FOR many summers, too many actually – ever since I first dabbled with home-brew as a young teen – I have promised to make my own elderflower Champagne, sorry, for that read fizz.

But now there is an added incentive, I cannot only make wine from the heady blooms of the elder, but I can grow cultivated cousins of the country variety and brew the fizz pretty in pink.

Isle of Wight County Press:

The gorgeous Black Beauty. Image courtesy of Thompson & Morgan.

It was 30 years ago that plant breeders honed existing European cultivars and came up with Sambucus nigra Black Beauty. It has pointed near-black leaves and plates of tiny, scented, pink flowers.

In the next couple of years I will definitely be constructing a wide border in a dappled shade area of the garden and at its back will be Sambucus both in its wild and cultivated forms.

There, next to the frothy cream panicles will be Black Beauty and the more pastel-flowered Eva, among others. Both are available from Thompson & Morgan but varieties are also to be had at Isle of Wight garden centres. The Royal Horticultural Society currently lists that there are more than 100 out there now.

Isle of Wight County Press:

Eva will also look stunning in your garden. Image courtesy of Thompson & Morgan.

Not only do they have deep purple, green, golden or variegated foliage resembling the Japanese maple in shape, but, unlike the acer, they have the added bonus of their beautiful blooms. All are closely related to our own common elder which is so delightful at this time of year in scrub, hedges and woodland. And all are easy to grow whether in the border or container.

There is a third bonus that the birds will appreciate, those glossy black elderberries., from which I did make wine with what I can best describe as interesting and unusual results.

Elder can be grown easily from cuttings, especially if you have some friends with favoured varieties, but if you go the garden centre route for more immediate results they are not over fussy about conditions.

They prefer slightly acidic soil but what they really do not like is sitting in pools of water, so, if you do have heavy clay, either employ a raised bed or dig out and incorporate plenty of grit or gravel at the base, and rich compost too.

They like full sun but will certainly tolerate partial shade. They also don’t like to be crowded, so plant the European varieties about 6ft apart. They can be pruned to shape and will take harsh treatment.

But, bear in mind that European elderberry plants do not fruit on first-year canes, so heavy pruning each winter — as can be done with the American varieties — would curtail flowering the next year.

In addition to removing damaged or diseased canes, you’ll want to prune canes older than three years to encourage fresh, vigorous growth and more flowers, and in my case, further fermenting prevarication.

Isle of Wight County Press:

The common elderflower, which brightens our hedgerows at this time of year.


Now is a great time to plant out leeks if you have brought them on in pots or a seedbed — or if you are lucky enough to find them at a garden centre. Normally they have to be dropped in a dibber hole and heavily watered-in but the soil is brilliantly damp now.

Chilli pepper plants will benefit from being potted-on into progressively larger pots. Avoid the temptation to immediately go large — chillies benefit from a degree of root restriction.

Pinch out tomato side shoots regularly — even the most diligent gardener is surprised at how they magically appear. Cut off any leaves growing below the lowest ripening fruit trusses to improve air circulation and prevent diseases. Upper leaves too can be reduced.

If you need to prune your deciduous magnolia, such as grandiflora, now’s the best time to do it.

Prune lupins to encourage more flowers. They will send up more spikes.

Are you an Isle of Wight gardener with a question? If so, you can email Richard on