Horticulture is Dirr(ty) work

Michael A. Dirr PhD photo op with Blithewold's noble (alas, female) Gingko biloba.If you tell someone you found it in “Dirr” they’ll know you mean the Manual of Woody Landscape Plants: Their Identification, Ornamental Characteristics, Culture, Propagation and Uses (now in its 6th edition). But Michael A. Dirr, PhD has also written The Book on viburnums (Viburnums: Flowering Shrubs for Every Season), The Book on hydrangeas (Hydrangeas for American Gardens) co-written by his wife Bonnie, and several other coffee-table-worthy, destined-to-be-dogeared reference books. What makes his books worth consulting – and reading from cover to cover – is not just the breadth of information but that they’re thick with pithy opinions. I found out yesterday that Mike is just as entertaining and full of it (I mean knowledge) in person.Tour across the Enclosed Garden to a "Dirr favorite" katsura

Mike’s slides were, unfortunately, a little tough to see due to the brilliance of a perfect day but the afternoon tree tour of the University of Blithewold (it felt like a campus yesterday) was a spectacular pleasure. I’m still trying to process it all. I’m sure I wasn’t the only one in the group of local industry professionals, savvy cognoscenti and at least one fellow blogger, straining to catch every second of his mile-a-minute professorial banter. Everyone looked as riveted, and by the end of the day, as overwhelmed as I felt. I’m so relieved that there’s not going to be a quiz – but I’ll try to recap just a little for you.

Layanee (from the blog Ledge and Gardens) and Mike The event was co-sponsored by the New England chapter of the International Society of Arboriculture, and the topics – fitting for that group and ours – were noble trees and new introductions. Mike pointed out that you always know a noble tree when you see it – you don’t even have to know what it is, just that it has a venerable stature, grace, beauty and presence. It’s a squirrel highway and a landmark and Blithewold is blessedly full of them. It most certainly isn’t a Bradford pear (Pyrus calleryana) which has become not only the most ubiquitous street tree but has turned out to be invasive as well. And certainly not enough truly noble trees are being planted today for the benefit of future generations. Have you planted any? Which ones? Do you have a favorite noble tree? (Mine is a particular linden in a particular Middletown garden – even though – or because – I’ve nearly been knocked cold a couple of times by its enormous akimbo elbows.)

At the Albizia julibrissin 'Summer Chocolate' - Chocolate mimosaIt is new introductions of trees and shrubs that keep the industry on its toes. Mike and Bonnie are on the constant look-out for unusual traits in trees and shrubs and have had a few “85 mph” drive-by finds introduced into commerce. (Keep your eyes peeled for a new redbud called ‘Bonnie’s Pink’.) We all want something new and different (we can’t help it) and with a trained eye any one of us could find the next winner, have it tested, propagated and introduced. The lesson I take from that is simply to pay more attention even to the old stand-by, tried-and-trues. How is it that I never in my life really noticed a hornbeam before yesterday? The professor in Mike brought out the student in me. I’m still interested all over again. And I’ve got a(helluva) lot to learn and a few of my own opinions to cultivate. How about you?

2 thoughts on “Horticulture is Dirr(ty) work

  1. I ‘picked’ your post on Blotanical, but I wanted to leave a little comment, too. Those whom I think of as ‘the good ol’ boys’ of Horticulture who come from the South like Professor Dirr, Norman Winter of MS, Dave Marshall from FL and a host of others from the Carolinas to Texas are just a joy to see and hear. We’re all learning from one another. My fav noble trees are Live Oaks dripping with Spanish moss, for obvious reasons. My second fav would have to be native persimmon, now awaiting frost to sweeten it.

    Nell Jean, Thanks for the “pick”! Someday I really hope to make it down south to see those oaks and I don’t think I’ve ever tried a persimmon… -kris

  2. Kris: Love this as you know. I didn’t think about the quiz but then I am a bit more removed from those quiz taking years and yes, I am relieved I don’t have to remember and excited that I just WANT to remember all we learned. I will soak my Maackia seeds in 180 degree F water and then plant. Who knows, maybe there will be a worthy seedling in the bunch.

    Layanee, We were on the same page about the day, that’s for sure! I’m so glad I had a chance to whisper during class with you. -kris

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