Bamboo for Gardens

The Cloudesley

With the recent flowering of Fargesia nitida, F. murielae and F. gansu, collectors have lost a few of the old favorites but gained opportunities to purchase new generation plants which were selected from thousands of seedlings after the flowering and death of the old plants and from cross pollination. These new forms hopefully will now not flower for a very long time. Like all enthusiasts I look forward to trying some of these in my garden. F. nitida 'Black Pearl' has been singled out as a reliable choice with very dark wine to black coloured culms, good hardiness and more capable of withstanding sun than the original nitida. I recently purchased this along with F. nitida 'Pillar' which promises culms fading to dark brown in winter, as well as with Fargesia demissa 'Gerry' which looks spectacular. Also worth noting are 'Viking' which is more upright and 'Winter Joy' - far more tolerant of full sun. I will be writing about my recent purchases after noting their performance in my garden.

The other interesting family of bamboo introduced recently are the KR series and related Borindas, collected by Keith Rushford, hence KR. See below for further details.

At the other end of the scale, some of the recent introductions of 'giants', close relatives of Phyllostachys dulcis, such as Phyllostachys prominens and Ph. Shanghai 3 certainly show promise, with good hardiness combined with exceptionally thick culms, although in the coldest gardens they have proved somewhat slower to mature than hoped. In Northern Europe and colder parts of North America Phyllostachys atrovaginata and Ph. parvifolia remain best choices where large culm diameter and good height are desired along with ability to survive the more extreme winters of late.

Here are my bamboo choices for temperate gardens, including plants I own, have owned or would like to:

Borinda albocerea - I have in my collection Yunnan 2 - beautiful plant with powder blue culms, eventually aging to a straw brown-yellow. Leaves are mid-green. Extremely attractive but best in a sheltered spot in part shade. Cold hardiness is still not fully known but my specimens in pots have survived two harsh winters with little to no damage at all. Yunnan 3 is a slight variation with smaller leaves and is considered the type.

Recently purchased is Yunnan 1, allegedly lacking the blue colour on new culms, it nevertheless, even as a small plant now, shows great potential for beauty in its structure. On my young plants the leaves appear slightly smaller and are more sparse than on Yunnan 2. Over the winter of 2012, my small plants in pots were unaffected by the cold. Yunnan 1, due to it's lack of blue has unjustly been ignored by collectors when in fact it is quickly emerging as one of my favorites. The culms quickly turn a rich red brown in sun. It needs protection from full sun but in partial sun the rust red-browns against mid-green leaves is highly attractive.

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Borinda albocerea Yunnan 2

Borinda lushuiensis - also known previously as B.Yunnan 4 or B. Edulis is a breathtakingly beautiful Borinda for only the most sheltered gardens in Cornwall or possibly Central London. One of the least cold hardy Borindas, needing shelter from strong sun and wind but an example at Carwinion in Cornwall is now over 25', with spectacular thick powder blue culms and orange-purple-rust coloured sheaths. I've seen this plant with my own eyes. It's very dramatic and majestic in its stature. Sadly, plants elsewhere in Britain were severely affected by recent winters and many died.

Borinda papyrifera CS1046 - Not quite as spectacular as Yunnan 4 but hardier. Has rapid vertical growth to about 25'. But again, needs shelter. Unfortunately it too was affected by recent winters. My specimen which was in a pot in an exposed site was finished off by coastal winds and chill. Borinda papyrifera KR 3968 is a good alternative, grown at Ness Botanic Gardens where the lush growth covers the culms and for this reason, according to Mike Bell, has not proved as popular as CS1046 but it is nevertheless hardier than 1046 and an outstanding bamboo.

Borinda / KR series - relatively new to cultivation are the KR series and related Borindas, collected by Keith Rushford (hence KR). Mike Bell, President Emeritus of the Bamboo Society Great Britain and noted bamboo authority recommends the following for small gardens: Borinda nujiangensis, Borinda frigidorum and Borinda contracta (protected site). For medium-sized gardens he recommends: Borinda solida, Borinda albocerea No.2 (protected site), KR 6243 and KR 7613. For large gardens, the following are recommended: KR 3968, KR6439, Borinda perlonga and Borinda lushuiensis (for a protected site).

I recently purchased KR6243 from PW Plants in Norfolk. While not quite as grand in its proportions as B. papyrifera or B lushuiensis, it nevertheless shows promise and is reputedly significantly hardier than the above. It also promises beautiful shades of powder blue on new culms. More on this with time. For now among collectors, many of the KR series remain unknown quantities. The use of the KR series as alternatives to other bamboos is mentioned in other sections of this list.

Judging from the plant in my garden, KR6243 may be no more cold tolerant than Borinda albocerea 1 or 2, each suffering little or no leaf curl during winter but along with Yunnan 1, KR6243 is emerging as another favorite. It starts with powder blue culms that turn pale mauve/ almost lavender and on to rich reddish browns in partial sun, almost in the same colour range as F. nitida 'Jiuzhaigou 1'. Very attractive.

Chimonobambusa tumidissinoda - Used traditionally to make walking sticks. Has very attractive cymbal-shaped culm nodes. Care should be taken when planting, however, as this has a vigorous running rhizome which will 'look for water' if planted in dry or adverse conditions. It would be perfect by a lake or a pond. To about 12' in UK.

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Chimonobambusa tumidissinoda leaves in foreground on a young plant

Chusquea gigantea - Originally from South America. The specimen at RHS Garden Wisley is home to a magnificent 20 year old specimen that sadly is now in full flower. Referred by some collectors as 'The Holy Grail' of bamboo. Can be a very large, impressive plant in time. Can grow up to 30' or even 40' H with 2' culms. Not suitable for a small garden.

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Mature Chusquea gigantea at Wisley

Drepanostachyum microphyllum - borderline hardiness to about -8 ºc but extremely graceful and delicate with tiny leaves on thin arching culms that go deep purple-red in sun. Very feminine clumping shape, like a fountain. Worthing trying in a sheltered spot free from frost or harsh winds, or in a large container that can be moved into a conservatory in winter. Not much larger than 10' max. One of the most beautiful of all the tiny leaved bamboos. Mine, planted outside, suffered a bit this winter with loss of some leaves but is otherwise intact.

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Drepanostachyum khasianum - supposedly less hardy than microphyllum, with a more upright habit, slightly larger leaves and taller stature, it appears to be just as hardy but with consistent winter leaf damage, generally regenerating and looking tidier by late spring, nevertheless, it inevitably gets damaged by late autumn/ early winter gales as it shoots so late in the season. New culms don't emerge until late august at the earliest and continue growing and emerging well into November/December.

Early winter winds invariably snap the as of yet unhardened new culm tops. Despite all of this, my plant sent up 18 strong fresh shoots in winter 2011/2012 and of these, 16 survived well, although with a few having their culm tops snapped by sudden gusts, as described. I tidied them up by cutting the tops off all new culms to create a more uniform effect. In a less windy site a problem such as this wouldn't occur and you would be able to appreciate this gorgeous bamboo that to my eyes almost resembles a Chusquea gigantea in miniature, in structure if not in culm colour.

Fargesia demissa 'Gerry' - one of the best new Fargesias. Thick (for Fargesia), upright growth with very dark culms, emerging with a white bloom. Promises beautiful colour and structure. More on this once its performance in the garden has been observed. Purchased from Kimmei nursery in the Netherlands.

Fargesia murieliae - When clumping bamboos flower, once in a while or once in decades, they usually die but set seeds giving rise to the next generating of plants. Ask specialist suppliers about new seedlings now available after the recent flowering.

NB:Care should be taken when purchasing any plant at regular gerden centres labelled 'Fargesia muriellae'. Some of these are the old muriellae (1992) that experienced delayed flowering starting in spring 2011, after rejuventation via hormone treatment of the mother plant. The one I saw at my local garden centre very much fits this description and was in flower, with much darder than normal culm colouring, a more upright habit and sparser in leaf ... what happens once a Fargesia flowers.

Fargesia nitida - This plant also flowered recently. New generations are now available. Ask specialist nurseries about the new forms.

F. nitida Jiuzhaigou 1 - relatively recent introduction, now quite common, with fresh green culms that go a deep red in sun and then age to a pale amber-ochre. You will never tire of the range of spectacular colours the canes go through as they age. c. 8' max.

F. nitida Jiuzhaigou 2 - less common, a much duller red fading to a red-brown ochre but still attractive and useful in the garden. More sun tolerant than No.1

F. nitida 'Jiuzhaigou 2' in a pot

F. nitida Jiuzhaigou 4 is quite a short plant with near black culms in good light. This plant has a weeping habit. Purchased from Pan Global Plants in Gloucestershire.

F. nitida 'Jiuzhaigou 8 and 9' - both of these also deserve further investigation. 8 has more of a powder blue bloom, 9 is one of the tallest, somewhat more spreading and goes a beautiful red-purple in sun.

F. nitida 'Jiuzhaigou 10' - lacks the bright red tints of No.1 but turns the richest of golden yellows with age and is a very desirable garden plant.

F. nitida 'Jiuzhaigou Genf' (Geneva), another recent introdution, similar to No.1 but larger in all dimensions and should become quite popular when more readily available. The bright red colour on new culms, however, doesn't last quite as long as with No.1. I purchased mine from Pan Global Plants.

Fargesia scabrida - Collector's plant but becoming more readily available. More upright than the above with potentially larger culms that turn a very deep and intense chocolate-purple-black in sun, contrasting strikingly with brick orange culm sheaths. Stunning.

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Fargesia scabrida leaves and culm colour

Fargesia Utilis - At 16', one of the largest Fargesias. Spreads laterally as much as vertically. It has a drooping fountain-shaped habit and needs space to show itself off. Described as resembling a 'nuclear bomb' with its mushroom cloud shape. Not suitable for a small garden as it will crowd out nearby plants. Looks magnificent, however, by a lake or by itself where it might be admired from all sides. A new alternative might be KR 5913, which has the 'mushroom' shape of F. utilis but is more colourful.

Hibanobambusa tranquillans 'Shiroshima' - Very striking, with strong cream stripe variegations on big leaves, to 9'. Can grow to about 15' H. Looks best when pruned, with lower branches removed. Best in semi-shade.

Indocalamus tessellatus - Huge leaves up to a foot and a half on a mature plant, sometimes more. More like a spreading shrub than a clump. Rarely over 6' tall, usually much less. Makes an excellent contrast against other bamboo with normal sized leaves. I. hamadae has even larger leaves but looks tatty in sun, doesn't like wind and has a rampant root system - easier in a pot, unless you have the space. Both much better in shade and when tidied and pruned. Stunning as a foil against tiny leaved varieties.

Phyllostachys aureosulcata 'Spectabilis' - my first bamboo;readily available at many garden centers but still an excellent all-rounder. Fresh culms sometimes do a bizarre zig-zag before straightening out again. In sun gets a purple 'tan' but settles back to a strong yellow with green in the sulcus. This plant can take a fair amount of abuse and still look good. Culms to c.1', H to c. 20'. Ph. aureosulcata 'Lama Tempel' is a collector's item. Mine was never as strong as Spectabilis. It would require two mature plants side by side to see significant differences between them or with Aureocaulis - the pure golden variety. Ph. aureosulcata 'Argus', with random green stripes is another hard to find collector's plant with striping more defined than on Ph. aureosulcata Harbin or Harbin Inversa but without the 'wrinkles' or longitudinal ridges (similar but not quite as pronounced as on Ph. marliacae) found on the latter two.

Ph aureosulcata in my view is an altogether better, hardier and more interesting bamboo than the very boring and commonly used Ph. aurea. In Europe and in warmer climates, Ph. aureosulcata is a taller, thicker culmed architectural plant.

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a young Phyllostachys aureosulcata Spectabilis in my front garden

Phyllostachys bambusoides 'Holochrysa' - very attractive, with thick, golden yellow culms against rich, deep green leaves. The type - Phyllostachys bambusoides, is a giant timber bamboo in its native habitat but never reaches full height in the UK. 'Holochrysa' is far more reliable if not quite as thick or tall. The type may well be worth trying but it might take over 20 years before you get something worth looking at.

Phyllostachys bambusoides 'Marliacae' - An extremely special collector's plant. Has 'wrinkled' culms with longitudinal ridges. Slow to start but eventually, thick, gorgeous, highly unusual culms in a medium green. Essential.

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Phyllostachys bambusoides Marliacae starting to produce the beginnings of thicker culms

Phyllostachys edulis / Ph. pubescens - Delicate leaves and giant culms. In the UK, may take a generation before maturity but you might have something few others have. In China, known as 'Moso', it will grow to over 100' with tree-trunk sized culms. In Cornwall culms have been measured at just under 4'. Despite being very slow to take off, it's still worth trying as it will tolerate - 20 ºc. Sadly it lacks the heat it requires in summer for monstrous growth. At La Bambouseraie in Anduze, Provence, Southern France examples of this plant are so large I couldn't wrap my arm around some of the culms. Available from Jungle Giants, Shropshire.

Phyllostachys pubescens at Penjerrick, Cornwall

Phyllostachys fimbriligula - relatively recent introduction. I have an example growing in my front garden. Vase shaped at first, then strongly vertical. Capable of withstanding harsh maritime winter winds with not too much damage. Classified as a giant. Purchased from the Palm Centre, Ham, London.

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Phyllostachys fimbriligula - starting to show potential

Phyllostachys iridescens - known for its random stripes, yellow aging to brown on green aging to yellow green culms. New shoots have beautiful bright red-brown sheaths. A strong and fast grower capable of very large culms in cool temperate gardens. I've seen it used in a Chelsea Flower Show garden to great effect.

Phyllostachys prominens - another of the new giants suited to cool European gardens. Apparently related to Phyllostachys dulcis. Monstrous culms recorded in Holland. Still very rare in the UK. Reputedly even larger than Ph. Shanghai 3 but in reality they are not that different in appearance. Not for small gardens. Available at the Roddings Plantery, Essex.

Phyllostachys nigra 'Megurochiku' - Rare collector plant. The type;Ph. nigra Henonis is the type for the all black bamboo Ph. nigra. 'Megurochiku' is black in the sulcus only and green on the rest of the culm, aging to a rich yellow. Stronger and larger than 'nigra' - about the same vigour as Henonis. A mature, well maintained plant in full sun is beautiful and unusual with rich yellow culms with black-brown in the sulcus. On the thickest of culms, however, the 'black stripe' is less pronounced in relation to the overall dimensions of the culm. Leaves at lower level should be removed so the culm colouring can be admired.

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Phyllostachys nigra Megurochiku - Recently planted

Phyllostachys nigra 'Fulva' - Another collector's item. Goes a tawny brown rather than full black. Slow growing and not as tall but highly attractive. Stunning shades of rich browns when mature. The leaves are also somewhat more sparse and a paler green.

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Phyllostachys fulva with culms that are tawny rather than 'black'

Phyllostachys parvifolia - translated from Latin:- parvi - small, folia - leaves. In the right spot this is a proper giant, potentially bigger than P. vivax and more tolerant of cold too. Some have called it the 'edulis' of the north. Even in parts of Scotland you have a fair chance of getting giant culms, of course, with small leaves. Starts off with a fountain shape but later growth is more vertical and more impressive. Like all larger bamboo, this plant appreciates plenty of water and nutrients before it can offer giant culms.

This, along with Ph. atrovaginata/ Ph. congesta are reputedly the most cold hardly of the timber bamboos capable of giant culms. Both purchased from Jungle Giants in Shropshire.

Phyllostachys Shanghai 3 - A new introduction that has fared better in Europe than Britain. Super-giant culms have been a rarity in the UK's climate thus far. Perhaps more time is needed for the development of mature examples. Not suitable for small gardens. My juvenile plant produced impressive new growth from a small rootstock last year. Bought from Jungle Giants in Shropshire.

Phyllostachys sulphurea 'Robert Young' - Very beautiful new acid green culms with thin yellow stripes aging to green stripes on yellow culms. Will do well in a warm spot, eventually sending out thick strong growth. A giant in warmer climates.

Phyllostachys vivax - The traditional giant timber bamboo for temperate gardens. The timber is never as strong as Ph. bambusoides but very few other bamboos can match it for speed of growth or thickness of culms - measured at over 3.5' even in Greater London. Within five to six years you should have an impressive specimen but protect from strong winds. Ph. vivax 'Aureocaulis' is yellow with random green stripes, Ph. vivax 'Huangwenzhu' is the reverse with green and random yellow stripes. Ph. vivax is a plain green but still very much worth trying but be aware that in a windy site the thin-walled new culms may suffer and depeding on your luck (or lack of it) could snap.

Phyllostachys vivax 'Blackspot' with Ph. nigra Boryana-type markings should prove interesting when introduced next year, 2013, by Kimmei nurseries in Holland.

Pleioblastus linearis - a very elegant medium to small bamboo with long narrow leaves and slim culms.

Pleioblastus pygmaeus 'Distichus' - the pygmy bamboo, normally not much more than 1' - 1 1/2'. Can get invasive in the wrong location but wonderful as a groundcover beneath and around giants. Can be pruned almost like a lawn. Mine is currently in flower.

Sasa kurilensis 'Shimofuri' - Collector's item. Beautiful, rare bamboo with very fine cream and green striations. Much finer than the variegation on Hibanobambusa tranquillans 'Shiroshima'. Never very tall. Spreading rhizome. Max H is approx 8'. New culms have gorgeous colours.

Sasa palmata 'Nebulosa' - Extremely invasive in the ground where it can potentially dominate all other plants in its path, and once established, virtually impossible to eradicate without destroying all else. Not recommended unless the root system is constrained by an industrial root barrier. But, contained in a pot, its palmate leaf form can look very tropical and is even more attractive when lower branches are pruned. But be careful where you place the pot - it has been known to escape from the hole at the base! Great in a sheltered garden in London, confined to a pot, not so good in a windy site by the sea.

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Sasa palmata showing 'palmate' leaves, and, growing by a pond in Penjerrick, Cornwall

Semiarundinaria fastuosa - Very handsome. Fantastic for framing a view. Perfect for a spot requiring vertical-straight, upright growth. About 25' max H. Culms c 1 1/2', hardy to -25 ºc. Looked great in my London garden. S. fastuosa 'Viridis' is taller, to c. 35'.

Thamnocalamus crassinodus 'Kew Beauty' - Beautiful if borderline hardy ( to -13 ºc), with powder blue new culms than turn rich purple in sun, eventually aging to straw yellow. It doesn't appreciate much sun here in Hastings. Better and rarer is Th. crassinodus 'Lang Tang', with the tiniest of leaves and weeping habit but best of all is the somewhat more upright Th. crassinodus 'Merlyn' which is also a slightly bigger plant (named after Merlyn Edwards who brought these plants to the West from China. All are gorgeous, clumping - i.e. non-spreading but do better in shade. Can get over 20'. Th. crassinodus 'Gosainkund' has larger leaves, allegedly the bluest culms of all but is the least hardy (to about -7 ºc) and looks tatty much more quickly in winter. KR 7613 is an alternative to all of the above but is more colourful and hardier.

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'Kew Beauty' - Powder blue colouring on new culm

Yushania maculata - Also blue green fresh culms, smaller than the above but very tough. A more spreading rhizome (root system) than Fargesia or Thamnocalamus due to its extended rhizome 'neck'. Can tolerate more wind, sun and harsher conditions all round but still remain attractive. Leaves are bigger and longer but a very beautiful plant with contrasting brick-reddish sheaths over the powder blue culms that age to an olive green. Takes - 18 ºc. H c.12'. Well worth considering.

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Yushania maculata

A quick note:Soil quality, moisture, heat and shelter from wind can dramatically alter the shape and ultimate height of a plant. In good conditions, with rich moist soil the same plant might produce a tight clump with a few thick canes while in poor dry soil the rhizomes (bamboo roots) might start spreading in search of moisture, leaving you with a thinner spreading bush. Water will make a big difference to size and the time it takes to get there. Don't start thinning out the old, smaller culms until at least the third year as you will weaken the plant and delay its maturity. More on bamboo in the garden diary.

Want to buy bamboo for your garden' Go here:European Bamboo Society - Where to buy Bamboo

(I was the designer and former webmaster of the EBS until handing over the site to Mike Brisbane of Jungle Giants in early 2011)


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