Wednesday, March 25, 2009

The bamboo boogie

You may already know that I'm no fan of bamboo.

The trouble with urging people to dig up all their bamboo and throw it on the nearest bonfire is that if you happen to be the gardener, you're the one who gets to dig it up. And if you've ever tried to dig up even the smallest hawser-like root of a bamboo you'll know this is The Job From Hell.

Since I have a number of clients who have bamboo in their gardens - and therefore require me to do something about it - it quickly became time for some rapid backtracking.

So while I still won't have the stuff anywhere near my own garden and am seriously tempted to pour petrol - or at least a little well-aimed glyphosate - on pots of bamboo waiting for sale to unsuspecting customers at various garden centres across the land, if it's already in your garden there's only one way to go: Proper Maintenance.

The trouble is, bamboo is generally touted as a low-maintenance or even no-maintenance plant. Even if you're going to be wilfully blind to its thuggish habits, if you don't spend at least a little time each year sprucing them up a bit they end up looking like this:

This is a Phyllostachys nigra in the back garden of one of my clients which has never been touched, like most of the ones I come across. As you can see, it doesn't just behave like a thug - it looks like one too.

So - you take out the thinnest of the canes, right down to the ground, leaving just the nice thick well-coloured ones. Then you remove the suckers migrating out from the main clump, as ruthlessly as possible, followed by those annoying canes that flop out to the side too much. After that, trim down the tops to the height you want - in this case there was only one stem that needed shortening as for some reason known only to itself it had headed skywards and left all the others behind. After all that, you end up with something like this:

Actually I think I overdid it a bit on removing the arching branches - this is a little upright for my liking, though I'm not sure I had much of a choice really. But anyway, it'll start leaning outwards again soon (the overriding principle of bamboo is to revert to the most troublesome way of growing at the earliest possible opportunity). The client and I also agreed that this is a bamboo in desperate need of some company (there used to be a swimming pool on that circle).

But what we both loved - and the whole point of the exercise - is this:

Aren't they lovely? Strong, slim, elegant canes of near-black, and you can actually see them now. Not only did I remove the messy ones in between, I also stripped away the leaves up to about a third of the way up. Now, that's a bamboo I can see the point of growing.


VP said...

Hmm - you've got me thinking. I planted a bamboo a couple of years ago thinking I'd grow my own canes for the allotment.

Now the bamboo I'm growing is said to be 'non-invasive' - the black bamboo you've displayed in this post. It looks like I need to dig it up pretty smartish.

I've also found a supply of very nice hazelwood poles instead - by some light coppicing of the allotment's hedgerow. Much better!

Plant Mad Nige said...

Lovely pruning job!

I've heard about non-invasive bamboos but don't believe it. I think they are all just couch grass on steroids.

Growing canes could be a wise option, though. They are something like £4.50 for ten, in a garden centre near here, and rubbish quality at that!

Karen - An Artist's Garden said...

The garden I was working in today - the 25 year old bamboo has decided to make a bid for total garden domination - if not the whole of wales (big sigh)
You know what I will be doing next week.

Alice Joyce said...

Lovely work, here. My black bamboo is in a large container, and not easy to move about.

I once reviewed a book on bamboos where the author - an expert, stated: clumpers can become runners, and running types can become clumpers - and it has stayed with me. Has anyone else ever heard this said?

Makes me wonder about whether it's possible to select the right bamboo for a given situation. But one of my favorite gardens in this area features a beautiful bamboo grove in its design.

After writing about a public garden of bamboo species and cultivars, I received letters demanding that I mention the plant's destructive nature.

Victoria said...

Very elegant! I'm all in favour of hacking the buggers back. And yes, I'm sure it won't be long before it starts to lean. (One storm is usually all it takes in my garden.) However, I've never had the nerve to chop down from the top, partly because I'm scared of heights. I suspect my neighbour wishes I would, though...

LittleGreenFingers said...

I feel inspired to go out tomorrow and do some judicious pruning.

I'm not actually sure which variety I ahve - it was a gift (possibly of the Trojan horse kind) and as my garden was as bare as my purse I accepted.

There's no fool like a tight fool I guess... Perhaps I should just reach for the petrol can.

The Constant Gardener said...

VP - go for the hazel. Much much nicer, and native so better for wildlife too. I have a hazel stand at the end of my garden - it's meant to be coppiced every 3-5 years but I'm a bit more laid back than that and just cut out a few likely poles whenever I need them.

Nigel - thank you, and I entirely agree on all points!

Karen - you have my wholehearted sympathy.

Alice - I know what you mean. I too like looking at bamboo: I just don't like growing the stuff. And I'm afraid I think your correspondents may be right, but I'm just biased.

Victoria - if you need a ladder, all is already lost.

LGF - try pruning first, but if not it's down to the local garage i fear....

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