When I was given this tome, I was just beginning my garden (click here for a look back at my blank canvas). I desired trees and shrubs that looked natural but also added some drama. Of course, I also needed them to be suitable for my specific climate and growing conditions.
Each Saturday morning at the breakfast table, I would start flipping through this book filled with hundreds of landscape and close-up shots of woody plants. When a tree or shrub caught my eye, I would stop and read Dirr's personal comments about the candidate, allowing me to judge its suitability. Along with his personal experiences, Dirr shares the plant's potential size, appropriate growth zones and origins (very helpful when trying to choose native plants). He also lists well-known cultivars and varieties. After shopping through this book, I would then visit local nurseries trying to find my chosen specimen—often with book in hand.
Dirr also wrote a companion book, Manual of Woody Landscape Plants. This was included with my initial gift. This manual gives much more detailed information on each plant's growing requirements, complete descriptions of leaf/flower shapes and colors, line drawings to help identify leaves and buds, and thorough descriptions of cultivars. I've learned that both of these earlier books are now merged in a revised edition, Dirr's Encyclopedia of Trees and Shrubs.
Sometimes, I can be a bit old-fashioned. I still like printed books. However, Dirr's Tree & Shrub Finder app for the iPhone is truly amazing! (At $14.99 it's the most expensive app I've purchased thus far, but I know it will get a lot of use.)
You can search for plants by common name or scientific name.
Don't know the exact plant you want or need? You can search by light demands, moisture requirements, hardiness zones, plant size, growth rate, foliage type, flower color, blooming season, etc.
It's filled with photos so you can hold it up to your garden and see how a plant might look there. You can also leave the big books at home. Take the app to the nursery. How convenient!
Whether you're a print book person or a digital person (or both like me), Michael Dirr makes it easy and fun to choose the best trees and shrubs for your garden. However, you're still stuck with the hard work of planting.