Some Bamboos To Grow In Gardens

The name Bamboo suggests the jungle. And Bamboos are actually woody grasses which grow in the tropics and form dense evergreen thickets or undergrowth in the steaming jungle lands of Asia. Some are an enormous size – as thick as a man’s leg and 60 feet tall. Those we grow come from the northern parts of the Bamboo regions and are hardy enough for many gardens, provided the plants aren’t exposed to cold north and east winds and that the place chosen for them is a sheltered one and reasonably warm throughout the winter. If they are exposed to cutting winds and severe frosts they lose their leaves and of course are less valuable to us then as ornamental plants in winter.

They are totally different in appearance from any other evergreens we grow. They form clumps, often thickets, of slender cane-like stems and cool-looking, elegant leaves -one often associates them with water and semi-tropical gardens. Indeed some of the smaller varieties are similar in appearance to our riverside rushes. And it is as waterside plants that they are best fitted; yet they do not survive for long in stagnant water or in badly drained wet soils, and are best grown in well-drained ground (the soil being loamy, lightish and peaty) sloping down to water – an artificial pool perhaps or a shallow brook.

The nomenclature of Bamboos is not yet finally settled and systematized; some botanists describe the different species under 3 genera; others have sub-divided these into additional genera.

The suitable hardy species we can grow in our gardens are usually listed as belonging to either, 1. Arundinaria or to 2. Phy-llostachys.

Arundinaria. (The word is from the Latin arundo, or the better form harundo, meaning a Reed or a Cane). These Bamboos have stems or canes round and straight, with numerous branches developing almost simultaneously from top to bottom.

Arundinaria anceps has been recommended, I imagine, chiefly for its hardiness: only in the severest winters does it lose its leaves. It is not so attractive as, say, A. auricoma. Its leaves are about 4 inches long and ½ inch wide, brilliant green above and glaucous beneath. The straight, erect canes may reach 15 feet in height, in deep moist leafy soils. They are purplish at first, then turn brownish-green. Its one defect (a defect usual in many Bamboos) is its habit of suckering: it sends out numerous under ground runners and these shoot up often some feet away from the main plant. (It is possible to restrict these rampant plants however by digging a trench round them – as one does round Horseradish to keep it from spreading over the garden.)

This Bamboo [A. anceps), although one of the easiest to grow, is suited only to large gardens. There I have seen it planted at the top of a slope near a natural pond, and providing a background to the tall golden-yellow Primula florindae (like a giant Cowslip) which spread down to the water’s edge. The species is a native of the North-west Himalayas.

A. auricoma is much smaller, the canes reaching not more than about 4 feet in height, seldom that in most gardens. It is one of the tufted species, the stems making a tuft or clump and not suckering. The slender stems, a dark purplish-green, are about as thick as a knitting-needle and cany largish leaves (roughly 8 inches long by 1 inch wide), dark green, striped conspicuously golden-yellow.

The plant grows at Kew and is beautiful during the summer months; in many gardens, unfortunately it loses its leaves about the end of the year – perhaps this doesn’t matter very much, when the plant is used as an edging to a pool – pools and water-gardens are not very popular during the cold winter months, and seldom visited.

A. auricoma is a native of Japan and has been cultivated in Britain since the end of the 19th century. Until a shake-up in nomenclature, this Bamboo was for years known as Bambusa fortunei Var. aurea.

A. falcata is one of the tufted kinds; a tall Bamboo up to 15 feet high in our warmest, most sheltered gardens. The canes are slender and glaucous when young and produce palish green narrow leaves about 6 inches long. This Bamboo is recommended as one of the most handsome of the not-so-hardy kinds, and an excellent plant for the semi-tropical garden. It is found on the Himalaya at 7,000 feet.

A. fastuosa is one of the hardiest, the foliage often being quite unharmed by the cold winter weather of our climate. This Bamboo is, however, suitable only for large gardens, attaining, as it does, a height of over 20 feet. The canes, erect and hollow, measure 2 ½ inches in diameter at the base, and have short branches which carry the dark, lustrous green leaves. The plant suckers, but is not so rampant as some species.

It is a native of Japan and known there as ‘Narihira-dake.’ According to Lord Redesdale, who was one of the leading authorities on Bamboos and the author of The Bamboo Garden, ‘Narihira’ appears as the glorious hero in a Japanese romance written in the 11 th century.

The plant is one of the tallest and finest of the Bamboos we grow in Britain. (The namcfasiuosa means proud, tall.)

A. forlunei. An extremely attractive short Bamboo (3 feet), with variegated leaves, dark green striped with white, although sometimes the green appears more prominent in the colouring. The canes or stems are no more than ½ inch in diameter; and the largest leaves are about 7 inches long.

It is regarded by most gardeners as the best of the small variegated Bamboos; the green and white markings giving a bright patch of colour through the winter in warm districts. The species comes from Japan. Although of tufted habit, it spreads rather quickly.

Propagation of Bamboos is by division of the plants in May or September. Exceptionally hard, matted clumps will have to be hacked into smallish pieces with a mattock or a pickaxe. The new plants should be brought on in pots in a warm greenhouse or a frame and kept moist.

A. japonica. Another Japanese species; introduced by the botanist Von Siebold in 1850 and the only hardy Bamboo grown in our gardens for many years. It has larger leaves than any other hardy species we grow (7 to 12 inches long; 1 inch to 2 inches wide), and it doesn’t spread so rapidly as many do. It is a charming evergreen, with its tall slender canes (12 feet or more high), and its dark glossy green leaves, which are glaucous beneath.

This species flowered in Europe 22 years after its introduction – between 1872 and 1874. This fact is mentioned here, since the flowering of Bamboos is a phenomenon of interest to everybody who grows them. Many species die after they flower. (A. anceps is one of these – apparently in its native habitat it flowers and ripens its seeds). Other species are badly crippled but eventually recover; some of the Bamboos of the Phyllostachys Group, behave in this way. Yet others have a certain number of canes which flower and then later perish, the non-flowering ones remaining active and healthy. A. auricoma is an example. After some years it often happens, however, that all the canes flower simultaneously, then the whole plant dies.

According to growers and collectors, it is possible to save the life of a Bamboo by immediately cutting back to ground level those canes that show signs of flowering.

Another interesting fact is that the plants belonging to one species wherever they are growing – in the tropics or in hothouses – all flower (and then perish) simultaneously.

A special favourite with growers is A. murielae. It is among the hardiest, and reaches a height of 13 feet in some gardens. It forms a dense thicket of slender canes, which are leafless the first year, then the following season they carry an abundance of rich green foliage and arch gracefully outwards. A valuable evergreen plant for our gardens. It is one I recommended for most districts. The species was named in honour of Muriel, the daughter of E. H. Wilson who discovered the plant in Western Hupeh, China, in 1907, and introduced it that year.

A. nitida is another Chinese species; it has very slender canes, about the thickness of a pencil. This species, one of the very best for our gardens, needs partial shade, since it soon suffers when exposed to full sun, the leaves starting to curl up and lose their fresh cool look. The canes, crowded, are a black-purple colour and reach a height of 6 to 10 feet. The biggest leaves are 3 inches long and about ½ inch wide, a glossy green above and paler and glaucous beneath. It is a charming Bamboo, delicate-looking, but perfectly hardy and flourishes in gardens in the London districts. Like the preceding species, the canes are erect and leafless the first year but become leafy and arching the following season. It is one of my favourite Bamboos for growing in the water-garden. The species was introduced into Britain via St. Petersburg (Leningrad) in 1889. (nitida = having a smooth, polished surface; probably referring to the leaves.)

A. palmata. This is the species which some Bamboo specialists say should be in every garden. It is a handsome evergreen plant, but I prefer other Bamboos to it. It is undoubtedly one of the most common species we grow in this country. Although of moderate height (the canes about 6 feet tall), it cannot be recommended for a small garden, for it is a rampant spreader, its underground stems shooting up sometimes as much as a yard away from the main clump. But its large leaves, 13 inches long and 3 inches wide, make it one of the most handsome of the exotic-looking foliage plants for the waterside or for semi-tropical effects. The leaves are bright green above and glaucous beneath, but after a few years begin to lose their fresh green colour; the old stems should then be cut back to the ground in May; young shoots spring up again very qucikly and produce new juicy green growths and foliage. The species was introduced from Japan, its habitat, in 1889. (Some botanists now describe the plant under Sasa senanensis nebulosa. The Japanese botanist Nakai called it Sasa palmata; it has also been named Arundinaria kumasasa; and A. metallica; Sasa by the way, is the Japanese word for dwarf Bamboos.)

Phyllostachys, the other group of Bamboos, differ from Arundinaria in having stems or canes more or less zigzag in shape and flattened on one side above the joints or internodes; and as regards the branches: only 2 or 3 develop at each joint and those at the base appear first. (In the Arundinaria Bamboos, the branches are numerous and are produced simultaneously from top to bottom.) The name Phyllostachys is from the Greek Phyllon, a leaf; and Stachys, a spike, referring to the leafy character of the flowering shoots.

Phyllostachys castillonis. This lovely Bamboo is a native of 5

Japan, where it is called Kimmei-Chiku, and it was introduced toward the end of the last century. The canes, about 8 feet high (or more in the warmer southern counties) are beautifully marked bright yellow and dark green; the green appearing on the flattened portion of the stems. The leaves vary in size: some are 2 to 5 inches long and 1 inch wide; others are almost twice as big. They are variegated – green striped with creamy-yellow lines – ; the foliage gives a charming effect in the semi-tropical garden. (The species flowered in 1903 and 1904; many plants died and this Bamboo is now rather rare.)

P. henonis has been described by Bamboo specialists as the finest and loveliest of all the Phyllostachys. Landscape gardeners acclaim it. And for their purposes it is invaluable. It is a perfect plant for the water-garden and also for the semi-tropical garden, where, by the way, I have seen it used as a background to some of the exotic-looking Yuccas.

In deep leafy moist soils and warm, sheltered places it is wonderfully luxuriant with its plumose masses of dark, shining green foliage. In our warm coastal districts the canes reach a height of 14 feet and the heavy foliage causes them to arch outwards.

Its habitat is Japan, from which country it was introduced in 1890. Specimens cultivated in Britain began flowering in 1900 and 5 years later every one was either dead or severely crippled; some, however, did recover, and from these, new stocks were built up.

P. nigra. This species is known as the Black-stemmed Bamboo {nigra = black or dark-coloured.) It flowered in Britain (and many other countries) between 1931 and 1935, and died almost everywhere; but some plants survived in a few places, and these provided the new stocks for propagation. P. nigra, a native of Japan, was the first of the Phyllostachys to be grown in this country. It is a magnificent evergreen for places like Cornwall and the Isle of Wight, where it may grow up to a height of 20 feet. (In inland gardens farther north the canes are seldom much more than half that size.) The leaves, 2 to 4 inches long, and about ½ inch wide, come in plumose masses, their dark green colour looking very beautiful against the slender black stems.

P. viridi-glaucescens (green-glaucous, referring to the foliage: bright green above; glaucous beneadi). Among the finest of all hardy Bamboos; but is suitable only for large gardens. It is a vigorous species attaining a height of 16 feet, or sometimes 20 feet in our warmest districts. The canes are about 1 inch in diameter, of a yellow-green colour (purplish at the joints), the outer ones arching gracefully outward and touching the ground. If the plant is grown near the bank of a stream, the tips carrying masses of foliage will reach the water, adding to the scenic interest of a large water-garden. It is prized by landscape gardeners who use it for semi-tropical effects.

This species, a native of China and introduced into Europe in 1846, has not yet flowered under cultivation. It is more inclined to run than any of the other species of this group: on the whole Phyllostachys do not spread so rapidly as the Arundinaria.

Are there any dwarf Bamboos suitable for a small modern garden ? Most of them unfortunately are too tall or of a too spreading habit, and best suited to large spaces where they can grow unrestricted. (P. viridi-glaucescens will in time form a large spreading mass of stems and foliage measuring 25 feet across – about the size of a small front garden).

P. ruscifolia is about the best choice. It is 12 inches tall, with small glossy dark green leaves, and excellent for a damp spot, particularly in the rock-garden. It is one of the tufted Bamboos and doesn’t spread rapidly.

Bamboos need a good mulching in April, especially those growing in light soils; and during the early summer they benefit from weak doses of manure water. It is best given after a shower of rain, when the ground is moist.

The plants also benefit from pruning periodically. Some gardeners cut them back to ground level every year to get rid of all the dead stems and faded brown foliage which are such an eyesore in a garden; then they hose the place where the plants are growing to thoroughly clean the ground. This is an excellent thing to do when large borders or beds of Bamboos have been planted. A bucketful of water will suffice for just one or two clumps.

Bamboos are an important feature of water- and semi-tropical-gardens. They are, by their form and elegant foliage, ideally suited to these places, and are especially attractive and refreshing to see growing by water during the hot summer months.

Less often we come across the Bamboo border, a feature liked by Bamboo collectors and probably the best way of displaying a large number of different species and varieties. The tufted kinds would be better for such a border than those that spread; these would soon overrun all the smaller, neater kinds; they would need continual inspection and constant pruning back.

A border furnished entirely with Bamboos has a rather monotonous appearance and it would be wise to introduce a few foliage plants of a different shape and form – the low-growing, broad-leaved Hosta (Funkia); the enormous-leaved ornamental Rhubarbs (Rheum), and flowering plants such as Primulas. And for the semi-tropical-garden, Yuccas, Cannas and some of the Agaves, tender plants which could be planted in the garden in their pots from June to September and lifted before the cold weather came.

Bamboos cannot be grown in this country as economic plants, but in their native countries there are large plantations of them, apart from those that are cut for use from the jungle-lands. These Bamboos have an astonishing number of uses. In China, in the past, it seems they were used for practically everything! By splitting the canes of some species, 30 feet long, into very thin lengths and twisting them together, efficient ropes were made. The sails of Chinese junks were made of Bamboo. Bamboos were used for nearly every article of furniture: chairs, tables, mats, screens, bedsteads, and even for the bedding – the plants had far more uses than the Heathers. Nowadays in Europe and America we have certain kinds of Bamboo shoots as a luxury food.

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