 13 January 2020, the CEO of “This Old House,” Dan Suratt, released a statement announcing that Roger would be leaving the show after giving the audience his expert advice on gardening and landscaping for 35 years. Prior to the press release, fans took notice that Roger was featuring less and less in the show. At first they thought that he was being censured for something he’d done, and to avoid another controversy, they just gave him less screen time.

However, Roger himself released a statement in June 2018, saying he was dealing with several health issues, which made it difficult for him to fully perform his job on TV, although he wasn’t forthcoming with the details. He initially hid his health problems, but later on his limp became more pronounced, especially during his last few episodes. The landscape guru was rumored to have suffered a heart attack, but no official medical bulletin was released to the public.

Some fans threw several theories on social media, saying that he’s probably dealing with either cancer or Parkinson’s disease. However, other fans quickly said that it would be best to just include him in their prayers instead of jumping to conclusions. All were reminded to respect his privacy, as that was what he requested from his fans.

To clarify things, Roger wrote another letter to the fans to say his goodbyes – ‘It’s with a heavy heart that I announce I am stepping away from This Old House to focus on family and the things I love.’ From the way he wrote his letter, it was quite obvious that there were no bad vibes between him and the cast and crew. He reiterated that he was blessed to have worked with the best in the business. He also formally announced that he was passing on the baton to his friend, Jenn Nawada, who was already assisting him in the last few seasons as the new Landscape Contractor in the show.

Where is Roger Cook now?

Roger has been living with his two children, Jason and Molly, in their family home in Burlington, Massachusetts; his wife Kathleen Ellen “Kathy” Gulde died after a long battle with cancer in December 2010. Kathy was a co-owner of his landscaping business and was a stout supporter of her husband’s skills.

TV insiders believed that Roger decided to leave the show, since his doctors said that his condition wasn’t improving, but with him no longer filming for long hours and traveling to various locations, they were hoping that his health would improve. With the danger brought about by the Covid-19 virus, along with the highly contagious Delta variant, Roger’s decision to finally leave the show at that time may have been the best one he made.  His net worth estimated at over $11 million would be enough for him to live a comfortable life.

Author

Robbie is currently a reporter for TheBiography based in Santa Monica, CA. Prior to joining TheBiography in December 2020, he was an entertainment reporter in People.

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