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The Bamboo Forest (A Plant I Love)

Our son is lucky enough to go to a school that has its own bamboo forest, a completely magical space that can enchant adults just as much as children.

The scale of the forest and the wondrous passageways through the bamboo take you completely out of your immediate world and place you not simply in nature, but nature at its most primal.

There is for me something unique about bamboo. I love all plants, and some people prefer a palette of colors with flowers all around, but the swaying green and golden-dry bamboo shoots and leaves of any species (and there are almost 1500 species of bamboo in the world) stir my spirit in a way that is quite profound.

Watch the extraordinary "Bamboo Forest" fight sequence (on YouTube) from Ang Lee's masterful Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon for a sense of the scale of bamboo in the wild, and its beauty.

As someone with a passion for gardening, I also enjoy growing bamboo - although it is a plant that you must be wary of, since there are two varieties, clumping bamboo and running bamboo, and running bamboo is almost impossible to control and can damage underground pipes and foundations, since it can break through concrete with no great difficulty.  Running bamboo can send out rhizomes that travel literally miles beneath the surface - and it is impossible to predict where they will head!

Bamboo is one of the fastest-growing plants on Earth - it also lives a very long time: some species flower at 60 years or 120 years, then die. Yet if you try to grow it, you may find yourself needing extraordinary patience.  This YouTube video is quite entertaining in terms of the mindset you may require to grow bamboo.

Photographs by Alexander Chow-Stuart
For those lacking patience, plant Buddha's Belly bamboo. It is remarkably fast-growing and will take over a corner or anywhere else in a garden in a year or two. It is also beautiful in pots - in fact the pots make the shoots curl and twist in fascinating patterns. And it is a clumping bamboo, so its expansion can be controlled by cutting back new growth around the original stand of bamboo.

Running bamboo, such as the stunning Black Bamboo, is best grown in pots, or with the ground prepared with plastic to contain the roots (plastic does a better job than concrete, but even so consult your local nursery for advice on how and where - and if - to plant running bamboo). It looks amazing - but even 100 feet from your home may not be safe, long-term, for you or your neighbors!

Bamboo is strong (just try digging it up once it is established) and it lives longer than we do - so love it and treat it with respect!



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