It is not without cause that some of us are terrified of planting bamboo in our gardens. And while I don’t know tons about growing it, I feel that I do know a few things. (Does the word “bamboozled” come to mind?)
Bamboo seems a lot like a pushy relative, the sort who makes demands and has boundary issues that cannot possibly be tolerated. Then come endless conflicts, mediations, irreparable falling-outs and sometimes divorces.
Bamboo can certainly be like that, but knowledge is power.
And bamboo plants are beautiful, which relatives may or may not be.
The kind and brilliant gardeners at Dancing Oaks Nursery taught me that the trick with bamboo is a Good Defense, established in advance, in the form of a shovel-deep trench dug around the outside of the bed and filled with sand. The bamboo shoots have to pass through this moat to escape, and that is where we nail them. A couple of times during the summer growing season we march around the bed, sharp shovel in hand, and heartlessly chop into the sand, nipping off any escapees before they can travel under the greenhouse or into the neighbor’s pasture or south to maybe California.
Right now all the bamboo is growing. New canes come up looking dangerous, even menacing, and I always think something like, “Will the dikes hold?!”
So while the pushy bamboo WILL send side shoots zipping horizontally, the sand trench makes it possible to cut them off from above-ground with guillotine precision. (They never make efforts to plunge excessively deep since there are no real obstacles, from their point of view.)
Our backup moat, as it were, is the grass– (I hesitate to call it a lawn, but maybe lawn is better since there is so little grass in it. Mostly it is daisies and moss and clover and Self-heal: Prunella vulgaris. Sometimes I find four-leaf clovers growing in it, and I press them in books, and when I come across them years later it feels pleasing and fortuitous. Did you know that clover seed used to be added intentionally to lawn seed mixes? It’s not so bad…)
So, we mow around the bamboo too, like a belt and suspenders system of control.
One time I did find a runaway shoot sprouting IN the grass. I dug it back to the bed and whacked it, which set an example for the other shoots. And if it all gets out of control and comes up everywhere I will institute Plan B which is to move to France where the sunflowers grow.
Now, in a deft turn of discussion, I will take us back to the Second Big Orange Pot, which is over by the greenhouse adding Interest to the bed there. (If you wonder about the First Big Orange Pot see this other sparkling post.) And I harvested a cane of bamboo from the Bamboo Bed to use in this pot.
Now THAT, my dears, is the other beauty of HAVING a bamboo bed. It is an incomparable resource for the gardener. And I just look forward to the day when I have a stack of bamboo poles, ready to use for building any damn thing I want at any time.
So in the Second Big Orange Pot I used a single piece of bamboo and left parts of the little limbs on it but whisked off all leaves so that the overall piece had short steps going up it. My Garden Muse and I calculated that this would facilitate the climb-age of the Black-Eyed-Susan-Vine (Thunbergia) as it ornamented the Interesting bamboo in the Interesting pot. (I like having a Garden Muse because I can blame bad ideas on her, like she’s my evil twin Skippy.)
Here you see the susans as they tentatively proceed skyward, clinging to one another in fear, working, as they are, with no net. (Honestly this vine has some serious issues with heights. Last year I grew them in about three places and each time they escaped the trellis and crawled pathetically along the ground, maybe needing a shot of whiskey in order to just do the job. But in the Second Big Orange Pot they start out a couple feet off the ground so the escape sideways idea was thwarted ha ha.)
Here is a cup and saucer vine (Cobaea scandens) growing on a bamboo trellis behind a moss rose. I BOUGHT the collapsible trellis because if I had cut enough bamboo from my young bed to build it myself, well the bed would be just short sticks. (This is my first year growing the cup and saucer vine, and so far it is just snaking around, trying to grab onto the house siding when I’m not looking. Where is the lushly covered trellis awash in bloom? Maybe later.)