Growing Acanthus

I wasn’t hallucinating, but to this day I still wonder about an incident, which occurred more than a dozen years ago.

It was a hot summer afternoon in mid July. I was alone at the nursery, watering, when an elderly woman appeared out of no where.  I always keep my ears perked for cars pulling into the gravel driveway, but had not heard a thing. The woman , in a very aristocratic tone, asked me if I grew Acanthus. I chuckled and said that we had tried but it had been a disappointment, struggling to emerge each year, only sending up a leaf or two.

She suggested I grow it in a hot sunny spot , and be patient. I thanked her for her advice, and continued watering while she seemed to browse. Less than a minute later I looked up to see if she had questions or needed help, and she was nowhere to be seen. Even a spry teenager would have had to bolt to reach the exit in such short a time.  I walked up to the driveway to the road but there was no one and no car in sight. Hmmm…..

A few months later, an autumn storm felled a large tree. The following year, a patch of robust Acanthus foliage emerged in a spot now baked from the hot sun; the felled tree had shaded the spot more than we thought. By late June we were seeing our first blossoms. I now think of that mysterious woman and her advice whenever the Acanthus come into bloom.

The Acanthus are putting on a great show right now with bold dark green leaves and sturdy 3′ spires of hooded lavender flowers. They are loving the hot spot by our stone wall  This show will carry on into late July. We’ll deadhead the spent flowers, so the foliage will continue to look good for the remainder of the season.

Some info for northern gardeners. The hardiest species are Acanthus spinosus and Acanthus hungaricus, hardy to -10 degrees. (zone 6a) The two are often confused, but upon close observation spinosus will display a more sharply serrated leaf with spiny tips. There is also another hardy selection, ‘Morning Candle’, which is a hybrid of A. hungaricus x A. mollis, and offers the hardiness of the former, but with white hooded flowers. Acanthus spread by creeping rootstock, and even bits of roots left in the soil will regenerate into new plants over time. A mass display of Acanthus is an impressive sight.

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One thought on “Growing Acanthus”

  1. Love this story! I’m teaching Acanthus in my Longwood Sun Perennials class this summer and happened upon it. Thanks.

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