Discovering Gladioli

My garden includes several gladioli. I do not recall planting even one of these plants, but there they are, almost always in the wrong places. They have popped up, for example, in the middle of the rose bed, and on the edge of the entry path to my front door.

One definition of weeds is “plants that grow where they are not wanted,” but these plants have attractive blossoms. In fact, the sword lily—as it is sometimes called—is among the most desirable plants for cut flowers. The blossoms are available in many different colors.

Now that their blossoms have faded and the stalks are drying out, it’s the right time to corral their spread and get them growing in better places. This calls for some research.

The genus Gladiolus is a member of the iris family (Iridaceae), including about 300 species, the large majority of which are natives of South Africa. The species range in height from 1.5 feet (G. tristis) to 3 feet (G. callianthus, the Abyssinian Sword Lily) to 6 feet (the common grandiflora hybrids).

Gladiolus byzanthus By Meneerke bloem

Gladiolus byzanthus
By Meneerke bloem

The 5.5 feet plants that have appeared are probably garden hybrids and are best placed in the middle or back of the bed.

Once the plant’s blossoms have turned brown, the stems should be cut below the lowest flower to discourage the plant from setting unwanted seeds. In the Monterey Bay area’s moderate climate the corms can be left in place, or dug for planting in a different location. My garden is organized geographically, so I will replant the corms in the South African bed.

Once dug, the corms can be grouped in three categories: old, large corms are viable but lack vigor; younger corms at least .75 inches in diameter will produce blossoms in the spring; and cormlets about the size of peas can be planted to produce blossoms after a year of development.

Corms may be stored in a cool, dry, dark and well-ventilated place until replanting in the following year from January to March. After planting they will bloom reliably in 80–to–100 days, depending on the variety. This invites succession planting about 1 or 2 weeks apart to yield a series of blooms for cutting or enjoying in the garden.

The corms should be planted where they will get rich soil, full sun, and good drainage. They should be planted about 4 inches deep and about 6 inches apart. Apply an organic, water-soluble fertilizer when the plants are 10 inches tall, and again when the flower spikes begin to show color.

As the plants grow, they might require staking, either with individual stakes or a grid made of stakes and string (but almost none one of the several volunteers in my garden has flopped).

As sometimes happens, plants that introduce themselves unexpectedly in the garden can be appreciated and welcome. So far, I am glad to discover gladioli and looking ahead to a fine display in the spring and summer of next year. I might even become interested in buying corms of different species and different colors.

For information about gladiolus varieties and cultivation of these plants, visit the website of the North American Gladiolus Council.

Plant Bulbs Now for Spring Bloom

One of the pleasures of gardening is the spring display of blossoms from hyacinths, tulips, daffodils and other bulbous plants. These plants are unique and delightful harbingers of the end of winter, the imminent arrival of the warmer days of spring, the bursting buds of many plants, and many other aspects of life’s cycle.

With careful observation, we can also witness the offspring of birds, insects and—depending on where you live and where you wander— the beasts of the field and the forest.

We can set our digital calendars or timepieces to ensure that we enjoy the magical gift that we receive each spring, but a gardening strategy for marking the occasion is equally reliable, more natural and definitely more satisfying.

This gardening strategy imposes certain obligations on the gardener, mostly involving timely action. In particular, this means planting spring bulbs in the early fall, and that requires planning just about now.

If you are a past mail-order customer of spring bulbs, you should find a catalog or two in your mail soon. You might have already received such timely prompts. Take the time to look through the pages to imagine those blossoms in your garden in the spring, make your choices and order the bulbs right away, while you most likely to secure the selections you prefer.

If you are already a regular cultivator of spring bulbs you will have many ideas to consider. If you would like inspiration, the American Gardening Association has listed “The Top 50 Most Popular Spring Blooming Bulbs.” Find this list at the NGA website, garden.org.

If you particularly like tulips, which are available in a mind-boggling range of colors and forms. Plan to order your selected bulbs early enough to chill them for eight-to-ten weeks in vented paper bags in a refrigerator. Do not store fruit in the refrigerator at the same time, because ripening fruits (especially apples) releases ethylene gas that will damage the bulbs. In November or early December, move them directly from the refrigerator to a sunny planting site.

Alternatively, look for a supplier that offers pre-chilled bulbs and well send them to you at planting time. This is a convenient option but generally is available only with a limited selection of bulbs. You still need to order early.

There are a few wild tulips that are readily available and do not require chilling. They typically their blossoms are not as large and showy as those of the hybrid varieties, but they are nevertheless quite charming additions to the garden. Look for Tulip bakeri (native to Crete), T. clusiana (Middle East), T. saxatillis (Crete), T. sylvestris (Europe, Asia Minor), and T. tarda (Central Asia). One mail-order source of wild tulips is McClure & Zimmerman.

Many other spring-blooming bulbs do not require such chilling. The most popular of these are the daffodils, which include a wonderful range of hybrid colors and forms. Daffodils are fine choices for the Monterey Bar area because they will propagate easily with minimal care, and provide a growing annual display in your garden.

Plant your spring-blooming bulbs in a sunny location, with the top about three times as deep as the diameter of the bulb.

Spring-blooming bulbs are not expensive, so consider the purchase of enough bulbs to provide a dramatic display in the spring. Plant them in informal clusters either among other garden plants or in an open area.

The tried-and-true bulbs are always a good choice, but also consider bringing some of the less familiar plants to your garden. As you gain experience with spring-blooming bulbs, you can plant varieties that bloom in the early, middle or late season for a longer display, or color groupings that delight the eye, or container plantings that can be placed prominently when at their prime and moved later out of the way as they fade.

Start now to plan your display of spring-blooming bulbs!

Growing Tomatoes

If you are thinking of growing tomatoes this year, you have joined with many (millions?) of gardeners who have made tomatoes the most popular edible plant for home gardens.

There are many reasons for this popularity:

  • Tomatoes are good for your diet. They are very good sources of flavonoids and desirable phytochemicals, and have anti-carcinogenic properties.
  • Organically grown tomatoes (which the home gardener can ensure) are more nutritious. They might be smaller than conventionally grown tomatoes (not important) but they offer more vitamin C and phenolic content.
  • Home grown tomatoes often have flavor that is superior to commercial varieties.
  • Growing your own tomatoes also provides access to a wide range of heirloom varieties.
  • Tomatoes are exceptionally versatile in the diet and in the kitchen.
  • They quite possibly the easiest edible plant to grow (along with garlic).

Assuming you are inspired to try growing tomatoes in your garden, the first step, as usual, is plant selection. There are thousands of varieties to choose from. Many will thrive in the moderate climate of the Monterey Bay area, but here’s a short list of recommendation compiled by organic gardening expert Barbara Pleasant.

These selections are for the Pacific Northwest. Plant recommendations often are for the Pacific Northwest or the Southwest, leaving central coastal California somewhere in the middle, but the Monterey Bay area seems closest to the Pacific Northwest in terms of seasonal temperatures and sun exposure.

Slicer Tomatoes:  ‘Early Girl’, ‘Beefsteak’, and ‘Stupice’, followed by ‘Big Beef’, ‘Cherokee Purple’, and ‘Willamette’.

Cherry Tomatoes: ‘Super Sweet 100’, ‘Sungold’, and ‘Sweet Million’, followed by ‘Black Cherry’ and ‘Gold Nugget’.

Paste/Canning: ‘Roma’, ‘San Marzano’,  ‘Amish Paste’, followed by  ‘Viva Italia’ and ‘Principe Borghese’.

Really Big Ones: ‘Brandywine’, ‘Beefsteak’,  ‘Mortgage Lifter’, followed by  ‘Early Girl,’ ‘Big Beef,’ ‘Goliath,’ and ‘Hillbilly’.

Saladette/Pear: ‘Yellow Pear’,  ‘Stupice’, ‘Glacier’, then ‘Juliet’, and ‘Principe Borghese’.

Here are tips for growing a bounty of tasty tomatoes.

  • Plant seedlings that you buy or grow yourself because transplants grow best.
  • Plant in full sun about two feet apart, to provide access and airflow between plants.
  • Provide good nutrients by adding compost to the soil, plus organic fertilizers, including sulfur and crushed eggshells.
  • Pinch the lower leaves from the seedling and buy the stem so that the lowest leaves are just above the soil. Roots will grow from the leaf nodes so deep planting adds stability to the plant.
  • Water for a couple days, then two inches of water per week. (Some people claim that withholding water after fruit set adds to the flavo of the fruit00r. Dry farming tomatoes in this way is most successful after ample winter rains…like this year!)
  • As the plant grows, prune the smaller shoots, leaving four or five main branches. Support the plant with stakes or a tomato cage to keep the fruit off the ground and make harvesting easier.

This would be a good year to add to your tomato-growing experience and pleasure.

Your local garden center or grocery store might well have good seeds or seedlings for your garden. You could also explore these sources:

  • Tomato Fest: A Mendocino County grower of heirloom tomatoes
  • Love Apple Farm: Great varieties for sale at Ivy’s Porch, 5311 Scotts Valley Drive, Scotts Valley (to June 4), and San Francisco Flower & Garden Show (April 5-9)
  • Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds: Mail order sources for seeds of tomatoes and many other edibles.

Enjoy growing tomatoes in your garden— and eating them anywhere.

Spring is the Time for New Plants

The first day of spring, astronomically speaking, will arrive on March 20th. It’s time to think about planting for the spring.

Actually, as we’ve noted more than once, the fall months are the best time for planting, to allow time for root development before the warmth of spring awakens the plants. The coming of spring might be regarded more as the traditional time for planting because that’s when the first tastes of warm weather awaken the gardeners.

The garden centers and online nurseries are oriented to the spring rush of gardeners seeking a few floriferous features for their gardens. The surge of mail-order catalogs and magazine galleries of new introductions manifests this orientation.

It can be quite interesting to peruse the new plants that are offered at this time each year. There are many familiar favorites, but the real headliners are plants that have been recently discovered by plant hunters or created by hybridizers.

Some plant hunters roam the globe in search of garden-worthy plants that have not been seen in their natïve lands. The history of gardening includes a long list of plant hunters who have served to relocate plants from exotic places to the gardens of Europe and, more recently, the United States. The best known of the contemporary plant hunters is Daniel Hinkley who shares his travels and horticultural discoveries in his books and articles in Horticulture magazine and other periodicals. Check out his website.

Plant hunting doesn’t always require traipsing through distant lands. New discoveries also can be made by close observation of large groups of plants in cultivation. As plants pollinate each other, potentials exist for mutations or “sports” to appear with novel characteristics. Because these natural changes are random rather than evolutionary, they will include a significant percentage of uninteresting innovations, but occasionally a natural mutation results in a desirable variation of a familiar plant. Then, the grower’s role is to propagate the newcomer to produce enough plants for commercial distribution, come up with an appealing name for the plant, and introduced it into the trade.

A third approach to developing new plants involves hybridizing. The process is quite simple, at its core: the hybridizer selects two plants of the same species with different but desirable traits. For example, one might have a good blossom color and the other might have strong stems. The hybridizer transfers pollen from one plant to the other, plants the seeds that result from this mating, and examine the seedlings for the desired combination of traits. Typically, the hybridizer will reject many of the seedlings as unsuccessful relative to the objectives, and, with luck, will find one or more successful results. These are propagated further for commercial distribution.

Given the uncertain outcomes of this process, it requires time, patience, and good record-keeping to result in a financial payoff.

This brings to mind the secret to making a small fortune in the plant breeding business: begin with a large fortune.

The process of finding or creating new plants always targets the individual gardeners who want to add the latest introductions to their gardens. One that has caught my eye is a Sempervivum hybrid ‘Gold Nugget’, available from ChickCharms, which specializes in collectable hens & chicks. It’s a little pricey but quite striking.

Sempervivum 'Gold Nugget'

Sempervivum ‘Gold Nugget’

 

 

 

 

 

The gardener might enjoy bringing new introductions to the landscape but could also stay with familiar and reliable options. Either way, enjoy your garden!

Ten Reasons to Buy a Plant

Many—and perhaps most—gardeners understand that a good practice is to buy plants in the fall, so that they can be irrigated by the rains while establishing their roots in preparation for a growth spurt in the spring.

That’s a better strategy than buying plants in the spring when garden centers offer plants with fertilizer-induced early blooms and a tendency to fade in common garden soil.

Another good practice: buy plants for specific goals. Purposeful purchases will be more successful than impulse buys, which can be based on an attractive name or an effective sales display.

With these ideas in mind for early planters, here are ten guidelines for visiting a garden center or opening a mail-order catalog,

  1. Fill a specific gap in the landscape. Look first for a plant with an appropriate size at maturity, and then consider the variety of secondary factors.
  2. Provide color when needed. You might want more color in the spring, or the summer, or the fall. With a bit of research, you can find plants that will show color on the desired schedule.
  3. Feed birds, bees, and butterflies. These winged creatures benefit from, healthy food sources, and will come quickly to gardens where the right plants are available.
  4. Develop a collection of plants. Different species within a genus, or different varieties within a species, add interest to the garden. Another rose, or another fuchsia, for example, will compare nicely with the existing selections.
  5. Extend a color scheme. A white garden, or a yellow and blue garden, for example, will look even better with an additional specimen that fits the scheme.
  6. Add a needed spot of color. A well-placed and well-chosen colorful plant can enliven a too-green planting bed by bringing an eye-catching contrast (but avoid adding color randomly).
  7. Create a focal point. A specific situation might call for an interesting plant, container or sculpture to be strategically placed to attract the eye of anyone walking through the garden.
  8. Fill a container. A large, empty container, or one with a plant past its prime, can become a strong asset in the garden with a well-chosen new plant or combination of plants. For a successful project, use fresh planting mix.
  9. Protect against pests and diseases. If diseases or gophers or any of several other pests invade your garden look for a pest-resistant plant, or replace one that’s not.
  10. Add a drought-resistant plant. A garden of succulent plants and others that evolved for a dry climate will grow well during the predicted future years of light rainfall.

You might have other specific reasons for buying plants. It’s most important to know the role the plant will play when you bring it to the garden. An Internet search or a reference like Sunset’s Western Garden Book can help with these decisions. If a plant also has an appealing name or a bright blossom, that’s a plus!

Enjoy a creative and purposeful browse through a garden center or a nursery catalog!

Planting for Fall Color

Experienced gardeners know that the early fall is a very good time to install new plants. This timing anticipates our Mediterranean climate’s rainy season, during which Nature provides the moisture that new plants require, and the winter months allow time for them to establish their roots in preparation for above-ground growth in the spring.

It is quite natural in this season for gardeners to plant with spring flowers in mind, with their greatest interest focused on spring bulbs. There’s nothing wrong with that approach, especially when gardeners explore the lesser-known geophytes, as well as the always popular spring- and summer-blooming bulbs.

Still, this season is the ideal time to plan for next year’s fall season. This planning begins with a critical look at your own garden. Is it visually exciting and beautiful during the next few weeks, or does it appear tired and eager to enter dormancy? If it could be more pleasing to the eye, plant now to ensure a better look a year in the future.

An easy and reliable way to find plants to add fall color to your next-year garden is to take a walk through your neighborhood to spot attractive plants that look healthy and vigorous. By scanning gardens with growing conditions like yours, this approach automatically directs your attention to plants that are likely to do well in your garden.

Another productive strategy is to ask at your favorite garden center about plants for fall color. A trustworthy garden center will be ready to point out such plants and recommend winners for your garden setting.

Research also can identify good candidates. The Sunset Western Garden Book lists several trees, shrubs, and vines for fall color, and provides details for each in its Western Plant Encyclopedia.

Here are a few popular selections.

Trees

Pacific Dogwood (Cornus nattallii) A spectacular tree that can grow to 50 feet tall. It flowers white or pink in the spring and again in the summer> In the fall it displays yellow, red and pink leaves and clusters of decorative red fruit.

Maidenhair Tree (Ginkgo biloba ‘Autumn Gold’) An ancient, actually prehistoric genus that can reach 30 feet tall. It produces gold-colored leaves that drop quickly in the fall to produce a golden carpet.

Flowering Crabapple (Malus hybrids) Small trees (usually 20 feet tall) that flower in the spring then hold their attractive fruit through the fall. Many varieties are listed in the Western Garden Book.

Shrubs, Perennials

Cotoneaster varieties (e.g., C. lacteus, C. franchetii) This shrub, native to China, comes in various sizes from groundcover to twenty feet tall and wide. Produces bright red berries in the late summer followed by fall.

Windflower (Anemone x bybrida) The popular Japanese Anemone (A. japonica) produces white, pink, or rose flowers on arching stems up to four feet high, followed by unusual cottony seed heads.

cotoneaster-anemone

Cotoneaster & Anemone

Aster (Aster x Frikartii ‘Monch; Symphyotrichum spp.). Only the European and Asiatic species are still called Aster officially; North American species have that long new name. Hundreds of varieties are available to produce an abundance of flowers from white to pale blues and pinks to deep scarlet and purple.

Vines

Chinese Wisteria (W. sinensis). This vine, the most common wisteria in the west, produces clusters of violet-blue, slightly fragrant flowers that open all at once in the fall.

Roger’s California Grape (Vitis californica cultivar ‘Roger’s Red’) A central California native often grown as an ornamental plant grows so vigorously that gardeners can boast of their green thumbs. Many American and European varieties are available for table grapes.

There are many more plants that can beautify your garden environment in the fall with colorful flowers, foliage or fruits. Plan and plant now, as we enter the planting season, to set the stage for attractive seasonal displays in future years.

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Another Garden Thug—Castorbean

I have observed recently that certain plants bring a mix of good and bad traits to the garden. In some cases, a plant’s positive characteristics can offset the negative ones. As a result, the gardener might want to include the plant in this landscape and accept the reality that it will require “special handling.”

One such plant is the castorbean (Ricinus communis), also known as the castor oil plant. This is a member of the spurge family (Euphorbiaceae), native to the southeastern Mediterranean Basin, Eastern Africa, and India. It grows as a large shrub that can attain a height exceeding thirty feet. The popular garden varieties, however, grow to ten feet or less.

The plant has several positive qualities, foremost being the striking appearance of its leaves, which are palm-shaped (palmate) and dark reddish-purple in color, becoming green with age. The shrub grows fairly quickly, and the gardener can control its shape with regular pruning. Also, being native to a Mediterranean climate, the castorbean, once established, is drought tolerant in the Monterey Bay area.

Castorbean leaves & seeds

Castorbean seeds, leaves and flowers

Another positive quality is the plant’s usefulness for medicinal, insecticidal, and industrial purposes. There are several medicinal uses, including as a laxative. The greatest commercial value of the beans (actually seeds) is for motor lubrication. These applications do not, however, contribute to its value in the garden.

The negative qualities must be acknowledged. First, the raw seeds are extremely toxic when chewed. They have been described as the most poisonous in the world. The seeds can be attractive and tasty-looking, but as few as four-to-eight seeds can be fatal to an adult. If you have this plant in your garden, you should ensure that neither children nor pets have opportunities to sample the seeds.

The plant is also strongly allergenic. Its pollen can trigger asthmatic attacks, and its sap can cause skin rashes.

Another negative quality is the castorbean’s tendency to propagate itself by dropping seeds. My plant has generated several crops of seedlings within a circle about thirty feet in diameter, centered on the mother plant. How the seeds plant themselves well beyond the plant’s drip line remains a mystery. The seedlings grow quickly up to three feet in height, but are easily uprooted. They do not transplant well, so I have not potted them for other gardeners. They might have inspired mixed reactions, especially by gardeners with children or pets.

Despite its toxicity and allergenic potential, the castorbean is grown for its ornamental value throughout the world in compatible climates. This reality demonstrates the appreciation of avid gardeners for plants that bring unique contributions to the landscape.

For at least some gardeners, the castorbean’s reddish-purple leaves are more important than the effort involved in protecting against the plant’s poisons and eradicating its unwanted progeny.

Each gardener must make such decisions for his or her own garden.

Garden Exchanges, Alstroemeria

My recent garden exchange experience generates thoughts about the ways in which gardeners share plants and other garden items.

In some Monterey Bay area communities, garden exchanges are infrequent occasions. There are successful events in Monterey and Seaside (and perhaps other communities) that local groups organize once a year. Santa Cruz has a low-key monthly exchange that is popular during the growing season.

Exchanges generally focus on plants as cuttings, bare-root specimens, seedlings (also called “starts”) in four-inch plastic nursery pots, and larger plants in one-gallon (or even five-gallon) pots. Empty pots and sometime other garden items also appear occasionally.

Most gardeners have plants that they could bring to an exchange simply because many good garden plants reproduce naturally and sometimes vigorously. While all plants that grow in a given area can be exchanged, this practice began with “passalong plants,” which are thought of as botanical heirlooms that have survived for decades primarily by being handed from one gardener to another. These plants might not be easily found in garden centers because they reproduce so easily that commercial growers choose not to compete with nature.

One example of such a plant is the Alstroemeria, commonly called the Lily of the Incas. This plant is also called the Peruvian Lily, although they are native to either central Chile (winter-growers) or eastern Brazil (summer growers). Central Chile, as you my recall, has a summer-dry climate very much like that of the Monterey Bay area, so these plants thrive locally.

Alstroemeria

Alstroemeria in bloom

The Alstroemeria reproduces by creating clusters of small tubers that are easily shared and grown. Plant the tubers horizontally, about eight inches deep.

This plant’s blossoms are available in many shades of red, orange, purple, green, and white, flecked and striped and streaked with darker colors. It produces long flower stalks and is a very good cut flower. To stimulate blossoming, tug the flower stalks instead of cutting them. They release easily.

The Alstroemeria produces large numbers of tubers, so many that it can be difficult to dig into a long-established bed. This growth habit exemplifies the passalong plant: desirable and prolific.

Steve Bender and Felder Rushing wrote Passalong Plants (2002), in which they describe 117 plants that have been shared for many years in the southeastern states. There are at least as many plants that are traditionally shared by coastal California gardeners, including both natives and imports.

I collected two free plants at last week’s garden exchange:

  • a seedling Tree Tomato (Tamarillo), a native of Chile that is a fast-growing tree that produces egg-shaped edible fruits with exotic appeal. It could grow quickly to fifteen feet, but can be limited by pruning. I’ll try it in my Chilean bed.
  • Mother of Millions (Bryophyllum delagoense), a succulent plant with interesting leaves. It is native to Madagascar that “escaped” to Australia, where is it considered a noxious weed. Each plant produces small plantlets along the edges of its leaves that detach and form new plants. This makes it difficult to eradicate. It is also toxic to humans, pets and livestock. I will not add this plant to my garden. Or share it.

Visitors to the garden exchange also presented a wide variety of other popular plants. These examples suggest that both interesting and troublesome plants might be available, so a brief inquiry on the Internet research is always appropriate before adding an unfamiliar plant to the garden.

The next Santa Cruz Garden Exchange will be at the Eleventh Annual Garden Faire in Scotts Valley, Saturday, June 18th. For information, visit http://thegardenfaire.org.

Acanthus: Love & Hate

Aside

There are plants that most gardeners hate and other plants that most gardeners love. It is a rare plant, however, that provokes both love and hate in the same people.

The Acanthus is one of those rare plants.

Let’s consider why it generates strong reactions, both positive and negative.

The genus Acanthus includes twelve species. Various species are native to Europe and the Mediterranean basin, Africa. South Asia, and Australasia.

Three species from the Mediterranean basin are cultivated in many American gardens: A. mollis, A. spinosus, and A. balcanicus and are popular in Monterey Bay area, where the climate resembles the plant’s native environs.

Acanthus spinosus

Acanthus spinosus (click to enlarge)

These popular species are similar in appearance, with differences primarily in the lobes of the leaves: some have more deeply cut lobes than others. Generally, Acanthus is a clump-forming perennial plant that is grown for its attractive foliage and bold flower spikes. It works best placed behind smaller plants, to provide a lush backdrop for the landscape.

Given a favorable climate and adequate drainage, the Acanthus adapts to various soil types, and is usually pest- and disease-free, except for an occasional snail that tries to nibble the plant’s hard and glossy leaves. It prefers partial shade, but in our moderate climate also does well in full sun. It will grow in one season up to four feet high and wide, with some flower spikes reaching above the leaves.

At the end of the season, the flowers fade and the leaves wilt, and new leaves spring from the base. It’s time to cut the old growth to the ground and welcome a new cycle of growth.

Everything about the plant seems fine, right? Let’s look at the sources of ill will.

Firstly, a relatively minor concern is the plant’s prickliness. The genus name comes from the Greek word akantha, which means spine and refers to the edges of the leaves. When we encounter A. spinosus, we have the addition of the Latin term for spine, and a plant that might be called “Spiny Spiny.”

Actually, the Acanthus’ common name is “Bear’s Breeches.” I have not found an explanation for that odd name.

Secondly, the Acanthus propagates too readily. It develops creeping rootstocks and drops seeds, and has been considered invasive in some agricultural areas, but the progeny are really not difficult to control in a garden setting.

Thirdly (and this is the big negative), a well-established Acanthus is very difficult to eradicate. The smallest piece of root left behind will sprout into a new plant. Gardens change by the gardener’s design or by Nature’s plan, but the Acanthus is forever.

Given the excessive persistence of the Acanthus, we might have mixed feelings about the introduction of a new hybrid form of the plant. But the recent appearance of Acanthus ‘Whitewater’ has generated enthusiasm. This plant has variegated leaves and blossoms in white and cream, aging into pink. A mature clump of this plant in the right setting could be a knockout. (The ‘Whitewater’ photo is from Terra Nova Nurseries.)

Acanthus 'Whitewater'

Acanthus ‘Whitewater’

I have struggled to eliminate A. mollis and found A. spinosus to be better-behaved, so I’m hesitant to plant ‘Whitewater’ in my garden. It’s striking appearance, however, invites a compromise: container planting. The pot should be large enough for the roots, the right proportion for the largish plant, and in a color that complements green and white with a touch of pink. I have begun looking!