On the QT | The Official Newsletter of GWA August-September 2016 | Page 6

Quick Conversations with Two Keynote Speakers IN PRAISE OF NOBLE TREES BY ERICA GLASENER Author and noted plantsman Michael Dirr is one of the keynote speakers at the 2016 GWA Conference & Expo in Atlanta. In a recent conversation with Mike Dirr about his presentation, I was reminded of why I love horticulture and plants. The full title of his talk is “In Praise of Noble Trees ... the true meaning of life is to plant trees under whose shade you do not expect to sit.” I couldn’t agree more. He points out that people talk about global warming, “but one of the easiest things to do is to plant a tree.” He reminds us that Doug Tallamy, a professor at the University of Delaware and author of Bringing Nature Home, says that oak trees sustain 540 species of caterpillars. Dirr goes on to say that garden writers have an opportunity to get the message out and to educate people. “We need trees and we need more of them,” he said. They provide shade, and let’s not forget the livability factor. Trees speak to the people that live in their neighborhood. PHOTO COURTESY ERICA GLASENER PROMISING SELECTIONS Dirr’s presentation addresses where we’re at and where we are going with trees—including new selections that show promise. He says that although we are losing ash trees in the U.S., selections of tupelo (Nyssa spp.), Kentucky coffee tree (Gymnocladus dioicus) and catawba (Catalpa spp.) show great promise. He also talked about the economic impact of having to prune street trees in New England, where they have more trees per lane mile than any other part of the country. Eversource, the power company in that region, is planting and evaluating trees. It is on the hunt for trees that will not grow higher than 20 feet tall at maturity, thus eliminating the need to constantly prune around power lines and ultimately, saving millions of dollars. As we wrapped up our conversation, I asked Dirr what he was excited about in his garden today. His first response was, “Everything!” He then went on to talk about the virtues of the 6 Mike Dirr extols the virtues of plants. cold hardy southern evergreen, Distylium Cinnamon Girl, with its plum-purple new growth that turns blue green as it matures and only reaches 2-3 foot high at maturity. He also likes the Magic Series of crape myrtles (Lagerstroemia spp.), including Coral Magic. “Handsome evergreen foliage, a medium-size growth habit and disease resistance make these selections appealing to Southern gardeners,” he said. PLANT IDENTIFICATION QUIZ If you think you’re good at plant identification, test your knowledge at Dirr’s talk when he will have five or 10 plants for everyone to identify. This promises to be challenging. The winner will take home one of his books. Like many in the horticulture profession, I first became aware of Michael Dirr when I was a student—long before I met him. I was studying horticulture at the University of Maryland and his Manual of Woody Landscape Plants was my textbook. I referred to it constantly until the cover fell off years later. My current go-to horticultural reference is Dirr’s Encyclopedia of Trees and Shrubs, published in 2011. Since moving to Georgia from the northeast many years ago, I have had the good fortune to visit with Dirr in his garden, be quizzed by him, and to listen as he extolled the virtues of myriad plants.