A touch of the exotic

PUBLISHED: 17:39 14 October 2009 | UPDATED: 16:21 20 February 2013

Malcolm and Pam surrounded by some of their many bamboos

Malcolm and Pam surrounded by some of their many bamboos

Leigh Clapp discovers some of the best hardy bamboos to add flamboyant flair to the winter garden

You may be surprised to learn that 500 or so bamboos can be grown in the UK. From only a handful having originally been brought over during Victorian times, their popularity has grown as gardeners discovered the best varieties for year-round, evergreen interest in the garden for screening, in stately groves, as specimen plants or in containers. With their varied cane colours, delicate leaves and size range, they offer architectural and textural possibilities to add a touch of exotica to any garden.

Totally tropical
Although the majority of bamboos are tropical and equatorial, around a fifth are hardy temperate varieties from countries such as Japan, China and northern India. Their native conditions can be more extreme than ours, so they are well adapted to coping with our hottest summers and coldest winters.

Take your pick
There are dwarf, ground-hugging bamboos to towering, spreading varieties. Some can be aggressive, others are clump-forming, tidy cultivars, so a bit of research or advice is needed before planting. Canes or culms may be golden, black, purple or varying shades of green, while the characteristic leaves can also be variegated. All add movement and atmospheric rustling sounds at the slightest breeze. During the depths of winter they look wonderful as their gleaming golden, black or green culms and shapely leaves catch the lower light, creating enticing, shimmering effects.

Expert advice
A visit to the bamboo garden and collection at Sensational Plants nursery, in Fordingbridge, showcases many of the best choices for Hampshire conditions. Malcolm and Pam Voller bought the formerly named Drysdale Garden Exotics nursery, with its specialty collection of bamboos and adjacent bamboo garden, two years ago. They have retained the variety of bamboos, while also introducing seasonal bedding, hanging baskets and herbaceous plants to their stock.
"There are 85 bamboos in the display garden and we have people coming especially to look at the garden and select varieties for their garden. It helps to see them in a mature state, as the garden was established 15 years ago, and then choose one that is suitable. Some people want a spreading variety, others clump-forming or maybe an ideal choice for a pot to create an oriental look on the patio," explains Malcolm.

Top tips
Bamboos are tolerant of a range of conditions, adapting well to new surroundings. They grow well in a variety of soils, preferring ones that are enriched and well-draining. Ideally, add a rich humus to the planting hole, as adding organic matter is better than artificial fertilisers, and mulch after planting. Water for the first couple of years and then only if needed at dry times. Pruning and removing old culms is best carried out during dormancy.

Pay a visit
Sensational Plants, Fordingbridge
Open October to March,
9.30am - 4pm, Sunday 10am - 4pm
March to October, 9am - 5pm
For further advice see The Bamboo Society website www.bamboosociety.org

Malcolm's top 5 Bamboos
• Phyllostachys vivax aureocaulis - towering spires of
golden culms with random green stripes, full sun or
dappled shade
• Phyllostachys nigra - green culms that turn black in their
second or third year, shelter from cold drying winds
• Fargesia murielliae bimbo - clump forming, grows to 1m,
ideal for low hedge or container
• Fargesia robusta - upright clumping, 3-4m, hedging
• Fargesia rufra - olive green canes sheathed in pink on
young growth, pots or low screening

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