Hartley Magazine

All the latest news, hints, tips and advice from our experts

Elderflower can really brighten already-sunny days

Summer is a wonderful time to be a gardener, as there is such a wide and varied range of tasks to perform that the pastime really comes into its own – regardless of whether you are a seasoned pro or a keen amateur. 

However, it can be difficult to narrow down a choice of plants to commit to growing – and this becomes even more of an issue for greenhouse growers. This is because the environment gives the individual a much greater degree of control over the climate conditions plants are exposed to. 

This means that plants that would not normally survive in the area are able to be grown – and some things can even be nurtured out of season if that's what you choose to do. 

So with such a wide range of plants to choose from, how can the selection be practically narrowed down? A good start would be to give some thought to anything that might be able to complement the seasons ahead. 

For instance, sambucus – the genus elder or elderberry – is very closely associated with the warmer months of the year. This is particularly due to the fact that the berries it produces can be pressed into a refreshing cordial. 

The plant is characterised by pinnate leaves that can be anywhere between two and 12 inches long and feature between five and nine leaflets. Large clusters of small white or cream-colored flowers bloom in late spring and are followed shortly after by clusters of the famous berries. 

Elderflower cordial is one of the most common culinary uses of the plant – and they are most commonly crushed into a syrup by the French, Austrians and other central Europeans. 

Professional gardener and author of Keeping a Few Hens in Your Garden Francine Raymond suggested preparing your own cordial. In an article for UK national newspaper the Daily Telegraph, she recommended a particular recipe that involves picking ten flowers and keeping them in a plastic bucket – or a measuring jug may prove to be adequate. 

Around one-and-a-half pints of boiling water is then poured over this, in addition to one-and-a-half lbs of caster sugar. While this is all being stirred together, between three and four sliced lemons can be added, with the juices and zest squeezed in too. This then needs to be left for 48 hours and is essentially ready for bottling. 

In terms of the origin of the plant itself, Ms Raymond said: "I'd always fondly imagined the elderflower (Sambucus nigra) to be a quintessentially British plant, heralding early summer in our hedgerows with its frothy white umbels of cordial potential.

"But no, it grows throughout Europe and North America, doing best in northern climes as it appreciates a colder spring," she continued, adding: "It seems many nations enjoy its bounties: the French make marshmallows – and inevitably a liqueur – and then there's Swedish kvavit and Italian Sambuca."

The expert added that some wildlife may be attracted to your garden, thanks to sambucus. "The elder attracts birds to the garden and then feeds them with its copious berries – the foliage sustains the larvae of the swallowtail moth and occasionally the frosted orange on its stems."