Tom�s Bamboo: Growing advice mixed with a wholesome story

Published on Thu, May 29, 2003 by Mary J. Lohnes

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Tom�s Bamboo: Growing advice mixed with a wholesome story

By Mary J. Lohnes

As I enter the garden, down a winding path of coppery mulch, masses of pale violas and budding rhododendrons wind through the tall, whispery bamboo forest which frames Tom Burton�s property. It is a lovely garden, combining traditional Asian elements � the bamboo, a stone pagoda, a Buddha tucked between the massive canes of Japanese bamboo � with American country style � an Adirondack chair, pine trees and a rain-slick deck. The story of the garden, and indeed the business it sprouted starts with the ageless tale of a man, a house, and a southern exposure window with a view of the neighbor�s back yard.

�I wanted a sense of privacy, but didn�t want to meditate on a fence,� Tom said.

The bamboo grove, now 10 x 10 excluding pieces that have been sold, traded, or otherwise removed, began with three small pots of leftovers from his brother-in-law�s landscaping business.

�One died,� Tom said with a chuckle. The two remaining pots doubled and were transplanted here in front of the window. It is a landscape of green skyscrapers, a seeming dense jungle, or an abstract painting all in one.

The original grove led Tom to collect bamboo, and the collection lead to trading with fellow gardeners, buying bamboo from moving homeowners, and finding new caretakers for his plants. �Bamboo crept into my life, and took over. It saved me from a dying fish business and led me to creativity. I never knew I could be creative before bamboo.� he said.

Bamboo itself is an amazing plant with over 2,000 known varieties and several dozen more that remain to be identified. According to the American Bamboo Society, it is one of the hardest plants to classify because the difference between one variety and the next may be as simple as the elegant cut of a leaf or the hue of the wax exuded on a rapidly growing cane; as exemplified by the Himalayan Blue Bamboo Tom is now showing me.

The Himalayan Blue�s shoots alternate between a cool blue-gray and brilliant spring green. The plant grows so fast (the average bamboo can grow six inches in a week) that it exudes a faint blue wax to lubricate its rapidly dividing cells. Taken from afar, this particular grove reminds one of an Impressionist painting with it short dabs of alternating color and movement.

While bamboo is sometimes given a bad reputation from gardeners because it spreads easily, Tom notes that with proper handling bamboo is an excellent plant for new gardeners. The plants are amazingly resilient, with some species of bamboo living over 50 years, with nearly no plant derived ailments.

Gregarious flowering, (an event, which occurs approximately once every 40 years), in which all the plants from a single parent plant bloom at the same time, can occasionally lead to total plant death but it is a minimal risk. The Sasa Palmata, a bamboo loving spider mite, remains the only problematic insect.

Tom encourages consumers to buy healthy, spider mite free plants, noting that it is easy to determine whether the bamboo plants are infected. Infected leaves appear stippled with little yellow discolored dots on the leaves and branches where the mite burrowed and ate its way across the leaf.

While considering bamboo, look into which varieties meet the needs of your garden and your eye by touring gardens in which bamboo is used. Second, if you don�t want your bamboo to spread, confine it either by planting it in metal or plastic lined trenches or by heavily watering only the area you wish to populate with bamboo, in the spring, when bamboo roots are seeking water for new shoots.

Tom swears by this method, nothing that he uses old bamboo poles to form circular beds, (lined with leaf dropping, soaker hoses and compost) around established bamboo groves.

One of the things Tom loves the most about bamboo is its versatility. �There are so many varieties, and each one is unique.�

Bamboo provides everything a gardener could need: privacy, sanctuary for birds, canes for building trellises, fences and other creative endeavors. When bamboo is planted around a home it retains heat and provides shade in the summer. It blends in with a variety of styles, thereby making bamboo a natural addition to nearly any northwest garden.

�Listen to that,� Tom says, motion to the swaying of the bamboo groves, �it sounds like the ocean.�

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