A few years back I house/dog/garden sat for journalist Ketzel Levine at her Portland home. During that summer, I fell in love with her stubborn and elderly dog, learned from her established garden, and I met my first Ulmus parvifolia ‘Seiju’.
In the garden I could see what had and had not worked for her, I asked her questions about the plants when I saw her, but mostly, I spent warm summer evenings thinking about what might still be possible for me. That was a period of recovery. I was having a botanical growth spurt. I could ID many of the plants in her garden, but this unusual slow-growing shrub (or small tree) was new to me.
Honestly, so much has happened since that summer—when I first fell in love with the Ulmus parvifolia ‘Seiju’—I’d kind of forgotten about the crush I’d developed on it while I’d been there. Most evenings I’d spend time reading or writing in different seating areas she’d set up in the garden. I enjoyed taking in different views, studying her plantings, and “feeling” them. I loved many view there, but my gaze always returned to this plant. I was captivated by it. The garden had many charms though, many.
Recently, I was reminded again of her garden while I was at work. I was bundled up, it was wet and windy, and we were preparing for winter weather. I was walking through the middle of the nursery rows, and then I fell upon the Ulmus parvifolia ‘Seiju’ plants. Seeing their outlines in winter made me smile and I was suddenly filled with intense warm memories. I knew then that I had to write this post. Kneeling down quickly, tipping over a bit as I leaned too far to the right, laughing a little about how stupid I must look taking some of the photos that I do, I started writing this post about the Ulmus in my head right then and there.
The featured image at the top of this post is of the Ulmus parvifolia ‘Seiju’ Ketzel had at her place. It was quite large and the cork-like bark was pleasing to look at. It is often described as not getting large, but it definitely can become quite a large shrub or small tree.
I thought I had better photos of it, but I cannot find them now. Suffice it to say, it’s a plant that stuck with me. I’ve only seen it offered two times since then, once at Garden Fever, and then again where I work in Canby—Secret Garden Growers. It’s a plant I have not yet brought home, but as I shuffled around the nursery, thinking about writing this here, thinking about plants that I value and want to include in my open garden in 2020, I knew immediately that this hardy plant is one of them.
After losing an elderly family member this week, I was feeling out-of-it as I worked and I knew my post this Sunday should just be about a plant that I’d like to share more about, and this Seiju Dwarf Chinese Elm is one that makes you slow down, and meditate upon its loveliness. Some shrubs fill basic needs, other plants give us shocking or striking beauty. Still others—such as this—grow slowly, often allowing us to sit beneath them, following their unusual lines with our eyes, and if we want to become lost in them, in a kind of prayer or meditation, we can, and that possibility is wide open to us. If rushing past them, we can quickly marvel on their complicated lines, but there is a comfort in returning to them.
Once my house/dog/garden sitting gig ended, I missed this plant. It’s like that though. Once again, we don’t know what we have until it’s gone.
Feeling kind of blue this past week—and kind of quiet inside—I wanted to lose myself in the memory of a happier time, and so I traced the shapes and lines that nature gave us to mediate upon.
Ulmus parvifolia ‘Seiju’ is a slow-growing dwarf cultivar. It eventually reaches 6-10′ and about 4′ wide. It’s hardy to USDA zone 5 so it’s a great container plant for my area. Often used as a bonsai, I’d like to see it grown more often in the ground. It does well in the rock garden and it is highly resistant to Dutch elm disease.