Bear’s breeches is the common name for Acanthus. Bears, of course, do not wear breeches of any kind, let alone spiky ones made of plant material. But its name comes from a long tradition of naming plants with a tag of some sort relating to an animal. For instance, cow parsley, hawk bit, goat’s rue and foxgloves.

Botanical name

The botanical name for bears breeches is Acanthus spinosus.

Acanthus means sharp thorns and the specific name reinforces this because it means spiny. The spiny species is one of two kinds widely grown in gardens. The second species is Acanthus mollis. The second part of the name means soft; in this case, indicating that this is not its spiky cousin.


Acanthus has its own family group, the Acanthaceae, of which most species are tropical plants, with the exceptions being bear’s breeches and its soft-leaved variation. This species grows wild in the Mediterranean region and was adapted as a motif in architectural carving of stone. It is a noted feature of soaring Corinthian Greek and Roman columns. The acanthus motif usually appears at the top of the columns and is taken as a symbol of regeneration and survival, because acanthus has the habit of dying back in winter before reappearing once again – undiminished - in spring.

Garden value

Flowering majestically in gardens at this time, acanthus is a plant of noble bearing. The soft acanthus has broader, less divided leaves and few - if any - spines. This plant is not as dramatic, but makes a very fine display of well-shaped leaves. Both are semi-evergreen, if conditions are suitable.

Above its large rosette of handsome leaves, tall flower spikes are produced in summer. The spiny species flowers in early to mid-summer; the soft species from mid-summer onwards. The flower spikes can be from 90cm to 1.5m tall. They look like foxglove spires, but are more robust.

The flower spike is supported by a strong stem and does not need staking. It is green as it grows up and then its hooded purple bracts form. Under the bracts, white flowers appear. The bracts stay in place after the flowers finish and rounded pods form under the bracts. The seed heads can last a long time and, though less colourful than the flowers, provide a strong upright shape.

Growing acanthus

Bear’s breeches is very tenacious in any piece of ground where it becomes established. Even when the plant is dug out, it readily re-establishes from pieces of root left behind. It is native to dry, rocky hillsides and can tolerate very dry and hot conditions. Acanthus looks great with grasses; the bulk of its dark green foliage and sculptural stems making superb contrast with the lightness of the grass.

Acanthus can be used as a feature plant in the naturalistic planting style. Previously, it was often grown as a filler with shrubs. It tolerates light shade but often gets mildew as a result and flowers less, if at all. It prefers a sunny spot in well-drained soil of reasonable fertility. Remember, it can be invasive, and it needs a good deal of space in which to deploy its magnificent large leaves.

Summer pruning of fruit trees

Kitchen garden

Summer pruning of fruit trees

Fruit trees have made surprisingly good growth in recent weeks after a very slow start in spring. However, it would appear that moisture and nutrient levels have been good and trees have responded. If young trees are making a lot of leafy growth, or trained trees on walls or wires are very vigorous, summer pruning can help to reduce vigour.

This is done in July and August, over a period of a few weeks, not all in one go, but spread out. The young shoots are shortened by half or more - to 10 or 15cm. Cut these just above a bud. This can be done with apple trees, pears and plums; shortening the longest shoots first. The shortened shoots are more likely to form flower buds for next year. It also reveals existing fruit to more sunshine, creating better colour.

Fruit, vegetables and herbs

Sow a batch of quick-maturing leafy vegetables and some Swiss chard for next spring. Don’t let weeds go to seed. Plant out winter cabbage varieties, if not already done. Overvigorous apple, plum and pear trees can be summer-pruned. Pick herbs for winter use.


Keep up regular mowing. Grass growth picked up rapidly after that six-week dry spell finally broke. If you want to grow a wildflower lawn, do not apply any form of lawn weedkiller because it will damage the broadleaved species which provide colourful flowers.

Trees, shrubs and roses

Water young trees and shrubs if they look like they need it. There is plenty of rose blackspot and leaf spot disease despite the dry midsummer, especially in the damper parts of the country. Early flowering shrub roses and ramblers that have now finished could be pruned.


Pots and baskets need regular watering and feeding with liquid feed every two weeks, or even every week, to keep the plants going after the first flush of flowers. Remove seed heads of flowers that self-sow, such as lady’s mantle, foxgloves and libertia.

Greenhouse and house plants

Continue watering and feeding all greenhouse plants to maintain strong growth. Water plants in pots or grow-bags regularly. Train and side-shoot tomatoes and cucumbers. Take cuttings of deciduous shrubs of all kinds. Pot on house plants if they need it.

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