Elderberries are common in southern Wisconsin. These large bushes grow readily along bicycle and hiking paths, railroad tracks, field edges and highways. Their huge white flower clusters are unmistakable in mid-summer. As the season progresses, the flower clusters become tiny purple berries. Elderberries have been used medicinally for hundreds of years. They are especially helpful in reducing the length of the common cold.
Here at Red Bucket Farm, we've been cultivating elderberry bushes for a few years. We planted two varieties for better pollination, and we sited them carefully in a restricted terrace area. We hoped to disguise the water barrels and hay storage from view while still producing something useful. For a while it worked and we loved the elderberry elixir that we made from the juice.
This year we're learning the downside of cultivated elderberries: they simply do not cooperate! The bushes die back each fall and when they emerge in the spring they don't necessarily grow where they were intended. In their second season, the new stems were close to the intended location, but this year they are sprouting six or eight feet from the correct place. Unfortunately, our style of dense, urban planting does not allow for that kind of freedom. We'll remove these bushes and redesign the water barrel terrace. We still have one or two elderberry bushes way out back where they can happily meander the edge of the woods. But gardeners beware--elderberries like plenty of space to move around!