As you may recall from my earlier post, I have a favorite sitting corner in my garden (The Red Umbrella!) that is surrounded by four robust specimens of Bambusa oldhamii; giant clumping timber bamboo. This species was suggested to me by a trusted plantsman, who then found them for me and presented them as a gift for my new garden. So I was meant to have them! And they are fabulous.
This is how my corner looked two years ago, about three months after planting. The bamboo had just been through its first 'shoot' which is the period in July/August when the new growth starts. The culms are noticeably thicker each year, and reach full height by winter, staying tightly sheathed all the way up (tallest are well over twenty feet now). In spring they let loose leafy side branches. Here you can see the utility pole in the corner; but you never will again!
That same new growth from two years ago has turned golden, and is considered mature. Last year's culms are still green. And this year? Um, can you see why my bamboo is scaring me?
My task as a responsible, rule-breaking gardener is to keep these beasts in check. Which is surprisingly easy to do, if you deal with them before they are bigger than you are! I have three ways of helping my bamboo do my bidding.
The first approach is a short, sharp, shock. You can see this unfortunate fellow at the far right in the picture above. Too close to the path, no shoot for you!
Until it is about two feet tall, a bamboo shoot is very pliable and loosely connected at the joints, just give it a wiggle and it pops right out. To further control growth from this spot I could dig it out more, but it won't be up to any more mischief this year.
This species of bamboo is also edible; if I were more adventurous in the kitchen I'd think of something tasty to make with it. For now, it's nicely compacted green waste. [see comment from Annie below for a preparation suggestion, courtesy of none other than Allen Lacy, one of my pantheon!]
The second way I work with bamboo is by training the new culms, which are often pointing in odd directions (continuing the trajectory of the rhizome below the ground, I guess). Such waywardness can be turned to an advantage with the right training, giving the culms graceful curves.
When they have reached about four feet and their bases are hardened
a bit, I train new culms by tying them to older ones (built in plant stakes!) By doing this I can separate canes that are growing too closely together, position the tall plumes just where I want them, and encourage the elegant interplay of the culms at ground level. I like to use raffia-wrapped wire, as it is inobtrusive, strong, and reusable.
Old-Hammy would love to be leafy to the ground, but for my small space I want to keep the lower part of the culms clean. So the third trick to bamboo dominance is removing the leaf nodes at the joints. Again, if done cleanly and early, they won't sprout again.
One of my design inspiration books is about Japanese courtyard gardens. My favorites feature timber bamboo, trained by skilled masters to just a few choice culms, in some impeccable setting.
So I am NOT insane!
The tallest culms now meet over the top of the Red Umbrella. Between the dappled shade and the way it catches every breeze, my scary bamboo has made this a heavenly place.
Understanding that I am the master here, and making the sometimes ruthless choices needed to develop the space, has been critical. I think of it as editing the garden; removing what is superfluous and grooming what remains so that it can shine.