To grow or not to grow… BAMBOO? It’s a big question, because in most gardening circles, bamboo has a pretty bad rap. I’m sure many of us have seen or heard the horror stories of running bamboo, escaping gardens, under neighbour’s fences, even under concrete pathways on its merry way to causing heartache and misery. I have many times, and in the past had to deal with a number of invasive issues for clients when I worked in professional garden maintenance and construction… and it nearly killed me… but still, I love bamboo.
It’s such a beautiful and useful plant to have in the garden, even small gardens. I have two different varieties in my garden… they are not the crazy running types… I’m not that mad. These are clumping varieties, so they are far better behaved, although, they still require regular maintenance in a smaller garden… and I’ll get to that later. I grow two varieties… the first is ‘Buddha Belly’, named so for the unusual swellings in the stems, between the nodes or leaf joints… they look just like the big bulging belly of the laughing Buddha.
The other is ‘Weaver’s Bamboo’, a tall upright clumper that produces lots of lovely long straight canes of various thicknesses, from 10mm up to 50mm, which I why I chose to plant this one so that I have plenty of material for building frames and supports in my vegie patch. Both of them look stunning in my backyard and have created the perfect screen to provide privacy and shade… in fact, when I started building my garden 5 years ago we were totally exposed, and these two beauties shot up very quickly to create an almost instant cover… much quicker than any alternative tree or shrub choices would have.
OK… now for the down side of clumping bamboos. Despite being far better behaved than their nasty running brothers, the base of the clumps continue to grow and expand and over time creeping towards fences and other structures and generally taking over surrounding spaces. So once you have your clump established to the desired size, you need to get in at least once a year… preferably in the cooler season… and remove any offending shoots. Fortunately, it’s a reasonably easy task… and when you think about it, any fast growing screen tree or shrub needs regular maintenance too. What you need for the job is a pruning saw, mattock and a sharp axe. Start by cutting the unwanted stems close to the base, then with your mattock, chip around the base to expose its roots. Once that’s done, use your axe to chop it away from the main clump. It’s a physical job… but not as hard as it sounds. To prove it, you can watch this video of me hacking away at my clump of Buddha Belly.
One bit of good advice, when you plant your clumping bamboo, position it far enough away from fence lines, buildings and other plants to allow you plenty of free space to carry out your annual maintenance.
So there you go… should you plant bamboo in a backyard? Well, it’s really up to you, but if you’re prepared to put in that regular maintenance, you’re bound to enjoy this beautiful and very useful plant.
Here’s something all gardeners and aspiring vegie growers will love. National broadcaster SBS will soon launch a new online gardening project called ‘Harvest’. It’s a weekly documentary that records the journey of an inspiring bunch of people living in one of Perth’s best known high-rise public housing precincts. The show follows the group and how their lives are enriched through gardening as they convert a wasted block of land into a beautiful meeting place and highly productive community garden. It’s a heartwarming story, and as an added bonus, there will be a week-by-week guide to setting up your own productive patch in your backyard or balcony, with lots of tips for assessing your site and soil, to building beds, composting, fertilising, problem solving and of course, harvesting your home-grown crops. It all kicks off on September 17. Simply head to https://www.facebook.com/SBSHarvest and ‘like’ the page to follow the story and keep up with the posts.