Athens, Ga. – More than 150 new trees have been planted on the University of Georgia campus in the last few months as part of a $1 million commitment from Oconee County wholesale nursery Select Trees through their charitable entity Select SustainablePlus Tree Trust. In the third year of the donation, the trees are being planted this year in honor of internationally-renown horticulturist and former UGA faculty member Michael Dirr and his wife, Bonnie.
“Select Trees would not exist in its current form without the incredible guidance of Dr. Michael Dirr and UGA,” said Matt Nielson, vice president of the nursery. “It is a pleasure to be able to give something back, and we hope that as people enjoy UGA’s new trees, they will become aware of the contributions made by Dr. Dirr and his family.”
The initial tree donations were made in 2009 in memory of the Dirr’s daughter, Susy, a summa cum laude graduate from UGA who died in 2008 after a long-fought battle with cystic fibrosis.
“The gift from the Select SustainablePlus Tree Trust will offer a lasting legacy for future generations who will share the same beautiful campus we now enjoy,” said Tom Landrum, senior vice president for external affairs at UGA. “The fact that this year’s gift honors such a dedicated horticulturist as Mike Dirr and a university friend and supporter like Bonnie Dirr makes it an even more fitting tribute.”
Spread throughout the campus of the university, more than 550 trees have been planted to date and at the end of the 10 years, that number will total more than 1,000. The majority of the trees are long-lived own root clonal selections of oaks, elms, maples, bald cypress, dawn redwood, and magnolias. Six to eight inches in diameter, 24-30 feet tall and at least 10 years old, the trees will live between 50 and 150 years, benefiting the environment, wildlife and eco-conservation efforts. The trees can be spotted on North Campus, along the corridors of South Milledge Avenue between the Jack Turner Stadium and the State Botanical Garden of Georgia, College Station Road and the new Health Sciences Campus.
“No one has been a more ardent supporter of the UGA campus grounds than Mike Dirr, and we are delighted that these plantings are in his honor,” said Dexter Adams, director of UGA’s Physical Plant. “Go into any nursery or garden center in America and there on the manager’s bookshelf will be a worn copy of Dr. Dirr’s Manual, itself containing frequent references to the Athens campus landscape.”
Dirr’s lifelong passion for horticulture has influenced a generation of students, gardeners, nursery growers and professional horticulturists. His teaching, research and writings have made an impact on the green industry, not only in Georgia, but also throughout the nation. The sixth edition of his Manual of Woody Landscape Plants is the leading horticultural text and reference work. That book and his Reference Manual of Woody Plant Propagation, have become the definitive source for the landscape and nursery industry. Viburnums for American Gardens, Hydrangeas for American Gardens and the Encyclopedia of Trees and Shrubs are his latest books. Additionally, he has developed a tree and shrub finder iPhone app.
His teaching expertise has been recognized with departmental, college and national awards, including the American Nursery and Landscape Association L.C. Chadwick Outstanding Educator Award. He has received numerous national recognitions that highlight his achievement, including the Massachusetts Horticultural Society Silver Medal for Excellence in Horticultural Writing, the Medal of Honor from the Garden Club of America, the Linnaeus Award from the Chicago Botanic Garden and the Georgia Green Industry Lifetime Membership Award. Dirr also is the recipient of an honorary doctorate from the University of Massachusetts.
At the university, he received both the D. W. Brooks and Joshua Meigs teaching awards and the department of horticulture established the Michael A. Dirr Endowed Professorship for Woody Plant Instruction and Introduction to perpetuate the work and influence of the woody ornamental plant position. The professorship ensures that there will be a future faculty member in this position to serve the industry and embody the commitment to teaching, research and woody plant introduction exemplified by Dirr. The department has hired Donglin Zhang, a former student of Dirr’s, as the inaugural holder of the professorship; he will start Aug. 1.
In addition, Dirr’s Plant Breeding and Introduction Program has contributed more than 100 new trees and shrubs to the green industry with more than 40 plant patents. The University of Georgia Research Foundation honored Dirr as Inventor of the Year in 2009. These introductions have generated more than $2.5 million for the Research Foundation.
“I want to thank the Select SustainablePlus Tree Trust for their kindness,” said Dirr. “Future generations will appreciate this most noble contribution. A great quote sums up this gesture. ‘He who plants trees loves others besides himself.’ May the [UGA] campus be always graced with noble trees.”
Said Dirr’s wife, Bonnie, “I have spent two thirds of my life with the ultimate tree enthusiast. There is no more fitting tribute for both of us than to green the world with noble trees. We are a team in the garden and in life. I am honored to be a part of this tree initiative.”
One of Select’s founders, Mike Glenn, said, “Mike Dirr has sparked plant passion in more people than anyone I know. He has been our incredibly valuable tree mentor at Select and a great friend for more than 25 years. Dirr has inspired and encouraged us toward continuous improvement in the critical processes of tree selection, evaluation and propagation.”
Glenn continued, “As one gets to know Mike and Bonnie, the love, support and amazing synergy becomes obvious. Mike and Bonnie are truly soul mates and have extreme passion for life, people, UGA, trees and plants. The world is a much better place because of Mike and Bonnie Dirr, and the legacy they continue to build.”
Select SustainablePlus Tree Trust is the charitable arm of the Select Trees Group, the leading grower of large sustainable shade trees in the southern U.S. The Select Trees Group has donated thousands of trees during the past 25 years and formalized these donations by creating the tree trust in 2007 in order to grow and better facilitate sizable donations of sustainable trees. The tree trust donates and discounts trees based on the project or organizations’ need and potential for positive environmental and educational impact. The mission of the trust is to help create a positive impact on the urban environment through donations of sustainable trees to worthy causes. For more information about the trust, see www.selectsustainabletreetrust.org.
“Our two founders, along with six of our seven partners are UGA graduates in agriculture, horticulture, forestry, environmental design and business,” said Nielson. “So our roots are firmly established in the soil tilled by UGA researchers, professors and most especially Mike Dirr. We’re honored to be able to provide a donation that will provide all areas of campus, new and old, with the tree canopy and shade that make the University of Georgia such a magnet for students, pedestrians and faculty.”