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Best Books on Trees and Shrubs;
Anne Marie Van Nest
Professional Gardening Expert
Dirr has put together a first-class A to Z guide of the best woody plants for cooler climates, particularly for gardeners in hardiness zones 3 to 7. The book contains copious information on the flowers, fruit, bark, fall color, habit, etc., of more than 500 species and 700 cultivars. A straight shooter, Dirr is generous with his praise for deserving trees and shrubs such as the sugar maple, “The true nobility of fall-coloring trees - challenged by many, rivalled by none,” but he can also be frank with his scorn for those that don't live up to expectations, “In all my traveling and consulting work, I have never recommended, at least when conscious, a poplar.”
Dirr's Hardy Trees and Shrubs has excellent photographs showing the size and shape of the mature tree or shrub, as well as close-ups of the leaf, bark, and fruit. Each plant has the botanical name, common name, description and many candid comments, such as for the Italian Alder, “Deserves a longer look by American gardeners.”
Numerous lists in the back of the book cross-reference trees and shrubs by both their botanical and common name for easy perusal to find the right plants for a variety of conditions or with a particular characteristic.
The ideal companion to Dirr's Hardy Trees and Shrubs: An Illustrated Encyclopaedia, is the Manual of Woody Landscape Plants. This book contains the words that go with the companion book's pictures. An impressive book, the Manual of Woody Landscape Plants is an excellent reference to get a well-rounded description of many of the plants found in nurseries and arboretums.
Dirr, in his preface, comments on the fact that since 1930, there have been 9,700 plant patents granted. Now new plants are “rolling off the assembly line faster than anyone can evaluate them.” Dirr comments that there were 396 in 1997 alone. Still Dirr's Manual of Woody Landscape Plants is the reference to use for every woody plant either obscure or everyday.
In no way flashy, this book is all about substance and information (characteristics solely lacking in some reference books today). Handy diagrams of leaf shapes and their descriptive terms and a straight-forward introduction to botanical plant names are very useful for the novice gardener.
Sternberg and Wilson have shared a lifetime of experience they have gained from studying native trees and their environments throughout North America. They explain how to choose trees appropriate to a particular area and give guidance for either planting new specimens or preserving the existing trees. The bulk of the book contains tree profiles for 650 species and over 500 cultivars. The extensive profiles describe fruit, flower, range (both native and adaptive), culture, best features, and problems.
Along with the detailed profile of each plant, practical information is included to help gardeners select the best plant for their landscape. For example, Sternberg and Wilson write about Smoke trees saying that “This tree can basically be planted and forgotten. It thrives on neglect once established and requires no attention to insect or disease control so long as it is planted in a well-drained soil where Verticillium wilt and root decay fungi are unlikely to bother it.”
The “best season” information also contains interesting insights into each plant. As an example, Sternberg and Wilson say that dwarf hackberry's best season is winter, when the intricate branching structure can be seen, especially up close and covered by hoarfrost on a cold morning or fall with its nice bright yellow leaf color and orange fruits.
Dirr's Trees and Shrubs for Warm Climates is a sister book to his Hardy Trees and Shrubs, this time focussing on woody plants that grow in “warm temperate” areas found in USDA Zone 7 to 11 (where winter temperatures do not fall below zero degrees Fahrenheit. This book shows the habit, fruit, flowers, bark, fall color and more for 400 species (and hundreds of cultivars). This book is based on Dirr's 22 years of gardening in the red soils of Georgia and offers reflections on his success and failures.
Dirr's often humorous comments liven up the text throughout. For "Blue Pyramid" smooth cypress, he writes, "'Blue Pyramid' appears similar to ‘Blue Ice', and both, growing side by side in my Georgia trials, look like rockets on the launching pad."
This team of photographer/artist and botanist/gardener has been collaborating since 1977 to produce their distinctive style of book. The Botanical Garden is a pictorial reference book that brings plants to people who what to learn about the identification of more than 450 genera of trees and shrubs from around the world not just in their own backyard.
This is a no-fluff book, written for an international market that avoids the overuse of common names, hardiness zones, or unnecessary growing details. Each plant listing includes the botanical and common name, date of discovery and range. A detailed and concise scientific description follows with key recognition features, ecology and geography notes, and cultivation requirements. Each plant is beautifully photographed in its entirety and shown as a close up of the flower or fruit against a white background to accentuate details.
Divided into two parts, Symonds and Chelminski have organized this book in a similar way to The Shrub Identification Book. In the front, they have put together numerous pages of pictorial keys which give a comparison to a small group of similar trees. In the second half, they include master pages where similar trees are place together to highlight the differences. This book makes identifying mystery twigs quick and easy because of the large, detailed photos.
This is not a showy coffee table book and is not pocket sized for easy portability on a hike. But it is a handy reference upon returning home with an unknown tree to identify.
A sister companion book designed similarly to “The Tree Identification Book” with two parts. In the front, Symmonds and Merwin have put together numerous pages of pictorial keys which give a comparison to a small group of similar shrubs, vines, or groundcovers. Once a match is found in the thorns, leaves, flowers, fruit, twigs or bark section, the reader is referred to the second section for more details. In the second half are the master pages where similar shrubs are place together to highlight the differences. This book makes identifying mystery plants quick and easy because of the numerous, large, detailed photos.
Even though the photos are black and white, the details that emerge when you start looking beyond the color (such as leaf margins or bud shapes) are very helpful.
This is an extensive book that discusses care for over 1,000 tree species. Essential for tree management professionals, this reference is very informative for anyone who loves trees or wants to learn more about them. It is not a colorful picture book. It is a serious reference book, written in easy-to-understand language, which would be particularly useful for those responsible for the care of trees in an urban or suburban environment. The essentials for tree care are covered from selection, planting, establishment, and fertilization for trees growing across North America.
Twenty cross-referenced appendices will help readers match the right tree to the right location.
This is a no-nonsense, easy-to-use book that is an ideal size for carrying along on outdoor activities. Contains over 730 native (and important introduced foreign) tree species that might be found on a wilderness hike. It is very nicely presented with numerous leaf samples on each page for ease of comparison. Some entries contain flowers, bark, fruit, winter silhouette or landscape shape and size to help with identification. Brockman also includes a guide to tree families so that the relationships can be understood better.
One of The Experts series of gardening books by Dr. Hessyan. “The Tree & Shrub Expert” is filled with solid, usable, basic information. It is a good guide to over 800 trees and shrubs for the beginning gardener or anyone that wants a quick reference. The book is chock full of color photos and illustrations. There are a few references that do reflect the British focus of the book (ie: chalk soils, greengrocers) but these are limited.
Dirr's Hardy Trees and Shrubs are really helpful when you have a lot of land and need to know what's growing in it!
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