When I was a newly-minted master gardener I went out and bought two great reference books so that I would sound smart when answering questions on the helpline or during community events where we volunteer. My dear friend Debbie likes to tease me that I am never able to answer any of her gardening questions. She says that my answer is always the same, “but I don’t grow that.” Which is true; she and I have very different tastes in plant material.
I guess she thinks that I ought to know everything there is to know about plants. The fact is, most master gardeners are just people who have an interest in gardening and are willing to volunteer their time. We’re trained in certain aspects of horticulture, but we’re not expected to know everything. Most of us have a particular interest or area of expertise, but the rest of the time our answers come from books. Knowing where to find answers is important.
Two books I use often are “Dirr’s Hardy Trees and Shrubs” and its companion “Manual of Woody Landscape Plants”. Michael Dirr has many excellent horticulture titles, but these are the most popular. The first contains lovely glossy photos and minimal information on care; the second volume is much more detailed (and intimidating) and includes info on propagation, culture, pests and diseases, and landscape value. It also includes Dirr’s personal comments and growing experiences with each species covered. His comments and growing tips are the most enjoyable part, in my opinion.