Heralded as the newest and hottest sustainable eco-fabric, bamboo has recently been turning the heads of fashion designers and gardeners alike, for its gentle softness and smooth, flowing drape both in and out of the garden.
Compared to silk and cashmere, luxurious fabrics made from bamboo fibres are easy on the pocket, amongst claims of natural antibacterial properties and apparent priceless eco-friendly cachet. However, if the truth were known, the heavy reliance on chemicals during the transformation process from plant to prêt-á-porter means that few garments can honestly be labelled as strictly ‘organic’.
That said, bamboo still qualifies as the world’s most remarkable sustainable resource – labelled as the “fastest growing plant on earth”, varieties have been clocked surging skyward at a rate of 121 cm (47.6 inches) in a 24-hour period, with a maximum growth rate exceeding one metre (40 inches) per hour for short bursts of time. With a vast natural root network, bamboo rarely requires re-planting; growing continuously and sending up new replacement shoots whilst absorbing harmful greenhouse gasses at a staggering pace, five times that of trees.
Stride-for-stride with the catwalk models, trends in gardening over the past 20 years have turned the focus onto smaller and more ‘designer’ labelled gardens, re-awakening an interest in bamboos and grasses across the floor. With planned-for low-maintenance and themed ‘modern’ or traditional ‘oriental’ style planting very much in vogue, bamboo has once again become the darling of the garden fashion industry.
Undeniably oriental, tall and willowy; bamboo adds poise and movement to any setting. Traditionally the Chinese symbol of longevity and the Indian sign for friendship, the long-held suspicion that ‘all’ are invasive is grossly untrue – with a few hearty exceptions held responsible for causing the misnomer.
As woody-stemmed members of the grass Poaceae family, bamboos can loosely be divided into two camps – neat “clumpers” and wide spreading “runners” accurately describing their typical root behaviour:
‘Pachymorphic’, clump-forming types include the hugely popular Phyllostachys and Fargesia species, bearing dense congested root systems, each with a new shoot terminating in a single ‘culm’, or bamboo cane. Typically clumps are well behaved and ideal for confident themed planting; as decorative lawn specimens, in containers or as part of an exotic mixed border.
However, ‘Leptomorphic’ “runners” on the other hand, have a greater tendency to wander, with a wide-spreading root system that swiftly creeps across the ground. The two impressive colonisers Sasa and Indocalamus; well respected for their talents at stabilising steep banks and preventing soil erosion, fall cautiously into this category. Powerful shoots appear at regular intervals, charting their progress across new territory and indicating a propensity for far-flung or out-of-the-way places.
Nevertheless, with so many choice and colourful ‘designer’ hybrids on the market, bamboos should be considered priceless garden accessories; selected for their spectacular black, golden or red-flushed stems, or elegant, willowy-foliaged culms – as garden classics of the future.
Akin to the essential ‘little black dress’, Phyllostachys nigra - the ‘black bamboo’, once only highly prized in China and Japan, now has a growing band of Western devotees. Timeless and elegant burnished ‘black’ leggy stems look stunning in modern containers or as an evocative gravel garden specimen plant. Recipient of an RHS Award of Garden Merit (AGM).
Less is more with all-green Fargesia murielae – magnificent for any situation. Fresh green canes and leaves make the perfect hedge or screening plant for a patio or oriental garden. Dense and clump forming, this slow-running bamboo holds an AGM for its outstanding garden-worthiness, with small, neat leaves and plentiful flexible stems.
Sparkle with an outfit for a special occasion – Phyllostachys aureosulcata aureocaulis the ‘golden crook stem bamboo’ and P.a.spectabilis, the ‘golden groove bamboo’ both have prized AGM’s for their lemon yellow to glitzy-gold robust canes flushed red on sun-kissed new growth. Both make excellent specimen plants or gifts for a glamorous occasion.
Everyday garden wear – practical and down to earth Sasa veitchii is the workhorse of the group. Ideal for colonising a slippery bank and binding soil, the edge of each large oval olive-green leaf becomes pronounceable bleached with the onset of cold weather, taking on an almost variegated appearance. Perfect where space is not at a premium.
And for uplifting retail therapy try golden-stemmed Phyllostachys aurea. Another AGM holder, this cheery bamboo becomes gold-flushed in sunlight, with foliage also taking on light lemony hues. One of the best clump-forming Phyllostachys types.
Cultivation Plant all bamboos into fertile, humus-rich, moist but well-drained soil in full sun or part shade for the best stem and leaf colouring. Though they will cope admirably well with wind - shelter from harsh storms, especially while growth is young.
Once a year ‘clean’ all stems of foliage and side shoots up ½ of their height to create a pronounced feature of their tall elegant legs.
IN THE GARDEN THIS WEEK…