Having thrown out the latest bunch of daffs I wanted something different for the kitchen table and the white flowers of the summer snowflake (Leucojum aestivum) were looking so nice I had to pick a few. I had to find something to go with them, that wouldn’t dominate, and decided to pick a few leaves from a young acanthus that was waiting to go into the garden (it was put in its permanent home on Friday). This acanthus is a fairly new variety that comes from the prolific Terra Nova nursery of Canby, Oregon.
Acanthus are stalwart garden plants that are valued more for their leaves than their tall spires of mauve and white blooms, set among prickly bracts. The leaves are seen throughout European history and architecture, carved into finials and atop columns from the times of the ancient Romans to the present day.
As garden plants they are valuable in sun or part shade and are tough and survive neglect and drought. They have two slight problems though. They can be martyrs to mildew if the soil is too dry and although you can shear the leaves off, give a feed and a watering and you will get a fresh crop of foliage it can be annoying. The other factor to bear in mind is that, although these are not invasive or troublesome plants, you must decide where they are to grow and stick to it because if you dig them up you will undoubtedly leave some of the deep roots behind and these will sprout new plants. So you will have it in the new place AND in the old one! In fact the easiest way to propagate a new plant is to place it on the soil where you want the second clump and leave it there for several months, watering it well, until it roots through the pot. Then take a knife and severe the roots and take the pot away and plant it in the second spot. Unless you are unlucky the roots left in the soil will sprout into a clump of leaves in a few weeks.
Most acanthus have deep green foliage, boldly serrated, and the two most common are the spiny and rather ‘unpleasant to handle’ A. spinosus and the softer and larger A. mollis.
This new plant is ‘Whitewater’ a hybrid of ‘Summer Beauty’ and Acanthus mollis ‘Tasmanian Tiger’. There have been acanthus with coloured foliage before, such as the yellow ‘Hollard’s Gold’ but somehow they have not been very satisfactory. ‘Tasmanian Tiger’ is a bit of a stunner with leaves that are very similar to the leaves shown above, but it is a miffy plant and not very reliable. Dan Heims and the Terra Nova team set out to combine the best elements of the two parents to produce a plant that looked amazing but was easy to grow. According to it’s plant patent it is twice as vigorous as ‘Tasmanian Tiger’ and gets larger with taller flower spikes. Even so, this is not the giant that many acanthus are and it can be fitted into any garden. The leaves grow to 27cm long and the flowers spikes are about 55cm tall. The flowers are surrounded by almost white bracts, tinged with pink and as well as looking good in the garden they are useful for cutting. It blooms in early summer. This is a useful ‘front of the border’ plant but would also look wonderful in a pot.
I am not a great fan of what I call ‘weedkiller variegation’ where the leaves are irregularly mottled around the edges, but because the leaves are naturally so bold in shape it somehow works here and it is such a bright splash of colour all year round. Natural companions would be ferns and hostas and maybe some deep pink hellebores for early contrast but I like the idea of it with blues so I will be experimenting with some campanulas I think.
I may upgrade or downgrade this, according to how well it does here. I have it in my garden back in the UK and it has proved easy and colourful.