The New Hillier Manual of Trees and Shrubs

By Andy McIndoe

Hillier Nurseries are known as growers of an unbeatably wide range of trees and shrubs. This reputation was established by the late Sir Harold Hillier, whose private collection of plants hardy in temperate climates became the world renowned Hillier Arboretum, today the Sir Harold Hillier Gardens.

Winter Garden in Autumn

Sir Harold, one of only two people ever to be knighted for services to horticulture, is perhaps best known for The Hillier Manual of Trees and Shrubs. First published in 1971 The Manual has become the definitive work on hardy woody plants and is referred to by professional and amateur gardeners throughout the world. 2014 sees a new edition of The Hillier Manual of Trees and Shrubs published in association with The Royal Horticultural Society. Since its original publication The Hillier Manual has been updated every ten years, so this is the fifth fully revised edition.

Hillier Jacket 2014

So why revise a work like the Hillier Manual? Botanical nomenclature changes and is constantly updated in light of new scientific evidence. New species and cultivars are introduced from the wild and from garden hybridisation and selection. This new edition contains around 1500 new entries. The new edition also contains the new Royal Horticultural Society’s Award of Garden Merits; invaluable information for gardeners everywhere.

Rhododendron 'Horizon Monarch' - close

Rhododendron ‘Horizon Monarch’ is a good example of a wonderful shrub which carries the RHS Award of garden Merit. Raised in Seattle, US by Ned Brockenbrough it underlines the international significance of the Hillier Manual.

So who undertakes the task of revision of a book like this? John Hillier VMH. Has been collecting and reviewing information about new plants since the last edition was published. John is a dedicated plantsman, a daily visitor to the Sir Harold Hillier Gardens, a frequent visitor to RHS Wisley and member of the woody plant committee and trials committee. He is a member of The Rhododendron, Camellia and Magnolia Group. He is also a member of The International Dendrology Society and has been an RHS judge for many years.

Renowned plantsman and former curator of The Hillier Arboretum Roy Lancaster worked with Sir Harold on the first Hillier Manual and has contributed his knowledge on wisdom to its revisions over the years. He has worked extensively with John Hillier and the Royal Horticultural Society botanists, led by James Armitage, on this edition.

Why buy this new edition? It contains over 1500 new varieties, revised lists of plant recommendations for specific purposes, the new Award of Garden Merits and nomenclature in line with the RHS Plantfinder. This is the most extensively updated edition of The Hillier Manual ever and an absolute essential for any gardener interested in woody plants.

1500 new entries may sound like a lot, however so many new introductions enrich our palette of plants each year it has been a task to limit the numbers. The new Hillier Manual of Trees and Shrubs includes many Hillier introductions including Cotinus ‘Candy Floss’, a splendid new variety of smoke bush raised at Hillier Nurseries by Alan Postill in 2003 and one to be introduced at RHS Chelsea 2014 celebrating the 150th anniversary of Hillier.

What makes The Hillier Manual different from other reference books on woody plants?

The Manual of Trees and shrubs evolved from the Hillier catalogue. Harold just loved his plants and wanted to grow and list as wide a range as possible. The catalogue did not always represent what was actually available for sale but it did have entries for everything Harold intended or wanted to grow and offer.

Tetrapanax papyrifer

Entries include accurate descriptions and often cultural information. It is an easy and invaluable reference when choosing plants and positioning them in your garden.

The Manual is written from personal experience and with opinion and this has been retained throughout its revision and evolution. Many entries show Harold’s love of plants. For example of Zenobia pulverulenta he writes: ‘One of the most beautiful and neglected of early summer flowering shrubs. One suspects that this glorious little shrub flowers during the “London Season”: how else can it have been so unnoticed’. Of course at that time the RHS Chelsea Flower Show was not the media focus it is today. Maybe Zenobia pulverulenta still has its moment to come.

Zenobia pulverulenta

Harold was particularly fond of oaks, Quercus, and the Sir Harold Hillier gardens contain the National collection of the genus. Often Manual entries refer to other great gardens and arboreta in reference to particular species or varieties. For example of Quercus x hickellii he says:” Originated at the splendid Arboretum des Barres near Paris where there is still a very fine specimen.

Quercus x hickelii

The Hillier Manual of Trees and Shrubs is known affectionately as ‘The Plantsman’s Bible’. It is not unusual to find well thumbed copies on potting benches, desks or even in the coat pockets of enthusiasts worldwide. You should never throw and old Hillier Manual away but every keen gardener and plantsman should have the new edition.

Published in March 2014 – Order yours now:

Hillier Jacket 2014

To accompany the Hillier Manual, Hillier is also publishing the story of one of the UK’s most acclaimed nurseries: ‘Hillier, The Plants, The People, The Passion’, celebrating 150 years of Hillier plantsmanship. Written by Jean Hillier and lavishly illustrated this is a book to dip in and out of or read like a novel; a wonderful story for anyone interested in plants and gardens.

Hillier The Plants, The People, The Passion cover Available now:


Andy McIndoe

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