It’s interesting to track the development of plants in the nursery business.  As a plant buyer you often hear the buzz a year or two before a plant is actually seen.  Then you see it at a nursery’s open house or at a trade show.  By the next spring a few plants are available to garden centres.  Sometimes five years can pass before the plant becomes a staple item or before it fades away and joins the ranks of the also-rans.

It appears that Sambucus nigra ‘Eva,’ the Black Lace Elderberry, has become a “staple” in just a few years.  Coming out as purple foliage plants are becoming a very hot item in gardens Black Lace has much more going for it than its attractive, finely-cut dark purple-black leaves.

And that foliage really is approaching black.  It looks somewhat like a very dark form of cut leaf Japanese maple, and because it will tolerate the bright sun and wind Black Lace is an excellent alternative for frustrated Okanagan gardeners who love the Acer palmatum dissectum but have finally given up after burning them repeatedly in their gardens in July and August.

You can treat the plant as a woody shrub or a perennial.  Leave it alone and it will grow up to 2.5 metres tall, but it might look a bit rangy after a few years.  Lightly pruning it back through the spring and early summer will give

Or you could cut it back hard every spring as you do with Buddleia davidii (Butterfly Bush) and it will grow back from its roots to form a small one to 1.5 metre shrub by midsummer.

If the plant only produced foliage it would be most garden worthy.  But, Black Lace also blooms.  Beginning in late June the plant is topped by clusters of pink flowers which emit a light lemony scent.  After the blooms are done small dark black berries emerge.  These berries attract birds and reportedly make an excellent jelly.

Give Black Lace a location where it can get lots of bright sun, to make the foliage colour stand out.  Initially it needs regular moisture, so mix a good amount of organic matter into the soil and pay attention to watering the first season or two.  After it’s established it can tolerate drier soils.

Black Lace is very hardy; it’s rated to Zone 4, so it will tolerate winter temperatures down to -28 deg. C.  You could increase its hardiness further by mulching heavily around its roots before winter.

The problem facing the gardener is deciding where to use Black Lace in the garden.  Mass them together in a large shrub border for an outstanding screen or hedge effect that would likely be filled with birds in the fall.  Or use it as a single specimen to draw your eye further along the border.  Plant it in a large decorative container on a deck or patio.  Use it alongside a bog or a pond, because like most Sambucus it will tolerate wet soils.

Is Black Lace the perfect plant?  If you love dark foliage in the garden it most certainly comes close.

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