I like Sambucus…

Say the word Sambucus(sam-boo-kus)… Isn’t it just  fun to say?  I think so but maybe my judgement has been swayed a bit because Sambucus can be an amazing specimen in your garden. Sambucus (also known as elderberry) is a genus of shrubs that can be used in many ways including food, drink, medicine and a great food source for birds to name a few.

But honestly, I like Sambucus for its ornamental appeal and ‘easy-growing’ manner. There are many species and varieties within this family of shrubs but some favorites among gardeners over recent years are:

    • Sambucus nigra ‘Eva’ known as Sambucus ‘Black Lace’™
    • Sambucus racemosa ‘Sutherland Gold’
I grow Sambucus nigra ‘Black Lace’ as a foundation plant in my garden.
To me, it is a real ‘stand-out’ because of its unique color and lacy foliage.  This shrubs grows quickly and has established itself in my garden in just two years.  It has required nothing but  good compost mixed into the soil (at planting time and this spring) as well as a deep weekly watering during the hottest summer months. It’s not easy for many plants to get a strong root-base in my heavy clay soil so I consider it a champion for getting established and providing such an intense habitation so quickly.

The bold presence of ‘Black Lace’ is softened in June by a plethora of delicate soft salmon pink flowers that have a light fragrance.  I have read blackish/red berries (that can be used for making wine or jam) follow the flowers although I have not experienced the berries yet…

Another great quality of this shrub is they are easily trimmed to maintain a desired shape or size and can provide a bit of a “canopy” for smaller, shorter plants that you may like to use as an understory. This year I am growing Cerenthe major purpurascens ‘Blue Honeywart’ as an annual understory plant and miscanthus sinensis ‘Rigoletto’ as a companion plant.

There is something about the green and white “stripes” of Rigoletto’ paired with the dark black/plum foliage of ‘Black Lace’ that calls out “refreshing”.  On a hot, dry summer day I like to go to this area of the garden, stand in the shade of a nearby Red Oak tree and rejuvenate by looking at these two companions for a few minutes.  I think the movement of their sharply contrasting forms also plays a role in their appeal.

Sambucus racemosa ‘Sutherland Gold’ is another favorite of mine and I grow it in a container on my back patio.  This shrub also known as European red elder or golden elderberry is really interesting to watch as spring begins and turns to summer.

The finely divided, lacy foliage emerges a bronzy/purple in early spring.
As the foliage continues to emerge it slowly turns a light, limey green and then the creamy white flowers appear.
Then as the season continues the foliage takes on a chartreusy-yellow color.

Sambucus ‘Sutherland Gold’ prefers bright shade or dappled light so it is a perfect point of interest for a shaded area.  In the spring I plant pansies and other colorful annuals with it and as summer arrives I combine begonias and potato vine with it. This is my second season growing ‘Sutherland Gold’ in a container and it is now about 4 feet high with a nice, graceful shape.  It can be easily pruned to keep a desired shape.

‘Sutherland Gold’ is less susceptible to sun scorch than other gold varieties and some descriptions I’ve read say it can be grown in mostly sun but I do not recommend it especially in the Intermountain West where the air is very dry.  Morning sun, dappled light or bright shade is my recommendation for this specimen.  This elderberry can provide red fruits (berries, that have culinary uses when cooked but can cause illness if eaten raw) in the fall but I have not experienced this feature so far.

My personal take on this shrub is that something about its chartreusey, lacy foliage and relatively large size makes me think of the “tropics.”  I don’t know why… but who doesn’t like a bit of a tropical feel in their garden during summertime.  With Sambucus ‘Sutherland Gold’ on my patio, I kick back with an ice-cold drink and just imagine the waves rolling in the distance.

How about you?  Do you grow Sambucus and have a favorite variety?  Do you have plants that make you think of the tropics even though they are not officially ‘tropicals’?

The Vitals:

 Sambucus Black Lace™:

-Very cold hardy, easy to grow and adaptable to most soils

-Hardy in zones 4 – 7  (-30° F)

-Full sun or part sun

-Water needs are normal to wet, can do well in wet soils but doesn’t have to be in moist soil environment

-Can reach up to 8 feet in height, but can also be pruned back each year to fit into smaller settings.

-Attracts Birds, Deer Resistant, Fall Interest (berries)

-Upright growth Habit

-Great as a shrub in the landscape or as a potted shrub on the patio.

-Good in groupings or masses or in mixed perennial borders. Can make a nice screen or hedge.

Special note: Sambucus ‘Black Beauty’ is another popular cultivar of this family.  It features a different foliage and flower but is similar to ‘Black Lace’ in color, growing habitat and practices. 

Sambucus ‘Sutherland Gold.’

-Very cold hardy,  Zones 3 – 8

– Grow in moderately fertile, moist, well-drained soil

-Morning sun, dappled light or bright shade

-Water needs are medium

-Reaches 5-10ft in height, smaller in container, benefits from hard pruning in early spring; can be trimmed later in the season to restrict size and fit into smaller settings.

-Attracts Birds, Fall Interest (Berries)

-Multi-stemmed, upright growth habit

-Great as a shrub in the landscape or as a potted shrub on the patio.

-Good in groupings or masses or in mixed perennial borders. Can make a nice screen or hedge.



7 thoughts on “I like Sambucus…

  1. Beautiful! The only Sambucus (“Elderberry”) I have in my yard is the native species, planted by birds. It’s only growing in the wild common strip behind my yard too. I love the way even the native ones look, but these are miles above that. After seeing what the deer will eat, I’m really hesitant to spend money on these though. “Deer resistant” often means “they’ll only eat it once a week” I’ve found.

    Still, if I can find one at a decent price…

    Thanks for the post!

  2. We have the Black Lace (Eva) variety growing above our pond and just love it. What a great specimen plant it is. I love the look of your Sutherland Gold too.

  3. Oh I love the Sambucus Black Lace! I also have heavy clay, so it is good to know this will do well. I am officially going to add this to my plant wish list! What a lovely post! 🙂

  4. What a great write-up on the genus, sambucus! And the photos are fabulous! I’m glad it’s established so easily for you–mine were slow to establish here in Connecticut. But now they are so hardy and sturdy that they are the backbone of what I call my “wildlife” garden–a garden of plants I use to encourage wildlife to come to my yard.

    No deer though–although the deer have sampled just about everything else!


  5. Lisa

    I have been research Elder trees for a couple of months and have decided on the Sambucus Nigra Black Lace or Black Beauty. Now, I am looking for companions and love your suggestions as well as your Sutherland Gold for container planting. Thank you!

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