Ulmus parvifolia ‘Seiju'(Seiju Dwarf Chinese Elm)

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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.
IMG_3229Honestly, 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. IMG_3225

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.

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The Little Foster Boy Who Loved Seeds

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Last weekend I was surprised by a 9-year-old foster respite boy—but it was a pleasant surprise.
False Yucca Seeds, Hesperaloe parviflora.

Usually on Friday nights kids don’t want to watch me sitting at the table sifting through seeds. Our kids are usually fairly emotional and like to have us right there with them, watching a program with them, or participating in their play.

Cardinal Flower Seeds, Lobelia cardinalis.

Last weekend I was left alone in the evening. It felt kind of odd and a twinge of guilt crept up, but then I squashed it because I liked being able to work quietly after dinner without any major interruptions.

False Freesia, Anomatheca laxa.

I was sorting and sorting and didn’t notice when the room became silent.

My little helper hiding behind the lamp to preserve his anonymity.

Then I felt his eyes on me and he drew nearer. There were a few questions about how to do it, and why I do it, and then he sat his toys down. He was mesmerized by the process and before I knew it he was sitting beside me sorting too.

And that was Friday night! Ahhhhh…..

Elms in the Park Blocks of Portland, Oregon.

Due to his anxiety issues, running errands for my upcoming trip required some planning, but all that really meant was that he needed park breaks in the city so that he could forget about all the people. Near Powell’s he as able to run around in this playground in the park blocks. I admired the elm trees while he let it all out.

Licorice Ferns, Polypodium glycyrrhiza.

Before we left to go to the store I showed him how the epiphytic Licorice Fern grows on trees whenever possible in our area. He stood there on the sidewalk staring up at that tree for much longer than I’d expected.

This lily at a flower stall captivated my little weekend visitor.

At the market in NW Portland we stopped to buy flowers for my daily Ikebana.

Pumpkin Stick Tree, Solanum integrifolium.

I let him pick what he wanted for a Halloween theme and we talked about the flowers he really liked.

Monkshood, possibly Aconitum carmichaelii.

This was the first Monkshood he’d ever seen and he couldn’t stop looking at it. He wanted to call it a Hoodie Flower and that made me laugh.

Once we were back home he posed with our purchases and then we started working on Halloween cookies. Until he left on Monday he continued to sort seeds with me and he asked me many questions. He opened up a lot during this time and when he left it was hard for me to say goodbye. Part of me felt ashamed though to have been so biased in my feelings for him just because he loved seeds but I totally fell for him.

I am currently still sorting outdoor plants before I take off for my next plant and seed hunting trip in California.

I wanted to post that I have many winners and losers and these are examples of each. Both are hard to find plants, but only one made it. The Dicentra would have made it if I hadn’t neglected it, but so it goes…

The Country Store and Gardens and Beall Greenhouses on Vashon Island, Washingtion

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Due to my island lallygagging on Thursday we were only able to make it to two plant places on Vashon Island before we had to go sit in line to await our ferry to West Seattle. This was fine with me though because I was happily on island time.
Before leaving for Vashon, a gardening friend of mine in Portland let me know she wanted a plant from Colvos Creek Nursery and that I could find it at The Country Store and Gardens so that was a priority for us to pick up for her. (FYI: It was a Garrya elliptica and it is perfect.)
I was surprised that I’d never been to The Country Store and Gardens before, but back when I used to visit frequently, I was only a teen and not yet a gardener. For years I wanted to be a writer and back then I was studying and reading much more than I do now.

The Colvos Creek Nursery sales area is located right next to the parking area. It is stocked regularly and if you call ahead, they can make sure to have what you are looking for from their catalog available to purchase at this retail site. It is the only place on the island where you can purchase their plants. (If you have not seen their catalog, I highly suggest you click the link at the end of this post. It is like the Christmas toy catalog for plant nerds.)

Additionally, The Country Store and Gardens has its own rambling nursery and plant area, but it is not for those who like everything to be glossy, pretty and organized. For some, like myself, it might bring back memories of their childhood and some may want to linger all afternoon. It is a nursery, but it reminds me more of what I like to call now: Plant Labor-itories. There are tons of rectangular beds with some plants planted, while others are in pots. You could dig through them for ages and ages and you’d feel like some kind of plant explorer discovering something very special and new.
My mentor Mr Palm had a huge garden that looked a lot like this and it made me so happy to see one again.
Someone planted a lot of very special plants that were seriously enjoyable to find here and there.
Ulmus x hollandica ‘Jacqueline Hillier’.
Tree Mallow, Lavatera maritima.
Tree Mallow, Lavatera maritima. 
Not sure which plant this one is but it was so pretty planted beside some grape vines.  
Double pink Anemone.
Double pink Anemone.

Inside The Country Store, if felt like stepping back a bit in time, but not completely. In a way, it felt appropriate to the location since Vashon really was rural not too long ago.

Seed racks in the store.  
Gardening tools on display.
In my last post I promised you overgrown and abandoned greenhouses, and I wasn’t kidding. These have looked like this ever since I started enjoying the island, but I wasn’t truly struck by them until I learned more about the history of the Beall Greenhouses.

At the end of this post you will find a link to a page I found online so I won’t tell you everything, but this facility once housed not only one of the largest rose producers in the country, but it also supplied folks all over the world with orchids.

This is what the 25 acre growing facility looks like today.

It is difficult to imagine this is where rare orchids from England were shipped to for safekeeping during World War II, but they did live here for a spell.

We had to dash off to catch the ferry, so DIG Floral & Garden had to wait until the next day, but I was happy because I knew that if we had to drop off some sample wines before my husband’s pouring that evening in Capitol Hill, I would be rewarded in Seattle with some more plant shopping. While waiting for the ferry, I saw this sign, and although it made me sad, I loved the typography with the many different languages of our diverse West Coast. It amazes me sometimes and it makes me sad that I no longer teach ESL to immigrants and refugees.

While my husband went off to grab some food, I watched as this African father and his daughter learned about kayaks from a man who’d driven his down to the dock behind a riding lawnmower. The kayaker noticed their curiosity immediately and I stood nearby them as he showed them how the whole operation worked. I learned that the pair had just come over to the island for the day and were planning on taking the bus around before returning to Seattle. For five minutes the kayaker gave them the complete tour and answered all of their questions. He then invited them down to the water to show them how to get into a kayak and we all watched him as he paddled away.

Just then someone’s car radio blasted old 1990s Nirvana music and the moment broke apart a bit in my mind. My husband ran back to our car with some Mexican takeout and we drove onto the ferry.

The Country Store and Gardens Vashon Island, WA
Colvos Creek Nursery and Landscape Design Vashon Island, WA
Beall Greenhouses Vashon Island, WA