Bamboo – the garden designers’ revenge, part one

Bamboo is one of those plants that, a few years ago, garden designers decided everyone should have. Why – what did we do to them?

A garden plant should be judged on the attractiveness of it’s foliage and flowers, whether it has fragrance, it’s value to wildlife, and how easy it is to look after. Bamboo has no flower, or at least, none worthy of note. I suppose it must have some sort of inflorescence, but I’ve never noticed it (perhaps because the mere sight of the plant bores me so much I can’t get the motivation to look). I know that beauty is a matter of taste, but to me, it isn’t attractive. The foliage gets ripped to shreds by the wind, and the surrounding locality becomes littered with ugly, dead, dry leaves that are incredibly resistant to breaking down, and so hang around forever (plus a day). And when it comes to wildlife, my understanding is that bamboo is pretty much a dead zone (unless you’re fortunate enough to have a  garden that plays host to giant pandas).

As if that wasn’t enough, bamboo has a very troublesome special power – the ability to send out runners under walls, paths, pavements, and to put up new shoots through tarmac and concrete. The underground runners are as hard as nails – try to put a spade through them and it’s likely to result in a sprained wrist. The bamboo in the pictures is an escapee from a garden neighbouring one of my customer’s. The offending clump (bamboo must always necessarily be described as offending) is towering threateningly over my customer’s boundary fence, and bulking up like a division of panzer tanks ready for a blitzkrieg. Yes, my customer’s garden is littered with dead bamboo leaves that blow around and get everywhere. Out in the alleyway behind the gardens a nascent bamboo forest is rising up through the tarmac, and I’m waiting with dread for the shoots to start pushing up through the lovely slate patio at the end of my customer’s garden.

Apparently there are strains of bamboo that are relatively benign (note the word ‘relatively’). These are clump formers, rather than spreaders, but I hear the jury’s out even on these – bamboo can spend many years forming innocent clumps, quietly establishing itself, before suddenly one day making its bid for world domination. Apparently bamboo can be grown in pots, where it is harmless, and unable to spread (provided the pot is suspended at least six feet above the ground, with a permanent fire raging beneath).

These shoots, forcing their way up through the road surface, are like asparagus’s evil twin. I’ve no chance of pulling them out. Maybe I could send in agent orange…

Next in the series: Erigeron karvinskianus – the self-seeder from hell!


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