Local book review: ‘The Hydrangea Book: The Authoritative Guide’

For the Monitor
Published: 9/9/2021 6:03:13 PM

We all know how beautiful our state is, and that our informed and passionately engaged outdoors community is one of New Hampshire’s greatest qualities. And luckily for the horticulturalists among us, arguably the foremost authority on trees and shrubs for the American garden – Dr. Michael A. Dirr – will be visiting the Granite State next month as the keynote speaker at the New Hampshire Arborists Association Meeting in Concord.

Author of several books, including the seminal Manual of Woody Landscape Plants – which is now in its sixth edition and considered the standard in the “Green Industry” – Dirr delivers unvarnished truths about plants with a singularly pithy voice. My own collection of books on trees and shrubs grows each time Dirr releases a new one. And Dirr’s latest tome, The Hydrangea Book: The Authoritative Guide, is another gem.

Written during the pandemic as a means to cope with a world on pause – Dirr and his wife, Bonnie, are world travelers – the book also assists gardeners by providing an in-depth view of the hydrangea breeding that has occurred since his first hydrangea book, Hydrangeas for American Gardens, was published in 2004. This book is not a revision of the first. The Hydrangea Book is entirely new and filled with captivating pictures and new varieties.

With chapters broken down by what Dirr considers the five major species of hydrangeas, including over 200 pages of beautiful photographs accompanied by amazing detail about each species and respective varieties, the book is perfectly sized – small enough to bring along to the nursery, but equally at home on a desk. Readers will also enjoy specific, easy-to-understand pruning instructions and tips for each species listed straight from the expert himself. Not to be overlooked, The Hydrangea Book also includes a section dedicated to lesser-known species and those that are starting to gain in popularity.

For those who don’t know, Dirr introduced the wildly popular “Endless Summer” variety of hydrangea in the 1990s, spawning many other varieties that rebloom during growing seasons and have the requisite cold hardiness for New England gardens. There are now dozens of remontant varieties in the landscape marketplace (among the most popular are “Blushing Bride”, “Twist-n- Shout”, “Azure Skies”, “Rock-n-Roll”) – with Dirr’s groundbreaking innovations in the field a primary contributor to the hydrangea’s status as second to roses in annual U.S. flowering shrub sales estimated at more than $120 million annually. In fact, his leadership in the field is so renowned that he became the first ornamental plant breeder inducted into the National Academy of Inventors in 2011.

Like all of Dirr’s books, The Hydrangea Book is accessible, informative, and always interesting – full of insight into research, breeding, and testing. There is substantial information that is useful for the home gardener and the landscape professional. Hydrangeas may be popular mostly due to their outstanding inflorescence, but Dr. Dirr highlights so many other reasons to appreciate this important plant.

It is obvious that the good doctor loves hydrangeas and that love is highly contagious to the reader! I am deeply grateful for Dirr’s dedication to the field – he still works daily on plant breeding following 35 years as a college professor – and this latest addition to his bibliography is another in a long line of many contributions advancing the knowledge of trees, shrubs and the American garden. Judging by the number of sticky notes attached to the pages there will be many more dives into this great read. Do your favorite gardener, or yourself, a favor and gift them The Hydrangea Book – they will thank you for it in years, and bouquets, to come.

P.S. I am a tree collector and do not have many hydrangeas. That will change.

Dr. Michael A. Dirr will be the keynote speaker at the New Hampshire Arborists Association Meeting on Friday, Sept. 17. The all-day event will be held at the Grappone Center in Concord. Registration is available for $95 (lunch included) at nharborists.org. Books will be available, and the event is expected to sellout.

Bob Allen, of New Ipswich, is an arborist, immediate past president of the New Hampshire Arborists Association and manager of vegetation management for Eversource.

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