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Bamboo

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For several months now, David and I have been on a quest to learn about bamboo. Our initial consideration of bamboo started with problems we’ve had with neighbors. The houses on two sides of our property are situated very near the property line so  they loom over us, creating a distraction in what is, otherwise, a very natural and serene property that promotes deep connection to nature. Our home and outbuildings blend into the environment with dark, rustic wood, while one of our neighbor’s houses (the closest and most prominent) is bright red–a beacon you can’t help but notice and that feels rather invasive. More problematic has been the way the man living there is overly focused on anything we do and feels entitled to judge, attack, reprimand, and cause trouble in manners that show not only a lack of respect, but ignorance. In short, we live next to Mrs. Cravitz (with a mean streak).

So we put up a privacy fence – which I’ve wanted desperately since the first day we moved here. The problem has been that a different neighbor, one we much respect, wasn’t receptive and reacted negatively when we began putting up a fence, so to keep harmony, we stopped the process even though we had invested heavily in (as part one of a two part plan to get some privacy) the materials. To be honest, with such an expansive space, fencing Heartwood was a bit too pricey for us considering all the other projects we undertook. But eventually, we felt we had no choice but to put up the fence when the problematic neighbor got even more nosy, and started shooting guns whenever he saw cars parked here, just to disrupt us (which he bragged about online). His dog was coming over and digging under my chicken coop too, which worried me because a few seasons ago, the dog came over and killed a few of my poultry. I was uncomfortable even going out into my own pasture because, after a year of voiced threats and cyber bullying, I feel he can and will do whatever he can to cause us harm. The point is, eventually we had to admit it was time to create a barrier and reclaim our privacy and our right to live without interference or fear from others….. Sigh…… a fence was at least a start.

Anyway, once the fence was in place, we decided perhaps we should screen off some of our more troublesome spots with quick growing bamboo. Bamboo has a bad rap as many people consider it an invasive species that runs rampant in a yard, destroying fences and causing other problems. But this sort of troublesome bamboo is “running bamboo”, that spreads quickly and in every direction through root runners . Clumping bamboo is another story all together, and while it spreads and grows larger to some extent, it is easy to control and stays where you put it. It is a perfect tall screen if you need one, and is beautiful, sounds amazing, and has very positive associations in a zen/yoga community. Not all bamboo is equal, and clumping bamboo is a bigger investment of time, energy and money than the easy to collect running bamboo, but worth the trouble in our opinion.

Some bamboos grow up to 100 feet in three years – a few species can even grow a foot a day in peek growing season! Bamboo is a renewable resource, with shallow roots so it can be planted near a septic etc… It’s considered “lucky”. And it is beautiful with many varieties to suit each selected planting area. David researched bamboo, and as a gardener and scientific sort of guy, became a walking bamboo dictionary. We have gone to two bamboo farms to talk to specialists and see different species, to see, touch, and listen to different varieties before daring to invite it to our beautiful property. From the start, I am concerned with maintenance and keeping up with the demands of any landscaping choice we make because I am the primary gardener who is chief pruner, weeder and decorator. David’s role is more the heavy work, the planting, watering, big pruning, building……

So we went bamboo shopping, each with our own agenda and concerns. We fell in love with the black bamboo, the gigantic bamboo, the golden bamboo and stalks that grow in blue or reddish tints. We’ve had great conversations with bamboo enthusiasts and specialists who share stories of how bamboo saved relations with neighbors, created amazing landscape features and offered them a livelihood. David even talked whimsically about turning our pasture into a bamboo farm as something we could do on the side when we hit our old age… but I talked him out of that. Just not the direction I believe we are made for in this phase of life. Anyway, it’s been a bamboo fest at our house for months – and as always, it is fun to learn something new and be engaged in a new project.

We chose a few species that will grow successfully in our area – the soil and the climate is appropriate for success for these varieties – and we had to forego a few because we are just a few degrees too cold here (black bamboo.). We planted a dozen quick growing tall plants in front of the fence to mask the red house. We planted spreading blue bamboo by the labyrinth to create a privacy wall to deepen meditation practices. We planted gigantic, thick bamboo behind the yoga center to create privacy and because we adore the sound when wind rustles through the bamboo once it is grown. It is like a living wind chime! We have plans for more varieties and starter clumps when we can afford it, and David has plans to start his own cuttings from a friend’s property when the season is right – something he wants to do partially because it will save money, but also because he is enthralled with learning new things and wants to enjoy the experiment factor.

When we visited Ringling last week, we marveled at an intimate sitting space outside the museum that created what felt like a room in a bamboo cave with pathways leading to private benches. They had a few banyan trees too make it even more spectacular, but even so, the bamboo was magnificent.   The shade, the privacy and the beauty of the space was deeply inspirational, and the moment we got home we picked a place to create something similar.

David has worked hard planting our bamboo. He had to dig huge holes that he filled with a mixture of peat, manure, soil and plants. He then ran new irrigation to each bamboo area to assure we nurture our new living wall. He checks the plants every day, tends them, waters them and talks to them. I have to believe our bamboo is happy here.

Now, all we need is patience. In three years, we will have transformed our terrain yet again, changing some of our empty pasture areas into tropical garden rooms that will create spaces rich with opportunity to seek solace and quiet alone in nature. I’m delighted to report that our bamboo has already grown a foot taller in the first month. Not thicker yet – but research has shown us that it will take new shoots for that result.

Life is ever changing, and so is the landscape. It is a joy to be a part of the process, treating our property like a work of living art. One idea always seems to lead to another….. and since it is spring, the creative juices are flowing like wild at Heartwood. I look forward to every stage of the evolution and what we learn along the way.

About Ginny East Shaddock

Director of Heartwood Retreat Center, Ginny is also a writer. This is her personal blog with essay form writing about life and reflection. My entries are often lengthy and random, because I'm not here to promote or sell anything. I'm not expecting followers - just find this format a good place to think with the pen.

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