Acanthus, or bear’s breeches, are bold plants, with evergreen architectural foliage and tall flower spikes in summer.
They suit bold planting schemes, and look best placed toward the front of a border, where the large, glossy leaves are on show, or, if space allows, planted in large groups. The Romans used Acanthus spinosus leaves as the inspiration for the decorative details on classic Corinthian columns. Also known as bear’s britches, acanthus flowers are very distinctive with white outer petals appearing from under a purple hooded leaf bract. Bees love them. They make good cut flowers and can be used in fresh and dried arrangements.
How to grow bear’s breeches
Grow bear’s breeches in moist but well-drained soil in full sun to partial shade. Cut back stems after flowering, and tidy foliage in spring.
More on growing bear’s breeches:
Where to grow bear’s breeches
A native of Mediterranean countries, bear’s breeches thrives in moist but well-drained soil in full sun to partial shade. But make sure you choose the correct position as, once established, with a large tap root, plants aren’t easy to move.
How to plant bear’s breeches
Plant bear’s breeches in spring or autumn. Dig a generous hole, adding a spadeful of well rotted manure to help the plant establish.
How to propagate bear’s breeches
Although bear’s breeches plants are large and not easy to dig up, they can be propagated by root cuttings to increase your stock or replace old plants. In spring, dig up the whole plant and split the root with a spade and pot up sections of root in compost to grown on before planting out. They can be grown from seed, but need plenty of warmth to germinate.
Growing bear’s breeches: problem solving
The large leaves of bear’s breeches are prone to powdery mildew in dry weather, so make sure plants are kept well-watered.
Caring for bear’s breeches
Cut back stems after flowering, and tidy foliage in spring. If clumps are congested, divide them in spring or autumn.
Bear’s breeches varieties to grow
- Acanthus mollis – grown for its bold, glossy, architectural leaves and attractive white, purple-hooded flowers in late summer
- Acanthus spinosus – a statuesque architectural plant, that brings classical elegance to the garden. The leaves are smaller and more finely cut than Acanthus mollis, with spiny tips, but the plant produces more flower spikes. The Royal Horticultural Society has given it the prestigious Award of Garden Merit (AGM)
- Acanthus mollis ‘Whitewater’ – dark green leaves splashed with white, with bold margins. Its flowers are pink and cream-white. It’s perfect for growing in a mixed herbaceous border, particularly among bold colours, and makes striking architectural presence
- ‘Summer Beauty’ – a hybrid, forming wide clumps of giant, glossy, dark green, finely cut foliage. In summer tall spikes of white flowers, each with a hood-like purple bract, appear. It’s perfect for growing in a mixed herbaceous border, particularly among bold colours