Acanthus spinonsus: a versatile and texturally interesting large perennial
Acanthus spinosus (common name: ‘bear’s breaches’) is a remarkably versatile perennial with lovely large and textural dark green leaves and tall spikes of white and purple flowers. Meriting a place at the back or middle of any large border, A. spinosus will grow to heights of 1.2m and widths of up to 0.8m.
Happy in almost any location providing there is a reasonable amount of sunshine, A. spinosus can tolerate a wide variety of soils. In common with so many perennials, it dislikes very wet ground but, once established, it can cope with drier conditions and relatively windy sites. It is sufficiently hardy to survive the worst of our UK winters.
As the name suggests, A. spinosus has spines on the tips of its leaves but, in my view, these don’t tend to be too much of a problem for gardeners. If in doubt, however, Acanthus mollis is remarkably similar in appearance but the foliage doesn’t have the points.
From a garden designer’s point of view, we love to use A. spinosus for textural contrast. It works brilliantly as a single ‘statement’ plant or, if space permits, in groups of three or five. As a ‘companion’ plant, it looks wonderful alongside plants with smaller leaves and a different shape. The tall and feathery foliage of Foeniculum purpureum (bronze fennel) is a great partner, as are the thin tall stems of Verbena bonariensis, or the impressive flower towers of Digitalis (foxgloves). Alternatively, lower growing perennials such as Geranium, Salvia or Sedum make for interesting contrast assuming the soil and conditions are right, as does the ornamental grass Stipa tenuissima.
A. spinosus is a superb plant for a mixed planting border. Providing bold and interesting foliage and attractive and unusual flowers, it offers us excellent seasonal height and a touch of ‘something a little different’. We love to include A. spinosus in many of the gardens I design for our customers and it never fails to delight.
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