In the gar­den

Country Life Every Week - - Contents - Mark Grif­fiths is edi­tor of the New RHS Dic­tio­nary of Gar­den­ing Mark Grif­fiths

SOME 22 years have passed since the bam­boo Borinda pa­pyrifera (syn. Far­ge­sia pa­pyrifera) was in­tro­duced to Bri­tish cul­ti­va­tion from its na­tive Yun­nan. Over that time, it has proved hardy in all but the cold­est and most ex­posed sites and com­fort­able in sun or dap­pled shade on most moist, fer­tile and well-drained soils. Once the ob­ject of in­ter­minable-seem­ing wait­ing lists, it has at last be­come more read­ily ob­tain­able.

All of which is just as well as none other of its tribe in­spires such awe and long­ing among plant con­nois­seurs. I’ve seen it steal the hearts of even the most hard­ened bam­boo-haters.

Form­ing a dense clump, it stands up to 25ft tall, a vi­sion of ver­ti­cal­ity save for its sum­mits and boughs, which hang heavy with lux­u­ri­ant fo­liage. Each achiev­ing about 2½in in di­am­e­ter, the canes are ce­ladon to duck-egg blue and iced with white pow­der. For a while af­ter they emerge, they’re made all the more brilliant by the large sheaths that clad them and which re­sem­ble fine pa­pyrus on their ex­te­ri­ors and pearly origami pa­per within.

In its com­bi­na­tion of ghost­li­ness and majesty, B. pa­pyrifera is a power plant, com­mand­ing a hal­lowed and size­able space and a de­servedly high price. How­ever, it’s not the only beau­ti­fully pig­mented bam­boo to have come from China in re­cent decades. Oth­ers are easier to find and to use, be­ing smaller and more com­pan­ion­able in their colour­ing.

Far­ge­sia Ji­uzhaigou 1 is the best of sev­eral forms of Far­ge­sia ni­tida dis­cov­ered in Ji­uzhaigou, a na­ture re­serve in Sichuan. It makes a foun­tain-like clump to 8ft tall laden with small leaves that flicker with ex­quis­ite del­i­cacy. As they age, its pea-stick­slim canes turn from pur­plesheathed lime to fer­rous red, car­nelian and am­ber. Add to this its tol­er­ance of prun­ing and shade and its dis­like of harsh winds, and this is the per­fect bam­boo for beds and con­tain­ers in small walled gar­dens and court­yards.

For more open sites, try F. scabrida Asian Won­der, which is tougher, more up­right and larger, al­though still small (at most, 12ft tall) and deco­rous. Bloomed like red grapes and clothed with or­ange to cin­na­mon sheaths, the new canes amaze as they thrust through its wil­lowy fo­liage—an ef­fect I like to ex­ploit by us­ing it as an in­for­mal hedge, planted in a row, top­dressed with gravel or pebbles, and trimmed from time to time.

Re­mark­able colours can also be found among bam­boos that have long been avail­able. In Semi­arun­d­i­naria fas­tu­osa, the canes flush with rich plum. Sturdy and soar­ing, per­fectly straight, to 20ft or more, they’re ruffed with fo­liage borne on short branches. Con­fined in a long nar­row bed along­side a build­ing or wall, these pil­lars of veg­e­ta­tion will keep to a sin­gle, evenly spaced line, be­com­ing a marvel of rhyth­mic rec­ti­tude. In such sites, the canes can be cut to the de­sired height once they’ve hard­ened. Else­where and al­lowed to spread, they form screens that are im­pos­ing, but ex­traor­di­nar­ily el­e­gant.

The most colour­ful canes of all are to be found in Phyl­lostachys: saf­fron in P. All­gold; jade-grooved and ruby-flushed sul­phur in P. au­re­o­sul­cata f. spectabilis; tor­toise­shell in P. Bo­ryana; sil­very aqua­ma­rine in P. glauca; jet black in P. ni­gra; aubergine turn­ing to chest­nut­striped khaki in P. vi­o­las­cens. These are merely a sam­ple of the Phyl­lostachys pal­ette.

Al­though they can at­tain the stature of small trees, these will cope in large con­tain­ers, but they are hap­pier in the ground, where their rhi­zomes can wan­der and their canes ex­pand from clump to grove. If nec­es­sary, their spread is eas­ily con­tained by re­mov­ing any stray­ing shoots. Cut­ting out age­ing canes (three years old or more) will make room for re­place­ments and keep a grove airy.

Once the new canes have hard­ened, I prune the lower branches (up to chest height) to give a clear view of their form and colour. This is cos­metic rather than es­sen­tial and ap­plies only to Phyl­lostachys. One wouldn’t take the se­ca­teurs to B. pa­pyrifera—no scope for per­fec­tion­ism there.

‘I’ve seen it steal the hearts of even the most hard­ened bam­boo-hater

Next week: The joy of cy­cla­mens

Rais­ing cane: (From left to right) Phyl­lostachys ni­gra Heno­nis, Borinda pa­pyrifera, P. au­re­o­sul­cata f. spectabilis and P. bam­bu­soides All­gold

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