A few months ago I was wandering in the garden and spotted a young couple and their kids. From a distance I saw that they had spotted our ‘Jacqueline Hillier’ dwarf elm, and I watched them wander into the bed to get a closer look. I was a bit surprised to see the family actually “petting” the plant.

Samll Ulmus x hollandica ‘Jacqueline Hillier’

Deep-green, glossy leaves are characteristic of ‘Jacqueline Hillier’.

Photo Credit: David Creech

Ulmus x hollandica ‘Jacqueline Hillier’

Here’s a plant that has all the good attributes of an ordinary elm tree, but it only grows 6 feet tall, so it’s suitable for many modern landscapes.

Photo Credit: David Creech

That did it for me. Any plant that people want to pet has got to be worth a hard look! Ulmus x hollandica ‘Jacqueline Hillier’ is a dwarf plant that would look great in the landscape as a focal point (“specimen plant”) in the yard or tucked away in a bare corner. It’s basically a densely branched, wider-than-tall toadstool covered with a blanket of tiny green leaves. Each leaf is typically elm-like, less than an inch long and arranged in a closely spaced herringbone pattern along the branches.

The SFA Mast Arboretum in Texas has a 6-year-old specimen that’s 5 feet wide and 4 feet tall, and it never fails to raise eyebrows and questions. I’ve encountered ‘Jacqueline Hillier’ in a number of other botanical gardens, arboreta and private gardens in the South, and I’m convinced this is a tough little shrub of considerable merit. There’s a fine older specimen in the Missouri Botanical Garden in St. Louis near the conservatory. The shrub there has survived -25 degrees F (!), proving that ‘Jacqueline Hillier’ is hardy to gardens in all but the most extremely northern locations in the US.

In the garden, this elm can be left unpruned, and it’ll become quite large after a decade or two, reaching about 6 feet tall and wide. On the other hand, careful winter and summer pruning can keep the shrub within almost whatever small volume you desire. (Be careful, though. I once passed a garden in which the proud owner had “limbed up” the variety to remove the dense branching and expose the bark. While the plant looked more elm-tree shaped, I didn’t care for the effect. The shrub seemed unhappy, and I think it wanted to go back to being a toadstool.)

Popular in the bonsai crowd, the species can be easily pot-grown, but this is not a plant that you can leave for very long without watering. In fact, ‘Jacqueline Hillier’ appreciates well-drained soil and (in Texas) needs timely irrigations to keep the plant crisp and clean. Hot, dry conditions, particularly for plants sited in full sun, often create leaf burn. While the variety can survive bouts with drought, I’d recommend avoiding it whenever possible.

You can ask for this great shrub at your favorite garden center. If you’re an advanced gardener with a mist bench and a knack for propagating, you’ll be happy to know that the plant is easy to multiply. You can take small cuttings in late spring and summer, and rooting will occur in just a few weeks, with or without using a hormone application.

Despite its dwarf nature, ‘Jacqueline Hillier’ grows fairly fast. And for such a small plant, it sure does make a big statement in the garden!