A Bolder Shade of Summertime … Sambucus racemosa ‘Sutherland Gold’

 Sambucus racemosa ‘Sutherland Golden’ with Physocarpus opulifolius ‘Summer Wine’ in the Entry Garden

Some like it hot. And, some wither and fade in the mid-day sun. Blossoms come and go quickly at this time of year, but beautiful foliage lasts all season long. Does your garden go through awkward phases throughout the summer; gaps between flowering, when things look a little ‘blah’? Consider experimenting with colorful leaves to add a bit of season-spanning interest in your garden. A verdant backdrop is always lovely, of course. But there’s more than one hue in your box of Crayolas, so why not pull out a few and play around?

Like most gardeners, when I began planting perennials in my first garden, I was very flower-centric. Of course, flowers have evolved to seduce us —as well as birds, bees and butterflies— so it’s hard not to focus on all of those gorgeous blossoms. Peonies, roses, iris; I adore them all. Trouble is, even when employing various cultivars for staggered bloom time, the flowering season of most perennials is really quite short. Now, when designing gardens for myself and for my clients, I am quite ruthless when selecting plants. “What’s in it for me ?” I ask. “What’s in it for me all season long?” Sambucus racemosa ‘Sutherland Golden(aka ‘Gold’), answers at the top of her lungs: “Look at me … Over here in the flamboyant chartreuse gown!” Brilliant as a sunlit lime, from spring until frost, this gorgeous European Red Elder has become one of my favorite plants for dappled shade and mixed borders. Just look at her glowing, cut leaves…

Sambucus racemosa ‘Sutherland Golden’s Lovely, Tropical-Looking Leaves are Saturated in Luminous Chartreuse

There are several interesting Sambucus racemosa cultivars available; including dark beauties like ‘Black Lace’. I’m attracted to them all, and after experimenting with several in my own garden (which always serves as a testing ground for my garden design work), I’ve found that S. racemosa, ‘Sutherland Golden’ is the best of the yellow-chartreuse cultivars. I love playing the striking foliage of ‘Sutherland Golden’ against coppery and maroon hued plants like Physocarpus opulifolius ‘Summer Wine’ and Cotinus coggygria ‘Grace’ (or for more intensity, C. coggygria ‘Royal Purple’). Chartreuse foliaged plants like this one also work beautifully against dark green hedges (or dark sided houses), and blue-tinted conifers. And just imagine the perennial possibilities! Deep blue and purple flowers, like Geranium ‘Brookside’ or late-blooming Aconitum sing against the golden backdrop of ‘Sutherland Golden’. And orange flowering plants —like butterflyweed and brilliant daylilies— are stunning against this shrubs feathery, bold backdrop. Always luminous, even casual, happenstance pairings with ‘Sutherland Gold’ can be striking. Take a look at the photo below, for example. Notice how the chartreuse color of the Sambucus leaves brings out the brilliant green moss on the ledge in the background. Color works such magic in a garden design …

Treated as a Woody, Perennial Plant (cut back hard in early spring), The Fresh, Vibrant Foliage of this European Red Elder Emerges Rusty, Copper-Orange Before Shifting to a Hue Bright as the Summer Sun…

Hardy in USDA zones 3-8, this fast growing shrub can quickly reach 10′ tall and 12′ wide. However, I almost always treat this ornamental Sambucus as I do woody perennials like Russian Sage and Butterflybush; cutting them back hard and early each spring to encourage low, bushy, new growth. Managed in this way, Sambucus can fit into very small spaces; making it the perfect plant for semi-shaded courtyard spaces and even larger container gardens. The golden foliage can burn out in full sun, so some protection at mid-day will give best coloration. And although flowering, fruiting and golden coloration are diminished in full shade, this lovely shrub thrives in dappled light conditions. Even moisture and a pH of 6-6.5 are her soil preferences; adding woodsy leaf mold and/or good compost will encourage healthy, rapid growth. Attractive to bees, butterflies and birds, Sambucus offers the garden fragrant flowers and fruit for wildlife (beware all parts of S. racemosa –including green and red berrries– are mildly toxic when ingested; particularly in great quantities. Avoid this shrub if you have grazing pets or small children. Take care not confuse this species with our native, S. canadensis, as the black fruits of our native elderberry are commonly used for jam).

Words & Photographs â“’ Michaela Medina – The Gardener’s Eden. All photographs, articles and content on this site (with noted exceptions) are the original, copyrighted property of The Gardener’s Eden and may not be reused, reposted or reproduced in any way without prior written consent. Contact information is in the left side bar. Thank you!

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3 Replies to “A Bolder Shade of Summertime … Sambucus racemosa ‘Sutherland Gold’”

  1. Laurrie

    Beautiful, beautiful plant with so many design possibilities! The deer here make short work of sambucus, so they’re hard to keep in the garden. You may have addressed this somewhere on your blog, but how do you protect your gorgeous shrubs and trees from deer?

  2. Michaela

    @ Laurrie, Hello! Hope you had a lovely 4th of July weekend. In my own garden, I have a four-legged deer deterrent known by the name “Oli”. My large lab barks and marks to defend my trees, shrubs, perennials and veggie garden. In my clients’ gardens, I advise the use of Plant Skyyd or Critter Ridder. Both work well when applied after heavy rains at the boundary of a property. They are OMRI approved for organic gardening and will not harm bees, birds or any other garden creatures. It works quite well. Short of this, only an 8-10′ fence truly works, and of course, planting a garden will less attractive (to deer) plants. As I am sure you know, deer will eat almost anything —including deer “resistant” plants— when they are hungry. Plant Skyyd has protected an estate garden I designed, for many years. They even have HOSTA! :) xo M

  3. Deb Weyrich-Cody

    Hey there! Absolutely loving the moss/chartreuse green contrasts – but completely green with envy over your glacial till, lichen-coated boulders; ) xo D

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