Grumpy Gives New Garden Book Green Thumbs-Up

November 28, 2011 | By | Comments (6)

I don’t review many books, because that makes me read them and consequently fill my head with facts that interfere with my established and inevitably correct opinions. However, in the case of the book you see below, I am making an exception for two reasons.


First, I have known the author for many years and he still has never mentioned my unfortunate traffic violation in 1987 that resulted in the tragic loss of his entire Japanese maple collection. (It’s illegal to drive backwards in the dark across the University of Georgia campus? Who knew?) Second, this book about trees and shrubs belongs on the bookshelf of all serious gardeners and those who aspire to be.

At 951 pages and the approximate density of a neutron star, Dirr’s Encyclopedia of Trees & Shrubs defines the word “tome.” Just carting it around every day keeps my massive guns in shape. I need it every day because it’s the indispensable reference work, stuffed with descriptions of more than 380 genera and 3,700 species and cultivars, as well as 3,500 color photographs. Though Grumpy uses it to confirm what he already knows, you’ll find it to be the best new book around for identifying ornamental trees and shrubs and learning how to grow them.

Meet Dr. Mike

Dirr_mHe doesn’t look a day over 80, but Dr. Mike Dirr has been a horticultural luminary since the Grump was a horticulture student in college. Mike’s incredibly sexy-sounding Manual of Woody Landscape Plants, written when he was a young horticulture professor at the University of Illinois, quickly became a personal favorite and launched his career into the stratosphere, selling more than 500,000 copies. That’s a lot of copies for a horticultural reference book. American Idol legend Justin Guarini would die for those numbers. Mike then moved on to the University of Georgia, where his research introduced many new plants, such as ‘Endless Summer’ hydrangea, to American gardens.

Pretty Photos, Less Technical

How would Grumpy compare Dr. Dirr’s two monumental works? Well, Manual of Woody Landscape Plants is geared towards academics, serious gardeners, and the landscape industry with detailed descriptions of plant genera and characteristics. It has also provided me with some of the classic pick-up lines of all time, such as: “You have imbricate, plump buds resembling Norway maple.” And: “I have always been drawn to unisexual, apetalous flowers with minute calyces.”

Dirr’s Encyclopedia of Trees & Shrubs leaves behind much of the jargon, making it friendlier to the average gardener. More importantly, it features beautiful photos rather than illustrations and nothing can supplant a good photo.

One thing that hasn’t changed is Mike’s honesty when it comes to evaluating plants for the home landscape. For example, he calls Chinese privet “a terrible and devastating escapee that terrorizes floodplains, fencerows, and even open fields reducing native vegetation to rubble.” And: “In all my traveling and consulting work, I have never recommended, at least while conscious, a poplar.”


Published by Timber Press, Dirr’s Encyclopedia of Trees & Shrubs lists for $79.95 hardcover. If that seems like a lot, Timber Press is giving away a copy this week. All you have to do to become eligible is click on the following link and leave a comment on their blog by this Friday: Free Huge Book! Yippee!





  1. lisahutchurson

    You had me at “imbicate, plump buds” …

    November 30, 2011 at 4:37 pm
  2. Jean

    I think my arms might be damaged from lifting this heavy book…and I thought why, I don’t need that book! I have an on call, top of the heap, all knowing Grump right here at my fingertips!

    November 30, 2011 at 11:24 am
  3. Cheryl

    Oh how I would love to add this book to my library!

    November 29, 2011 at 10:04 pm
  4. Henry H.

    “Dirr’s Woody” as it is affectionately referred to around the shop has been a staple of ours for years!!!! He does a great job of detailing all characteristics and even gives geographic locations where you can observe this plant growing which is a tactic Ive used successfully for years. It makes a big difference when you can see a mature plant for yourself.
    We have had Dirr in and Coach Dooley stop by but the day they come in together is the day I close the gates and get the beers out!!!!!
    Im pumped for a new Dirr book and cant wait to get my hands on it. We have had

    November 29, 2011 at 2:00 pm
  5. Grumpy Gardener (His Magnificence)

    So……how do you feel about minute calyces?

    November 29, 2011 at 10:26 am
  6. LaurieGo

    “It has also provided me with some of the classic pick-up lines of all time, such as: ‘You have imbricate, plump buds resembling Norway maple.’ And: ‘I have always been drawn to unisexual, apetalous flowers with minute calyces.'” That’s the funniest thing I’ve read all week. Of course it is just Monday and you may blog again.

    November 28, 2011 at 9:14 pm

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