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Saturday, August 02, 2008


I have gotten into my mind to plant some bamboo in a dark corner. It is an area I want to change so that it suggests a serene oriental-type garden intended for rest, meditation, and contemplation. The bamboo has to be a variety that is clumping (does not spread by running roots) and can tolerate: deep, dark shade; minus twenty degrees Fahrenheit temperatures (-29 C.); and will create a thick, tall privacy screen. Only one variety I have found fulfills those requisites: Fargesia nitida ‘Great Wall’.

When I sat down to order on-line from the computer in our basement, the big, bad, red words “Sold Out” appeared on the screen. “Oh, No!” - but at that time thinking I would need only to Google it and buy from another source, I trudged on. I REALLY would have thought ‘Oh, No!’ if I had known that was just the beginning of a long drawn-out quest.

I searched the Web and found a source in Oregon. I placed an order; we communicated back and forth a few times. Then the owner wrote that due to a great demand for the plants locally, and because his is a one-man, part-time, out of his home business, he would not be able to ship the order as he first thought he could. So, he politely and tactfully extricated himself from the deal and gave me a lead to another source which was a larger exclusively bamboo business that might be able to handle my order.

I emailed them then waited and waited. Silence. So, I picked up the phone and called them. The woman who answered the phone really knows her bamboo. When I told her what I wanted, she said, “Where did you say you live?” “Kentucky”, I repeated. She shot back, “It won’t grow there; it’s from the mountains of China, and it needs lots of shade especially from the afternoon sun.”

Then I told her where I had gotten their name and address as a referral, saying: “And, Mr. (name withheld) said it sounded like the perfect location when I described it to him!” We went on for a little and it became evident that even if she had the variety 'Great Wall', she had no intention of selling it to me.

She reminded me of the writer Gladys Taber. At their farm, Stillmeadow, they bred show-quality registered Cocker Spaniels. Each little warm body that was born there and all their parents were treated as carefully and as well as human babies. Gladys was known to refuse to sell a pup to someone – more than once. Friends said that it was easier to get into the D.A.R. (Daughters of the American Revolution) than it was to adopt a Stillmeadow puppy.

I am still looking for plants guaranteed to be F. nitida variety ‘Great Wall’. Maybe they WON’T grow here, but I want to find out for myself. And, come to think of it - the invasion of spreading vines and shrubs from the adjoining properties that I am trying to stanch by planting bamboo is that detestable curse Euonymus fortunei (Winter Creeper) native to China and named for Robert Fortune, a botanist who collected plants from 19th century China; and the infamous shrub honeysuckle Lonicera maackii, commonly called Amur honeysuckle, an extremely invasive species from – guess where – China!

Who says gardening is mild mannered. I suspect quite an interesting battle would ensue between these species, if only I could find the Great Wall bamboo – which by the way, is not invasive.



Anonymous said...

The struggles we go through to get a great plant. I hope it all works out for you.

JGH said...

Next thing you know, we'll have to fill out applications and send pictures of our backyards, just like we do for puppies. I'll keep an eye out for it!

Laura said...

I hope you source another, and get to finally experiment with it in your own climate. You never know, it may just like your spot.

Lucy Corrander said...

I feel terribly cross with the person who wouldn't (rather than couldn't) sell you the bamboo you wanted.

I know absolutely nothing about Kentucky except what I learn through your own blog but I know three things:-

1. You are a knowledgable and serious gardener and would not waste your time trying to buy a particular version of a plant if you didn't reckon it would grow.

2. Within every geographical area there are micro-climates.

3. Plants are not puppies. If you bought a plant and it died - this would be sad but not a moral failing.

There follow a lot of silent expostlulations (that might be how it's spelled - I've never needed to write it before!) which include words like 'arrogant' 'pretentious' 'self-important' . . .



P.S. I have asked for bamboo as a birthday present. I plan to put it next to the bamboo which is growing already in a place which is supposedly totally unsuited to it - and it looks fine to me. So, a bit of fellow-feeling here! L.

Barbee' said...

Perennial Gardener (Virginia, U.S.A.): Thank you, I'm sure it will, one way or another.

JGH (New York, U.S.A.): Thank you, too.

Laura (British Columbia, Canada): It would get afternoon shade. But, thinking about the comparison of my climate and that up in the mountains... well, it would be cool there, I think, and here it is sweltering hot and humid. So, I don't know.

Lucy Corrander (England): Whoa, Lucy! Thank you for being on my side. :) At first, I was a bit nonplussed, but after I hung up the phone, I became amused at her pluck. She really knows her bamboos, and I know next to nothing (only what I have read). As I wrote above, it would get plenty of shade, but our summers are hot and humid. Thanks for the commiseration. Are you planting yours in pots??

If anyone reading this knows a lot about that variety of bamboo, I am eager to read your input. We do have native bamboo in Kentucky; it is called 'cane'. I think there are two native species here. But, they are the invasive kinds... can't use those.

Lucy Corrander said...

Not in pots. Straight in the ground - but in a very well defined area - not that bamboo respects restraints and the variety which is already there probably is an invasive version - I'm hoping its uncongenial situation will help curb its enthusiasm for taking over the world.

My idea is that the new bamboo will wrestle it for space. Also, if I am to have a bamboo grove, I will have one with variety.

(Your non-supplier would hate me!)


(She may turn out to be right. The bamboo which is already there will shield the smaller plants from light - but I truly don't see any harm in experimenting. For the most part, I am gentle with my plants but don't treat them as sentient beings.) L.

Barbee' said...

Lucy: Seems like an interesting experiment to me. In future, I hope you will write about it and let us know how it goes. Maybe next summer/autumn, or the next. I'd be interested, and knowing your way with words, I'm sure it would be interesting reading for all your readers. In the meanwhile, may you hear bamboo whisperings to the breeze.

Cinj said...

Can't you plant the canes in a large underground container that would keep it contained to the area you want it in? Maybe it's jus a crazy thought on my part, but it sure would be easier for you to find!

Barbee' said...

Cinj (Wisconsin, U.S.A.): Hi, I don't know. It's a thought. I'd be so afraid a root would escape through a drainage hole, or it would expand in girth so much it would break the container. Yes, it would be easier to find. It's deep, deep shade, too. There was an article in our local newspaper yesterday about two men who have more than one kind of bamboo growing in their garden here in town. They say it is a Lot of work to keep it under control... well, it's never under control, I should have written 'keep it within bounds'. Young shoots can be dug and cooked, but what if, for some reason, you couldn't get out there and dig them. I really am afraid of the spreading kinds. Still, that is a tempting idea.

Cathy said...

Well, I just happened to find this post for 8/4. It sounds like you are busy gardening. That is great.

I have a camera now and have taken some pictures of flowers around my neighborhood, under my "Flowers" label.

Beth said...

Now that's what I call customer service! Jeez.

You are a paying customer and you should be able to grow whatever you darn well please. The nerve ...

Barbee' said...

Cathy (U.S.A.): I am so glad you found me again. I did visit your blog and greatly enjoyed all the beautiful flowers! You have really gone to town with that new camera. Loved the butterflies, too. Thank you for letting me know.

Barbee' said...

Beth (North Dakota, U.S.A.): Yes, a far cry from 'service with a smile'.

I likE plants! said...

Move down here and I can help you find all the tropical bamboo you want!!!!


Cathy said...

Hi, Barbee, it's Cathy again,
I do thank you for visiting all my posts today and commenting. I was trying to find them all and missed one. :o) Thank you for correcting me on the label. I knew it was a hosta, and I have no idea why I said coleus! Senior moment, I guess ~
I have lots of time to spend with my camera, so I keep trying to get great shots.

Pomona Belvedere said...

Those of us who have tried to track down a plant can deeply sympathize! Is there another type of clumping bamboo that would work for you, or are you set on that one particular kind?

I'm with you in your suspicions about running bamboo. My neighbors in New Jersey had a patch as a privacy fence. Despite freezing winters (when it died down) and several lawn mowings to the ground per season, it spread.

I was interested to hear there are native Kentuckian bamboos/canes. Would it work to plant in a container with NO drainage holes, just pebbles on the bottom for some drainage? I've planted aquilegias (which like damp) this way, and they're very healthy.

Of course, you'd have to be sure the pot was out of some impermeable substance...

Barbee' said...

I likE plants! (Florida, U.S.A.): Awww, you are bragging! Making us jealous! You probably even have orchids living in yours down there in Florida. Nice photos of the cypress. I grew up playing among the bald cypress trees down in the bottom on my granddad's farm.

Pomona Belvedere (California, U.S.A.): Based on all my readings about the culture requirements, this was the only variety I could find that could take the deep, dark shade; would grow tall as I need; would clump; would make a thick 'wall'; and... could take the cold temps down to -20 (20 Below zero F.). It was not that I was set on it, the thing is, that one is the only one that would work there. There are other clumping bamboos, but some are shorter, they all require more sunlight, and I don't think there is another variety that could take that drop in temp.

Cinj mentioned sinking containers in the ground, too. I considered that, but I doubt if I will ever attempt it. I have the measurements around here somewhere, but off the top of my hat without looking at them, I think it is 30 linear feet that I need. I was planning to plant them close together enough that it wouldn't take long for it to become a solid wall.

We would be digging in earth that is stony. This property used to be a limestone quarry, at least that part in the back was. I was hoping I could plant them straight into the ground and the roots would find their way around the stones like those of other plants here.

I haven't given up, yet. I am going to wait and watch the market for them. See who will have them in stock next year and see if the price has come down any. They are terribly expensive. And, I don't know; maybe it isn't such a good idea. But, Ooooo, it would be so wonderful. And, I could grow my own bean poles :)

That is interesting about your aquilegias, a good idea. If the climate keeps getting drier, we may be planting a number of things that way, or give up and go to xeriscaping.

Anna said...

OH Good Grief!! She can't tell you what to grow--if you want to make it thrive or kill it, that is your business. Send her some Kudzu and wish her well.

Barbee' said...

Anna (North Carolina, U.S.A.): That's tempting.

titania said...

Barbee I hope you find the Bamboo you are looking for. Could you make an advertisement in your local paper, perhaps there is a gardener who has a suitable bamboo in the garden. One wouldn't think that it is so complicated to get this particular bamboo. Otherwise you might have to import from China!

Ali said...

Hi Barbee,
As a novice gardener I know nothing much about bamboo's apart from the fact that I have one in my back garden. When we had our garden "done" a few months ago, we decided to move it to a Sunnier position, and took advice at the time as it was around 4 - 5 years old, so we didn't want to loose it. We were given the go ahead, moved it, and within a week it looked as though it was dying. Then very quickly, it turned, as in picked up and grew lots of new shoots. I left it until last weekend, so nearly 2 months after it's move to remove all the dead bits, and once more it is flourshing. By the way I have saved the canes and will use them at my lotty - home grown Bamboo.
p.s. I love the "rustle" that the bamboo almost whispers to you in the breeze.
Sorry I can't be of more constructive help. Just thought I would share my bamboo experiance with you!

lacey said...

Wow ... I've never heard of someone refusing to sell a plant. I mean, I can understand giving strict instructions as to it's care. But just assuming a person won't know what to do and will kill it and so refusing to sell it ... wow. Just wow.

George Africa said...

Hello Barbee;

The New England Bamboo Company http://www.newengbamboo.com was recently purchased by Greentop--so says their website. They advertise the bamboo you are looking for. The site may be of interest to those who are contemplating bamboo as it gives a lot of good info and diagrams.

Every time I look at the way Japanese knotweed is destroying New England, I steer away from thoughts about bamboos. I realize there are various containment methods and some varieties which are not invasive but I haven't wanted to take the chance.

God bamboo wishes!

George Africa
Vermont Flower Farm
The Vermont Gardener
Vermont Gardens

Arija said...

I know little about bamboos but one thing I do know is that a spreading type will not brook the constraint of a pot - it will go over the top and through the holes. As age does weary one, and I am one of those, digging up errant bamboo is not a pastime I would volunteer for. We have been looking for clumping bamboo for a feature and as supply for bamboo shoots for the cooking pot and, since they are prohibitively expensive where we are, a Chinese friend gave me some cuttings which I am in the process of striking. Hope you find some with a little more politeness attatched!

Barbee' said...

titania (Australia): HA,HA, Know anyone going to China for the Olympics? Maybe they could bring a start!

Ali (England): I loved reading about your bamboo adventure. I'm glad it ended well, and that is just another emphasis on how tough and determined it is.

lacey (Oregon): I agree. I wonder if her partner knew she did that. And, maybe she was having a really rough day that day.

George Africa (Vermont): Thank you so much! Your input of information is greatly appreciated. I am going to go to that website and read up on it and check out their stock.

Arija (Australia): I do hope your bamboo cuttings take hold and do well; although, I will have to say, I don't see how you can do all that with a camera permanently grafted to hand. :) Love your spiderweb photos!