Sambucus - Growing Guide

Growing Sambucus


Elders (S. nigra, the common elder or elderberry) are common features in our hedgerows and woodlands where they can grow, if unchecked, to about 20ft with a similar spread. Their pinnate leaves with five leaflets are easily recognisable as are their somewhat unpleasant musk scented and flattened white flower panicles which are followed by glossy black fruits. Elderberry flowers can be used to flavour wine and the Camel Valley vineyard, near Wadebridge in Cornwall, offers a well-known selection.

Burncoose now offers a selection of improved varieties of elder with distinctive coloured foliage or finely cut foliage which can make a noticeable impact in a shrub border or in a woodland glade. They mix well with taller growing herbaceous plants in a mixed shrub/herbaceous border too. All these elder varieties are totally hardy and grow perfectly well in full sun or partial shade. Those with yellow foliage retain their colours best in dappled shade.

Elders enjoy a hard pruning in the border from time to time and the vigorous new shoots will have larger leaves which display the best of their qualities. Those with yellowish or very dark foliage are best cut down to reshoot at least every other year. Otherwise, they may quickly become a bit too big for the border.

S. nigra ‘Aurea’, golden elder, has golden yellow leaves on pink flushed leaf stalks.

S. nigra ‘Black Beauty’ has dramatic dark purple foliage which looks black from a distance. The flowers are creamy pink in bud and in flower and the berries are blackish red.

S. nigra ‘Black Lace’ is similarly ‘black’ in appearance but the leaves are cut or dissected rather like a Japanese maple.

S. nigra ‘Golden Tower’ has a narrow, upright habit and deeply cut bright yellow leaves.

S. nigra ‘Guincho Purple’ has dark green leaves turning blackish-purple and then red in autumn. Its flowers are pink tinged on purple stalks.

S. nigra laciniata, the cut leaved elder, has irregular and finely cut leaflets.

S. nigra ‘Serenade’ has an unusual and striking mixture of dark yellowish and green foliage which alters and varies as it grows. You see forms of this growing in Dale villages in Durham and Yorkshire.

S. racemosa ‘Sutherland Gold’ grows only to about 10ft and has creamy-yellow flower heads. Its yellow cut leaves do not scorch in full sun and its berries are red not black.


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