Gorgeous Golden Shrubs – Part 2

Sambucus nigra 'Aurea'

Text and photos ©Nancy J. Ondra

A few days ago, I was beginning to wonder how I was going to fit blogging into my day, with so much to do outdoors. Well, after spending all day cutting down ornamental grasses yesterday, and taking the alpacas for a walk, building a new raised bed out back, and emptying the compost bins today, I am permanently stuck in my desk chair, never to rise again (at least until bedtime). So, I have my answer: I’ll play in the garden until I’m too tired to move, and then I’ll blog. In my last post (Gorgeous Golden Shrubs – Part 1), I started discussing some of my favorite golden shrubs. And oh yes, there are many more.

The elderberries (Sambucus) could easily have a post all to themselves. I’ve found the purple-leaved ones to be rather finicky, but not so with the yellow-leaved selections. At the top of this entry is golden elderberry (Sambucus nigra ‘Aurea’) serving as the centerpiece of one bed in my front garden. This one is starting its seventh year in that spot. Beginning in its third spring, I cut it back to 6 to 12 inches almost every year. Here it is in early May…

Sambucus nigra 'Aurea' after cutting back early May

…and in late July…

Sambucus nigra 'Aurea' in late July

As you can see, it still forms a sizable mound – about 8 feet by 8 feet – by the end of each growing season.

Sambucus nigra 'Aurea'

I skipped cutting it back one year, and by the following spring, I found that the outer branches had layered themselves (taken root where they touched the ground), giving me more than a dozen new plants. I found homes for a few and couldn’t bear to destroy the rest, so they become the backbone of the Arc Borders, as shown below, three years after they were planted.

Arc borders at Hayefield

As superb as S. nigra ‘Aurea’ is for foliage color, it’s not especially interesting up close. For great color and superb texture too, my favorite is S. racemosa ‘Sutherland Gold’. This one works much better when allowed to form a large shrub without being cut back each year. It has far better-looking bark and such elegantly arching branches when allowed to grow unpruned that whacking it back hard each year doesn’t do it any favors, and it seems to weaken the plant as well.

Sambucus racemosa 'Sutherland Gold' with Calamagrostis x acutiflora 'Karl Foerster'

The photo above shows a five-year old plant that was cut back in early spring, so its growth is mostly upright at this point in early July. By late August (below), you can see it’s arching out again, but it’s still not as pretty as it could have been if I’d given it a larger spot and allowed it to fill out normally.

Sambucus racemosa 'Sutherland Gold' with Calamagrostis x acutiflora 'Karl Foerster', Rubus thibetanus, and Pennisetum orientale 'Karly Rose'

One challenge with ‘Sutherland Gold’ is finding a site with enough sun to keep the golden color along with evenly moist soil to keep it from scorching. For a site that’s definitely full sun with average, sometimes-dry soil, Tiger Eyes sumac (Rhus typhina ‘Bailtiger’) could be a better option. Tiger Eyes does fine cut right to the ground each spring, and its foliage color is outstanding: greenish yellow in spring, clear yellow in summer, and reddish to pinkish in fall.

Rhus typhina Tiger Eyes ('Bailtiger')

Another great multi-season shrub is ‘Sunshine’ red-twig dogwood (Cornus sericea subsp. occidentalis).

Cornus sericea 'Sunshine' in foundation border with Thalictrum flavum subsp. glaucum and Rosa 'New Dawn'

Its bright yellow leaves hold their color well through the growing season, though they can bleach out if the afternoon sun is too strong and the soil dries out. Even in ideal conditions, they’ll be a softer yellow by early fall.

Cornus sericea 'Sunshine' with Calamagrostis brachytricha

The foliage takes on reddish to pinkish shading later on in fall, then drops to reveal deep red stems for the winter. On this one, I cut out one or two of the oldest stems each spring instead of cutting it to the ground, because it’s not especially vigorous. In the world of ninebarks (Physocarpus opulifolius), the dark-leaved selection Diabolo (‘Monlo’) and its offspring Coppertina (‘Mindia’) seem to get all of the attention. Coppertina’s other parent, ‘Dart’s Gold’, is also a beauty, however, with the same interesting peeling bark, arching branches, white flowers, and rosy summer seedheads but yellow foliage instead of purple.

Physocarpus opulifolius 'Dart's Gold' with seedheads against Cotinus 'Grace'

You can cut this one back hard every spring if you want to try to control its size, but, like ‘Sutherland Gold’ elderberry, ‘Dart’s Gold’ ninebark really looks best when allowed to grow with just occasional removal of a few old branches.

Well, this topic has certainly taken on a life of its own. There are still several more of my favorites left, so I’ll break them into yet another post (Gorgeous Golden Shrubs – Part 3). Probably would have been easier to just write a book. Oh wait, I did: Foliage!

23 responses to this post.

  1. You should write a book on golden shrubs. I’m sure the golden shrub lovers would appreciate it. I just adore the color combinations you have in your garden. How big is your yard. You seem to have never ending amounts of plants that I have never seen or heard of before. But i’m not one that knows much of anything about shrubs yet. Reading you blog I learn lots about foliage plants that I never would have learned otherwise. I love the shape of the S. racemosa ‘Sutherland Gold’ I’ll have to keep that one in mind to research later on and maybe write down as a must need plant.

    Hi Priscilla! I’m glad you’re finding some new plants of interest. I realize that I forgot to add sources for the shrubs I mentioned in this post; I’ll try to add them tomorrow.
    -Nan
    P. S. I have about 1/2 acre of garden space (4 acres total), so I have plenty of room for experimenting!

  2. More yummy, yummy golden shrubs! I have a gold-foliaged sambucus that is probably ‘Aurea’–don’t remember where or when I got it, but the puny ‘Sutherland’s Gold’ I got several years ago expired. Will try again this year with a better selection. Have you tried Physocarpus ‘Nugget’? Some say it’s superior to ‘Dart’s Gold’; a nursery friend gave me ‘Nugget last year, so I’ll report on how it does, but I love ninebarks of all colours. And I’ve developed a real fondness for ‘Lemon Princess’ spirea because its foliage glows all season long in our garden.
    Glad you enjoyed the series of tips on blogging. It seems to have been some help to some bloggers, which is why I decided to do the posts. Sadly no, so far as I can tell there’s no option to edit comments in Blogger–only to delete them. Maybe a feature they’ll release one of these days.

    I hope your second try with ‘Sutherland Gold’ is more successful, Jodi. No, I haven’t yet tried ‘Nugget’ ninebark. From what I’ve heard, it’s pretty much the same as ‘Dart’s Gold’. But if you think it’s better, I’d love to hear about it.
    -Nan

  3. Me again, Nan. I’d dearly love it if you’d have a look at the photo of the weigela on this page of my blog: http://tinyurl.com/yobhwq . I tinyurled it for convenience. This is the plant that I’m trying to identify as possibly being Briant Rubidor; which ISN’T the same as Bristol Ruby, is it? My foliage stays very variegated, and throws flowers intermittently after the big flush of bloom. Whatever it is, I love it.

    Oh, sorry, Jodi: I didn’t previously pick up on its being variegated, rather than solid yellow. I’m 99 percent sure what you have is French Lace (‘Brigela’), which is a sport of ‘Bristol Ruby’. Ronald Houtman, author of Variegated Trees and Shrubs, considers it “perhaps the best yellow-variegated Weigela on the market”, so you are in good company.
    -Nan

  4. Fantastic selections as always, Nan! Ninebarks are irresistible, and I love red-twig dogwoods and elderberries, too. Do the yellow-leaved elderberries fruit? Wonder how they’d do streamside with my green fruiting cultivars? And congrats on getting so much done in the garden!!! Now I feel doubly guilty after being away for a week…

    Welcome home! Yes, the golden elderberries can fruit as well, as long as 1) you don’t cut them down each year (which removes the flower buds) and 2) you have another clone or seedling of the same species for pollination.
    -Nan

  5. Sambucus is our favorite we have six different ones,
    bouth with green, yellow and darkred folliage.
    They are very hardy and dont get any damiage after winter here in Sweden.
    I also wonder if I make the time to blog when the garden season start, but I agree, when you have been out in the garden hole day you must relax and bloging seams to be a great thing to do then.
    Have a nice ending on your Easter
    Ken&Carina

    Thanks for the information about how the elderberries grow for you two. I hope your snow melts quickly so you can get back to work outdoors!
    -Nan

  6. Nan: Love those Sambucus! Which would you prefer to grow if you were to put it in an area which is seen from a distance of 100 yards or so? I’m thinking the mounded S. nigra ‘Aurea’ given its’ tight form but would like your opinion. Great photos.

    Yes, definitely S. nigra ‘Aurea’! It’s a bold beauty from a distance. ‘Sutherland Gold’ is much more delicate – rather like a Japanese maple.
    -Nan

  7. Boy I love these posts of yours. Ahhhh. Ok, so you said the purple-leaves elderberries have given you some trouble. How so? I planted a black lace last fall. And, thank you very much, but I was all set to get a sutherland, but now maybe I might want Aurea now. Argh. Why must you complicate my life? :) I’m excited to see what my ninebark coppertina does this year–hoepfully it grows fast, as it’s 12″ now, and hopefully it’s leaves will be coppery. Also got that bailtiger last year and it had wonderful fall color, but I hear it grows slow, and am needing it to grow fast where it is. Shrubs shrubs shrubs.

    I’m not totally sure what the problem is with the purple elderberries. Partly, they appear more prone to suffer damage from stem borers. The golden ones get them too, but they seem much more vigorous, so they’re better able to handle the loss of a stem or two. I think you’d be happier with ‘Sutherland Gold’ than ‘Aurea’ in your situation, unless you really want a big mound of gold in one of the back corners of your yard. ‘Sutherland Gold’ is so much more elegant than ‘Aurea’ and deserves to be admired at fairly close range. I remember your Coppertina, and I’m sure it will be lovely this year, and the Tiger Eyes too. My Tiger Eyes hasn’t been nearly as vigorous, either hortizontally or vertically, as the species, but really, I consider that a good thing. More golden shrubs to tempt you with in a few days – and then on to variegates, I think!
    -Nan

  8. Nan, your posts really make my day! I love seeing shrubs in your garden setting, growing as they are supposed to and learning your pruning tips. I have aurea, and it is huge, I cut back branches that block our passage, but don’t want to lose the flowers and berries, when is the best time to shape it? The second black lace is looking good, the first one died, as did sutherland gold. We got ninebark summer wine last year and are hoping for great things from it. I like the sumac tiger eyes, but was worried about it being invasive, but cutting it to the ground might prevent it from spreading too much. We have the red twig dogwood, elegantissima, wish it was a little stronger. I posted a link to your paths and walkways story in my post ‘Returns’ today, hope that is okay.
    Frances

    If you’re trimming to remove a few (or a number of) wayward stems, then I think you could do it now, or else right after bloom. It’s just when you cut them completely to the ground that you lose the flower buds. And yes, Frances, thanks for the link to the pathways post at Gardening Gone Wild; of course it is fine!
    -Nan

  9. Hi Nan! Have been enjoying the posts on golden shrubs. Hope there will be a Part 3. We’re tagging you. We had to, you’re from home! Details on our blog.

    Ack! Ok, I’ve been over to check out what it’s all about. I think I’ve already shared pretty much everything that might be of interest, but I’ll see if I can come up with anything else.
    -Nan

  10. Will there be a part 3? I love these golden shrubs, I just wish I could find one that would remain golden in partial to full shade. I almost bought a ‘Sutherland Gold’ at a plant sale last year, so chances are good that I’ll end up with some kind of gold or gold-variegated Sambucus if I can find a home for it. The ‘Sunshine’ Dogwood is awfully tempting though…

    Yep, MMD, Part 3 is coming, and I think it may have a few more shade-adapted golds you might find of interest. As far as elderberries, check out ‘Madonna’ too: It’s variegated with yellow and green, but it appears all-yellow from more than a few feet away, and it seems to stay much smaller than the others.
    -Nan

  11. Posted by Sylvia on March 25, 2008 at 9:54 am

    Great blog – as always. I am grateful that you took time out from your busy day to write it, it is really appreciated. You brighten up my day with your lovely pictures. Thank you

    Sylvia England

    I appreciate the kind words, Sylvia, and thank you for reading.
    -Nan

  12. I’d have to agree Nancy that golden shrubs are wonderful. Your garden looks splendid. We’ve even planted quite a few gold colored evergreens so we have color all winter.

    Ah, another fan of golden foliage – great! I have to admit that the golden evergreens are one group I really haven’t tried yet, mainly because most evergreens don’t appreciate my winter-wet soil and exposed, windy site. I’m glad that they do well for you though, Ki.
    -Nan

  13. Nan, I think your blog inspires me more than any other garden blog. When I see your photos I just have to stop and drink in the whole scene before taking it apart piece by piece.

    The best thing for me is I think our growing conditions are very similar so I can really pay attention to what grows well for you as it should also do well here.

    Wow, Melanie, thank you. I’m glad you find my ramblings of use. Good point about the similar growing conditions, too. I realize that many of the plants I love are probably not at all suited for gardeners in the southern states. But then, we enjoy seeing what they can grow, even though their plants won’t all work for us, so I guess it evens out!
    -Nan

  14. Nan, congrats on the AHS award for your book, Foliage. Well deserved. I am enjoying it, but have to admit, the pictures are so captivating that the text has only been scanned. Must be more disciplined, but those pictures!
    Frances

    Thanks, Frances! And don’t worry: I too pick it up just to look at the pictures.
    -Nan

  15. I am a fan of nearly anything with Aurea in its name. I have one of those purple leaved finicky elderberries. This is its third year, and it is still tiny.

    Congratulations on your book Foliage being chosen as an AHS winner.~~Dee

    You too are having problems with the purple elderberries? That’s really interesting. I’ll have to poke around and see if I can find out what’s up with that. And thanks about the book, Dee!
    -Nan

  16. Beautiful photos!

    Thank you, Marie.
    -Nan

  17. I don’t know a great deal about shrubs, but you’re teaching me plenty, Nan. Thanks for another great post. You’re really selling me on the golden leaved varieties.
    Your gardens are truly beautiful. I smiled at your comment about wondering when you’ll fit blogging in, and then realizing it’ll be when you’re too exhausted to do anything else. I know just what you mean. It’ll be all day in the garden for me too, when this weather breaks. There’s so much to be done!
    Thanks for visiting my post today. It sure is hard to resist all those plants at nurseries, isn’t it? I bring them home…and am then totally flummoxed at the thought of finding homes for them all :)

    I suspect we’ll all be a little scarcer once we can be outdoors every spare minute, Kerri. But just think how much we’ll have to talk about, and how many more pictures we’ll have to share, come next winter. I know blogging has already had a big influence on my seed choices for this year, and on how I’m approaching new projects. If nothing else, stopping to take pictures forces me to take more breaks, which I guess is a good thing. The problem will be during planting season, when our fingers are simply too tired to move, let alone type out a blog post. But I’m sure we’ll manage somehow.
    -Nan

  18. Wow…what a great post, Nan. I love the photos, but even more so the where-and-why information!

    And I’m glad that someone else asked about the purple-leaf varieties of elderberries, as I was going to before I read that comment and your answer. I have been kind of worried about having ‘Gerda’ in my backyard, as I wondered whether it would be TOO vigorous… but I didn’t want the lacy ‘Black Lace’ for that area, and couldn’t resist the smoky green-black color of Black Beauty. I think I would be okay with not-so-vigorous there, as long as it doesn’t completely die on me! (But you know what that means. I’ll have a record-setting ‘Gerda,’ growthwise. lol. Murphy’s Law!)

    Yes, I’m afraid you have completely the wrong attitude, Kim. You need to want it to grow quickly and get really big; then, you may get it to just survive and stay small. If you wish it to be compact and not especially vigorous, it will likely fill your entire garden before you know it, as you say. Reverse psychology is often a legitimate gardening technique, don’t you think?
    -Nan

  19. Posted by Cynthia on August 30, 2008 at 11:12 am

    I am also a gold-foliage freak. I have enjoyed and used all of the beautiful shrubs profiled here in client’s gardens. However, I’m not a maintenance gardener so my knowledge on the long-term maintenance isn’t as strong as it needs to be. I’m taking note of your maintenance suggestions. Thank you for educating me.

    Now, if you REALLY want to go nuts for yellow foliage, try a ‘Skylands’ Oriental Spruce or a ‘Cheif Joseph’ Pine. Yellow-foliaged evergreens are a whole new category of fabulous. I suppose that is a whole different post! LOL!

    Welcome, Cynthia! I admire the evergreens in photos, but they mostly hate my growing conditions, so I don’t get to enjoy them much in my own garden.
    -Nan

  20. Hi:

    I am going to ask the “dumb question” of the year. I just replanted, from West sun to North side partial shade, my Sutherland Gold. Now, 2 weeks later all the leaves are gone. Not sure if this was suppose to happen or not as I don’t remember this not being everygreen. Am I wrong and should the leaves be on the ground or does this plant need to go back to full sun?

    I planted Black Lace in front of the window to my inside greenhouse and it grew to 12′ in 2 years, thus blocking the light coming inside which is needed. As an interior designer I had 2 options and wanted to do something different. One was to cut it down and replant later somewhere else. But, since that black color is so gorgeous I decided to take out the middle stalks and put a table with vase on the top of the cut stalks. Great and different and the plant is still 12′ tall on the side shoots and has become a focul point.

    I found your blog by google and so glad I did, now you will be bookmarked. Keep up the great words and your pictures are wonderful.

    Terrie

    Hi Terrie!
    Not at all a dumb question. Your ‘Sutherland Gold’ is fine, I’m sure; as far as I know, all elderberries are deciduous. Mine all dropped their leaves about a week ago.

    How great to hear that *someone* has succeeded with Black Lace!
    -Nan

  21. Posted by Jody on May 10, 2009 at 1:15 am

    thanks for all the great info! This is so weird… I thought your house and border looked familiar and realized I have your book… perennial gardener design primer! I also adore gold foliage. I just bought 3 sutherland gold’s and a few lime light hydrangeas for mother’s day.. now I need to figure out how to arrange them. Thanks again!

    Jody

    I’m glad you found me, Jody! You must have an amazing memory. Enjoy your new acquisitions!
    -Nan

  22. Posted by Amy Smith on June 10, 2009 at 6:42 pm

    Nancy! I was googling Sambucus Southern Gold today and stumbled across your blog. Your gardens are beautiful! I am a very active gardener myself, so I love to see others’ gardens. Great job. Keep up the good work.

    Have a nice day!
    -Amy

    Welcome to Hayefield, Amy! I hope you found the information you were looking for, and that you’ll visit again.
    -Nan

  23. Posted by Stephen Reid Hollon on October 4, 2009 at 3:08 pm

    I have 2 very large Golden Elderberries in my yard which have never been cut back, but this is the first year that any berries have shown themselves. My question is; are the red berries edible? Ive heard of Elderberry wine for years. Are these the same berries used to make the wine.
    Thanks,
    Steve

    I’m not sure which “golden elderberries” you have. If the berries ripen red and the leaves are finely cut, you probably have Sambucus racemosa ‘Sutherland Gold’. If the berries ripen from pinkish or reddish to black, then you likely have Sambucus nigra ‘Aurea’. Either way, the berries should be edible (I believe it’s only the seeds of S. racemosa that can be toxic) and could be used for wine-making. But please get a more definite ID of your plants, as well as expert advice on how to prepare them safely, before ingesting the berries.
    -Nan

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