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A Monster in my Front Yard?

June 20, 2011

It is a part of family lore that my great grandfather, or great great, foolishly planted bamboo around his property in Cohasset. It took over and no one has ever succeeded in eradicating the stuff. Well, there is some reed like plant, with a hollow stem which does grow all around the place, but I am sure it isn’t bamboo. The reason I am so sure is that about seven years ago, I planted real bamboo in my front yard. Some might wonder what would possess me, with this cautionary tale a part of my upbringing. Well, first of all it looks nice. My in-laws, down in central Pennsylvania have a lovely stand of the stuff around their house, and their landscaper suggested that I might enjoy it in my garden. He assured me that it was easy enough to control, and very easy to transplant, with that he pulled up some roots and we threw them in the back of the car. I just buried them in the front yard when we got home and waited. Secondly, I thought I might harvest it if it ever grew enough and use it for the garden (making fences or trellises, etc.) This year I was able to harvest quite a bit of bamboo.

Harvested bamboo.

Lastly, hubris, man’s ancient foible led me to believe that I could control this plant. And I continued to believe I could control it until this spring, but now I am not so sure.
Around here bamboo shows up in May. Usually around May 6 or 7 the first shoots appear. The next few weeks are amazing. Each year’s crop grows to its full height in about three weeks. When I first planted the bamboo, full height was about five feet. The second year, there were about three or four more shoots and in three weeks they grew slightly over six feet. The next year, there were a few more shoots and they grew between ten and fifteen feet tall.

Bamboo at about 20 feet tall.

Last year there were several that approached twenty feet tall, again doing all their growing in about three weeks and then developing leaves and filling out through June. Because all the growth occurs in that brief time period, it is easy to clip any shoots that are growing where one doesn’t want them and that is that for the year.

Stone path after repairs.

I love the quality of the summer sunlight as it is filtered through the green bamboo leaves. And it it no wonder that Chinese and Japanese artists have been painting and writing it’s praises for millennia. It is lovely year round, and even withstood a very tough winter. As I have begun to do each spring, I was looking around for those first shoots, but hadn’t seen any when, walking down my little stone path I stumbled. I did so because one of the large stones that make up the path was raised up about two inches. When I looked under the stone, my fears were realized. Some bamboo had grown under the stone and two shoots were lifting it. I got a shovel to chop them out and quickly learned that, though the shoots are very easy to manage, the roots were a very different matter. Firstly, they can not be chopped with a shovel. One must dig them out and cut them with loppers. Secondly, while all appears fine above ground, the roots spread unseen below. The roots are tough and segmented, giving them an alien or insect like aspect.

Scary bamboo root.

This particular root had made it about five feet into the portion of my yard in front of the path and I do not want bamboo there. (My biggest fear is that its roots would become entangled with my beautiful japanese red maple.) I followed the roots and pulled them up. Only in years to come will I know whether the many small bits of root which were inevitably left behind will survive. I then began the laborious task of digging a narrow yet deep trench and filling it with roof slates in an effort to stop the roots from spreading. The barrier runs the length of the stone path. The other three sides of the bamboo patch are the slab of the front steps, the stone retaining wall between the yard and the driveway, and the house. Will the roots breach my slate barrier, will they grow through the retaining wall, will they work their way into foundation. These are the thoughts which have been known to haunt my sleep.

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