Growing a Zen Garden: How to Plant Bamboo

Growing a Zen Garden: How to Plant Bamboo

‘Twas the week between Christmas and New Year’s Eve, and Portland Oregon was filled with strangers and cousins and visitors from foreign lands, looking for all that keeps Portland weird. Disgruntled teens returned gifts, tired shoppers sipped cappuccinos, a man dressed as Robin Hood in furry tights walked the downtown streets, collecting dollar bills from the rich, giving to the poor, and I was all zen-ed out walking through the Portland Japanese Garden.  I took in the perfectly placed stone path, the carefully groomed rock gardens dwarfed by the over-arching evergreen trees, the pond gardens filled with koi fish and the flash of money tossed into the water in defiance of the “coins prohibited.”

Growing a Zen Garden: How to Plant Bamboo

The Japanese garden was a respite just above the city of bedraggled holiday spirits, a quiet stroll filled with sounds of water pouring through bamboo into a shallow pool, a man-made waterfall creating a space of peace.  According to the garden’s Website, the strolling pond gardens are a model of Japan’s gardens that were “intended as recreational sites for the wealthy and were attached to the estates of aristocrats and feudal lords (daimyo) during the Edo period (1603–1867), when this style of garden was at its height. These gardens were sometimes created to be reflections of a landscape of some distant place once visited, or the place of one’s birth, or even a famous place in China.”

Do you want to recreate the serene sense of a distant place once visited? Or the place of your birth? (For me, Reno is not exactly a place I want to bring to life in my backyard, but maybe your birthplace is more idyllic than John Ascuaga’s Nugget?) Growing bamboo will work for almost everyone reading this, as it grows anywhere from East Asia to Northern Australia, sub-Saharan Africa to the mid-Atlantic United States south to Argentina and Chile.

Ian Connor, a bamboo expert based in Portland, recommends clumping bamboo such as those in the Fargesia and Thamnocalamus genera, which remain well-behaved without a barrier. Towering timber bamboo, however, provides the “exotic feel” you may expect.  “Besides a screen, it can be planted as a hedge and turn a garden into rooms with separate styles. Not all gardens, though, are big enough for rooms. For those, Connor suggests creating private seating areas by planting bamboo in curves.”

  • In mild climates, plant bamboo at any time of the year.  In colder regions, plant your bamboo early enough before your first frost to have established plants to survive the first winter.  If your summers regularly hit 100 or higher, wait until fall or spring to give your bamboo the best shot.
  • Choose a spot with good sunlight, aiming for one with around 5 hours of direct sun.
  • Digging your hole 1.5 to 2 times as big as the root mass, add compost or manure fertilizer to the bottom of the hole before planting your bamboo.
  • Space your bamboo 3 to 5 feet apart, and one foot from the edge of other planting areas.

Do you already grow bamboo, or plan to plant some soon?  Tell us on Facebook or Twitter!

Photos: Japanese Garden Waterfall and Koi – photographer David Gn, Bamboo – photographer Marv Bondarowicz)