Thursday, January 20, 2011

Buds and Bark with Michael A. Dirr

Dr. Michael A. Dirr
In a tree identification class, a professor will walk hastily between specimens, but will share the details of a tree in front of you with patience and enthusiasm. If you're lucky, there will be a little history on that specific plant, the grounds it's on, or someone who introduced it. If you experience more than this, then you are blessed.

I learned tree identification from Dr. Gary Kling, professor at the University of Illinois. I sought out to study under Dr. Kling because of his reputation. He is ridiculously smart and has a big heart. I was humbled to learn his adviser, Dr. Michael A. Dirr, was the same.

When I discovered that the 2011 National Green Centre Conference  was offering an opportunity to join Dr. Dirr and many industry professionals on a garden walk at the Missouri Botanical Gardens (MoBot), I jumped on it. I've been peripherally involved in horticulture for 19 years. I've torn through two editions of Dirr's Manual of Woody Landscape Plants. One was while I was working on my Master's in Horticulture Education.

When I told my husband I was attending a garden walk in January, the first thing out of his mouth was, "it's the middle of winter, what's there to see?" He knew. Beyond meeting a man renowned in the industry, we would see, buds and bark. Only people this passionate would willingly pay to go on a walk in the cold, rain or shine. What began as a two hour walk, turned into an a three hour walk ending with industry professionals talking about the future of their beloved industry. The event was forced to an end, only by the bus driver.

Loebner Magnolia (Magnolia x loebneri) at the Missouri Botanical Gardens

Dr. Dirr started the walk off without pause, willingly sharing and quizzing anyone who looked up for the challenge. Everyone was up for the challenge. He wasn't the only one talking. He would call others to speak up when they knew details or were specialists in their field. When part of the group would move at a leisurely pace, he would bark, "hurry up people!", and the tail end would move faster. Discussing a tree thoroughly and then getting to the next specimen, this is what a tree walk is about.

Chip Tynan, Michael A. Dirr, Christopher Tidrick (From the Soil), and Linda Orton
He talked about the history of a series of plantings that have taken hard hits at the University of Illinois. This was an area where I was able to chime in. Living and working at the university for so long, you come to know the location of plants like they're your neighbors. You know when they were born, what diseases they have, and when they have passed. We were able to share and reminisce about the rise and fall of many plantings on the famous 'Quad' at Illinois and numerous other specimens on campus.

Group photo of garden walk attendees
Dr. Dirr was certainly the headliner of the walk, but he was joined by Jim Cocos (VP of Horticulture for MoBot) and Chip Tynan (Manager of MoBot's Horticultural Answer Service), Hillary Barber (Horticulturalist, who worked for Dr. Dirr for years, and now works part time with him as well as for Bold Spring Nursery in Georgia), Linda Orton (President of Mid South Hydrangea Society), Maria Zampini (President of Lake County New Plants LLC), Robert Smith (Arbor Day Foundation), and that was just the people I was able to meet. It was like a roll call of who's who in the industry. It was an experience of a lifetime for me. I was blessed with buds and bark.

Chip Tynan, Laura Hayden, and Michael A. Dirr at Missouri Botanical Gardens

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for sharing your experiences, Laura. I'm so glad you got to attend the conference!


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