Fat discount on award-winning plants magazine
A very unpredictable phlox

Book Bullet: Dirr’s Encyclopedia of Trees and Shrubs by Michael A. Dirr

DirrTreesShrubs9780881929010lI mentioned a couple of weeks ago how I’d been reading this book, by flashlight and candlelight, when the power was out during the storm. But I’d also been using it as regular reference for some time before that. And a big fat reference book needs time to prove its value.

This is a huge, large format book, generally with three or more pictures on each page – often with more pictures than text. Set out as an A-Z by genus, the entries are written in accessible language with the minimum of botanical terminology with thoughts on culture and use integrated with the descriptions.

As ever with Mr Dirr, the text is very readable partly because through his decades of research he has never taken anything for granted, but always looked and thought and then decided - and all that is in evidence here. There is also a welcome emphasis on newer introductions. Thank goodness for his prodigious note-taking and/or his prodigious memory.

But the problem with covering trees and shrubs for all climates in one book is that, well, it’s impossible to do so comprehensively. For example, choosing two genera which are very important to British gardeners – the book is of course published in Britain as well as the North America - Erica gets just two pictures and one column of text, while Hebe gets two pictures and half a column of text. American readers will appreciate twenty pages of hollies (but only a page and a half is devoted to those mainly grown in Britain) and Lagerstroemia, important in the US, gets seven pages (they're hardly grown in Britain at all). Strangely, Salvia is excluded altogether.

It’s a bold enterprise, publishing a 950 page full colour book on trees and shrubs. But it makes up for its gaps with its intelligent opinions, excellent illustrations and Michael Dirr’s breadth of experience and insight.

Dirr’s Encyclopedia of Trees and Shrubs by Michael A. Dirr is published by Timber Press at $79.95/£50.00
  • An easy read, pleasingly opinionated and packed with information
  • Very well illustrated
  • Welcome focus on recent varieties
  • Plants for American gardeners are dominant


Feed You can follow this conversation by subscribing to the comment feed for this post.

John Roscoe

Respectfully, I never would have thought of looking up perennials in this book, so the omission of 'salvia' makes sense to me. In that vein, including 'erica' or 'hebe' at all is a surprise.

As a young plantsman, nothing compares to Dirr's reference books for their rare combination of sceintific accuracy and common language critiques. I only wish that I hadn't save for so long to get the previous edition, just before this one was released!


I got a degree in Hort in 2003 and Dirr has been my go-to plant book since. Of course, you are right, not everything is included, especially since I now live in the NW. So I supplement with Sunset and other books. But Dirr is still THE source for all the info- I am a Horticulturist and designer so I need to know sizes, ornamental characteristics & cultural requirements too. I'm looking forward to adding the new addition to my collection.


The book must have so much information about the shrubs and trees. This is nice info for me..Great resources.

The comments to this entry are closed.