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
PHOTO COURTESY ERICA GLASENER
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
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,”
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.