With its long stalks and a stunning range of colours, bamboo is a great choice to pep up your planting, says Adrienne Wild
Bamboo can be relied on to add texture and colour to an evergreen planting scheme and wind filtering through the stiff canes makes a gentle rustling sound, which in urban gardens can help mask noise from the outside world.
While the aim is always to beautify your outside space, privacy is likely to be important too.
Bamboo is perfect for turning it into a secret hideaway and, with a bit of imagination, you can give selected areas of the garden a tranquil Zen quality, where you can relax and enjoy some peace and quiet.
For a touch of magic, add uplighting and you’ll also enjoy the feathery shadows it casts on garden walls.
There are many different species and hundreds of varieties to choose from – but you must take care when selecting plants, as the varieties that spread by underground rhizomes or roots can travel at speed in almost any direction and send up shoots or canes (known as culms) wherever they feel like it.
The tips of these rhizomes are also so hard that they could pierce a pond liner, so when choosing a suitable variety for your garden, it’s important to do your homework as some bamboo can become a noxious weed.
To avoid ‘invaders’ causing neighbour disputes and to prevent them becoming a nuisance in your own garden, consider a solid barrier in the soil at least 45cm deep around the bamboo to limit the risk of escaping shoots.
These are particularly prevalent during the peak growing season in early summer and can be hacked back in autumn to keep them under control.
Bamboos that are particularly valued for their graceful habit, fine stems and attractive, willowy leaves are members of the phyllostachys genus.
✿ Although a runner, the golden bamboo Phyllostachys aurea is one of the less invasive bamboos and often behaves ina clumping manner in the UK’s colder climate.
It has slender, pointed leaves that are bright green at first, maturing to a pale creamy yellow in full sun and green-gold canes – lovely for the winter garden.
✿ For something a bit different, sniff out Phyllostachys atrovaginata ‘Green Perfume’, which is also known as incense bamboo.
A sandalwood-like scent emits from the new canes, particularly when they are touched. It’s a good choice for boggy soil and will reach a respectable 5m-tall clump up to 1m wide in around 10 years.
✿ One of the best non-invasive, clump-forming bamboos is fargesia, which makes a very attractive fountain-shaped plume of foliage. It’s very tolerant of cold and shade-loving, but will also bear a fair amount of sun.
The canes come in various colours from red and purple to various shades of green. Use them to screen unsightly areas of the garden such as an old shed or neighbouring eyesore, allowing them enough room for the canes to arch over gracefully.
✿ Look out for ‘blue panda bamboo’, Fargesia papyrifera, which produces steel blue to grey canes. It has a strong, upright habit, reaching 5-7m, and forms a clump up to 1.5m in diameter in 10 years.
It’s good for borders, screens and as a specimen plant, but must be protected against severe frost.
✿ Fargesia jiuzhaigou, or ‘red fountain bamboo’ is also highly ornamental, with young green canes that turn orange-red in early spring, gradually becoming reddish, and small green leaves.
Its maximum height is 3m and will make a clump up to 1.2m wide in 10 years.
✿ Don’t let it be said that there isn’t a bamboo for all purposes. Sasa veitchii, also known as ‘kuma grass bamboo’, quickly makes a dense thicket 90cm tall, so it’s useful for greening up a steep bank and to create a ‘jungle floor’.
The creamy leaf margins in winter give it a striking variegated appearance.
✿ The black bamboo, Phyllostachys ‘Nigra’, is much beloved of garden designers, who like to use it to create fantastic focal points in a garden.
It makes a graceful, arching clump of hollow canes that are green in the first year, becoming mottled with dark brown and slowly turning a shiny black after about 18 months to two years, while its glossy leaves stay evergreen.
The black bamboo can be slow to establish in the open ground and, as it is not that invasive, will grow happily in a large container if it has adequate drainage holes.
Use soil-based John Innes No 3 compost and feed with a liquid fertiliser monthly from April through to September.
Note that in a container, any bamboo will reach only half to three-quarters of its maximum height and after about five years spent in the same pot will begin to decline in health, so should be moved on.
✿ Vivid yellow canes with green stripes, which distinctly zigzag between the leaf joints, makes this species much sought after, and is especially useful for creating a jungle effect in your garden.
Find all bamboo a sheltered spot in full sun or dappled shade and plant 1m apart in well-drained soil that has been enriched with well-rotted organic matter.
During the first three years, as the plant is getting established, it’s important to water it regularly, even as much as three times a week during a dry spell – and if growth is sluggish throughout the summer, give it a boost with a shot of liquid lawn fertiliser.
✿ Also known as ‘green hedge’, this is one of the toughest cold-hardy bamboos available in the UK. There are lots of varieties to choose from and ‘Campbell’ is outstanding with sheaths on the new canes (right) that are a startling clear white.