The Dirt

The Dirt

My Chelsea garden is having a second life in my own garden in Bakewell and it’s interesting – as well as almost unsettling – to see my plants in what I now see as their “new” lives. At Chelsea, they were viewed daily by hundreds and hundreds of people and there was no doubt which were the most popular. People loved the bright blue flowers of borage (Borago officinalis) and the pop of purple that is Dame’s rocket (Hesperis matronalis) but the star of the show was the black elderflower (Sambucus nigra ‘Black Lace’).

I shopped for my trees at Deepdale Trees in Bedfordshire and had chosen a tall specimen of the Black Lace variety which was almost ungainly on purpose. I like trees and shrubs that aren’t perfectly formed anyway, and this was, after all, a “wild” garden. But it was also practical: the garden needed that height for balance (there was a white birch on the other side). I knew that if (it was a big “if”) it came into flower that it would look spectacular. The tree arrived at the show, one week before judging, with buds that looked promising but I know from experience that means nothing. Buds do, sometimes, remain exactly that. I wouldn’t say I flooded it with seaweed fertiliser but it did receive a few doses over the week and, amazingly, the first sight of the deep pink flowers arrived on the first day of judging.

“What’s that tree?” was a question asked by hundreds of people who always think of elderflower as the green and white native that pops up in hedgerows all over the country. I have that one in my Bakewell garden too. Both can be used to make cordial/syrup/jelly etc but I love the pink flowers of “Black Lace” so much that I like to leave them, using the white ones instead for my various kitchen experiments.

One of the Chelsea visitors told us all about how she makes elderflower champagne but, a few moments later, she came running back saying her husband had reminded her that you have to burp it or else it explodes (usually in the middle of the night). So that’s my goal next year: then I can toast my “Black Lace” – now seemingly happy in my  north-facing and steeply sloped Bakewell front garden – with champagne made from its own flowers.

Frances Tophill of the BBC explains how you can use the flowers of the Black Lace in the kitchen

Frances Tophill of the BBC explains how you can use the flowers of the Black Lace in the kitchen