Friday, May 28, 2010

How You Look At It: 'Black Lace'

There are two ways of looking at trees: the closeup examination of a single specimen, noting the shape, size, leaf form and habit of an oak tree, for example; and the overall view of the forest, where the combination of multiple oaks, maples, hickories, etc. creates a completely different perspective.

So it is with gardens. Some folks wander into my backyard and say, "Nice flowers." They are seeing the "forest" view. Others, upon seeing my flower garden, say, "Wow! What is this? And that? What is that?" They are "specimen" viewers. I tend to be a specimen viewer, and it's a challenge for me to look at my garden with "forest" perspective. I think the most gifted gardeners are able to switch perspectives easily and can even plan for a garden that appeals on both levels. I am, sadly, a novice at this. Sometimes I look at my garden and think it is all too uniform. Every plant seems to be too much the same size, the same color, the same value--to use a painterly term.

I've created it as a collector of specimens, with an eye to only that. I've failed at looking at the overall design and "forest" view. I'm working at this problem, but have had little success in overcoming it.

Even so, there are some standouts in my flower bed that fill the bill on both levels and almost everyone comments on them, regardless of how they see a garden. The sambucus 'Black Lace' is just such a focal point. Right now it is covered in large pannicles of pink, which pop against the feathery, nearly black, foliage.

If you want an easy plant for the back of the garden, this is it. It would also be excellent planted near the house, a dramatic entryway plant that doesn't get too large, yet is big enough to make a statement. Untrimmed it will reach approximately 8' in height. It's hardy in zones 4-7 and appreciates full sun or part shade. In my windy, exposed garden it maintains an attractive shape without pruning.
An elderberry, it should produce fruit, but I've never seen any on mine. I think it might be that birds get them. Best of all, 'Black Lace' sambucus is a beauty no matter how you look at it! Photos by JulenaJo.


  1. Black Lace Sambucus - I have one that I love. It's almost ready to open it's flowers. But - this year the stems are being bored into by some ugly creature. I believe it might be the azalea stem borer. I sprayed insecticide around the base today and go out daily to look for the little buggers and cut off the stems. I really believe the insects are beginning to take over the earth! Nice photos of your sambucus - I hope it stays healthy for you.

  2. Hi Julena~~ I live in Zone 8b and S. n. 'Black Lace' is exceedingly happy in my full-sun hot border with occasional summer water.

    I think this is the biggest challenge for we plant people--creating a complementary design with our collection. And I believe trial and error are probably the best teachers.

    Your photos are lovely. You're doing something right!! :)