From the archive, originally posted by: [ spectre ]
“The mission of the Bamboo Institute is to seek and develop innovative
ways to utilize bamboo’s incredible potential to help solve a wide
range of the problems facing the planet. We are an organization
especially dedicated to improving and promoting bamboo architecture
and design, primarily focused on furthering the development and
utilization of bamboo as a building material.
Committed to the design philosophy of ever doing more with less, the
Institute seeks to devise, develop and deploy inventive designs that
fully utilize the unique properties of bamboo, the strongest and
fastest growing plant on the planet.
Bamboo is ideally suited to tropical architecture. Its abundance in
tropical, subtropical and temperate climates and its rapid growth
cycle makes bamboo the most sustainable natural building resource on
Used as shelter since time immemorial, over one billion people
currently live in bamboo houses. Its incredible strength, coupled with
intelligent design makes it the perfect solution to tomorrow’s housing
contact: once11 [at] gmail [dot] com
Ignacio Platas Oldrino founded the Bamboo Institute in 2004 after two
years of designing and building modern bamboo structures in Costa
Rica. He studied fine arts, industrial and product design in Rome and
New York City (1994 IDSA Merit Award), in 1992 he started the
Lalalandia Entertainment Research Corporation, whose large scale
fountains, omnisensorial environments and pneumatic installations have
been written about in the New York Times and Wall Street Journal, as
well as Domus Magazine .
In the early 90’s, he began composing electronic music and, as Once11,
formed the avante garde recording trio: Multipolyomni and We™ , whose
innovative music and concepts continue to enjoy a growing
international following. (He is about to release his second solo
album>>) In 1999, he moved to Barcelona to focus on making music,
computer games and designing cutting edge music visualization
software: Su-Toolz and co-founded Su-Studio, a video game architecture
practice. He’s latest side project is Replayful.com, an award winning
digital communication agency.
After three years in Spain, he led a team to the Caribbean to design
bamboo prototypes in situ and finally experience the magic of the
Kurt Przybilla is an inventor, educator, writer and self-described
“Positive Futurologist”. He invented Tetra Tops®, the world’s first
spinning top with more than one axis of spin. These award winning toys
have been featured in the New Tork Times, Popular Science, Child and
Discover Magazine, as well as at the Smithsonian’s First Toy Invention
He recently wrote and produced Molecularium™, a National Science
Foundation funded, computer animated musical cartoon for digital dome
theaters. Kurt taught in New York City for over fifteen years. He
lived in Japan for three and a half years where he studied Japanese
archery, flower arrangement, language and poetry.
Growing Bamboos in the Northeastern U.S.
By Paul Schneider
1. Why bamboos in this climate [Zone 4]?” There are several
answers that come to mind as far as “Why?” I’ve already expressed my
growing “love affair” with this plant and it’s garden versatility. Yet
another answer is the challenge to try to work with a plant that
normally doesn’t grow in your gardening area. I think I can safely say
that most gardeners I know are willing to experiment with new plants
particularly if they feel challenged by the opportunity to grow the
plant in question.
2. How can bamboos grow in this climate? To grow bamboos, New
England gardeners must be willing to accept the challenge of working
with a plant that normally doesn’t grow in their climactic zone. And
they must also understand that the taller bamboos will not grow to the
height they would reach in Zones 5 or warmer. In a particularly hard
Zone 4 winter (worst case scenario: a bare ground January, minus 30°F
with wind) most bamboos will act like herbaceous perennials, losing
leaves and stems to ground level. For most Zone 4 gardeners, this
shouldn’t be too much of a shock since this is the norm for most
plants in our area.
The good news is that if you choose your plants carefully for
hardiness, you will find that they tend to have double hardy root
(rhizome) systems. In seven years of experimentation, I have yet to
lose a bamboo completely. To manage this the gardener must consider
two factors of primary importance: site and protection. Proper siting
of a plant can give as much as a whole zone’s worth of protection. For
example, the south side of my house is a warmer environment than the
north side. The evergreen trees along the western border prevent cold
prevailing westerlies from sweeping across the area, making it a micro-
climate perfect for safely growing Zone 5 plants. Locating these areas
on your property will give the bamboos (or any “tender” plant) their
best chance of success.
Protecting your bamboo plants is the second step to consider and
this is where you can get a bit innovative. Here in our garden,
protection starts with plenty of mulch from the time the bamboo is
first installed. For years we have used various combinations of the
following: spent mushroom compost, straw from a brood mare farm,
chopped maple leaves, and pine needles. This heavy mulching makes a
rich organic feeding bed for the bamboo rhizomes and gives them a
friable insulated blanket against the winter cold. The second step of
protection is bending the bamboo canes over so that they can be held
low to the ground and then fixed in that position for the winter.
Green bamboo is very supple. The live stems or “culms” can be grasped
at the base, forced down and held in place with strips of bamboo
pushed into the ground perpendicular to the canes, over the canes and
then into the ground on the other side, creating half hoops of bamboo
to hold the culms down. (Hoops can also be made from stiff wire,
cuttings from other shrubs, etc.) With the culms in this position it
is easy to mulch them with straw or any sort of evergreen boughs.
Don’t mulch so heavily as to block all air flow to the plant or it can
cause rot during the winter. The idea of this mulch is to catch enough
snow to give the plant a perfect blanket of insulation.
Even in a winter like this one, where we have had first heavy
snow cover, then warm temperatures causing melting, then subzero
temperatures, the live stems will remain strong with proper mulching.
There may be some leaf die-back, but ultimately the plants will leaf
out in the spring.
3. Isn’t bamboo terribly invasive? Usually the person asking this
question has heard horror stories about what a problem it can be to
remove bamboo when it has gotten out of control. There is no doubt
that the temperate running bamboos are the ones that do best in a Zone
4 climate. As a result, unless you have unlimited space in which to
grow your bamboo, you need to take precautions to control rhizome
For someone who wants to use bamboo as an accent plant and
contain it in really tight quarters, you could use a method that I
have found to be quite successful. Take a large plastic pot and using
a saber saw (with a very fine toothed blade) remove all of the bottom
except for about one inch. You now have a pot with sides and a one
inch lip in the bottom. Cut two layers of coarse plastic window screen
into circles that will fit into the pot and rest on the bottom lip.
This pot can now be placed into a hole dug at your selected location.
The hole should be deep enough so only the very edge of the pot is
visible. Use a mixture of humus (rich garden soil) and gravely sand as
a basic mix for planting. To this mixture you can add fine pine bark
mulch, compost or composted sawdust, or a mixture thereof to free up
the mix. Plant the bamboo in the center of the pot using normal
potting techniques. Lightly dust pine bark or the mulch of your choice
over the planting so you don’t see the edge of the buried pot.
Depending on the size of the pot, general growing conditions and the
aggressiveness of the species you are growing, a plant can grow under
these conditions for at least three years or more without having to be
removed and split up for repotting. Here in our garden we have
plantings of Phyllostachys aureosulcata, Golden groove bamboo, which
will be celebrating their fourth summer in 40 gallon Rubbermaid
garbage barrels, cut in half and buried to the rim. Last summer’s new
growth was nearly eight feet. Truly a fine accent plant!
Another form of invasiveness control is the use of a buried
barrier. This could be some form of flexible plastic. I have been
experimenting with Vivak, a clear flexible glazing material purchased
in four foot by eight foot sheets, approximately 40 thousandths of an
inch thick. This is cut in half to create two strips, two feet by
eight feet. By overlapping the ends and securing them together with
small screws, you can make long barrier strips which are buried in a
ditch around the bamboo planting. This sort of barrier allows you to
make freeform patches of bamboo or mini-groves that have a more
natural look. A mini-tiller of the Mantis type, is the perfect tool to
dig ditches for barrier material. This barrier method may seem like a
lot of work, but the end result is worth it. If your soil is
particularly sandy, it may be a good idea to go as deep as three feet
with the barrier. When placing the barrier, tip the top edge of the
material away from the planting area. When the rhizome hits the
barrier, it will follow the upward angle of the plastic, thus leading
it out of the barrier where you can trim it off.
4. What about general care? Bamboo is a woody stemmed perennial in
the grass family Poaceae (Gramineae). As such it normally likes a well-
drained soil high in organic matter. Very few temperate bamboos like
to grow with wet feet. In fact with potted bamboos, the most
difficulty I have encountered has been from over-watering or not
having an open enough soil mix to drain properly. Many growers
fertilize three times per year (late winter, early summer, and late
summer) with a high nitrogen fertilizer. I have had success with a
controlled release fertilizer applied twice -a late winter/early
spring application followed by a late summer/early fall follow-up.
Remember that bamboo is a grass and as such needs plenty of nitrogen
for healthy growth. Any fertilizer recommended for lawns will work
well for bamboo, and the application can always be enriched with dried
blood for an extra nitrogen boost. Well-rotted cow manure also works
well. Siting is also important: try to place the taller species in
sunny locations and the shorter species in shadier locations as this
tends to replicate their normal habitat.
5. What species do you recommend for the northern garden? I have
some favorites that seem to prove out each year. Many people are
trying other species and certainly will have their favorites. The
species I’ll list are by no means the only bamboos that will work in
the northern garden.
Of the taller bamboos that do well, Phyllostachys aureosulcata
(golden groove bamboo) and Phyllostachys bissetii (David Bisset
bamboo) are two of the best for winter hardiness. Phyllostachys nuda
is also reputed to be very hardy. Medium sized species that do well
are Arundinaria gigantea (canebrake, the native North American
species) and two Fargesia species, nitida and murielae. Particularly
interesting, these Fargesias are hardy Chinese mountain bamboos that
have a clumping (sympodial) growth habit as opposed to the running
habit of most temperate bamboos. This means that these bamboos do not
have to be grown in a contained area. They are also quite beautiful,
particularly when used as accent plants.
There are many small bamboos that do well in northern gardens.
They are very effective as ground covers, border patches or in hyper-
tufa planters. Though they usually will die back in winter, they
actually seem to benefit from a severe prune back before they start
new spring growth. Remember that these are some of the most invasive
of the hardy bamboos and thus should be carefully contained. My
favorites include Pleioblastus variegatus (dwarf white stripe bamboo),
a beautiful green and white variegated plant; Pleioblastus distichus
(dwarf fernleaf bamboo); and Pleioblastus viridi-striatus with its
chartreuse/golden foliage in the spring. The smaller bamboos seem to
do particularly well in shady locations as they are understory plants
in their native habitat.
For me, raising bamboos in northeast New York has been a challenge and
a real joy. Broadening my plant base, it has taught me not to be
fearful of experimenting with adventurous, vigorous architectural
species. Although it would be foolhardy to plant bamboo anywhere in
your garden scheme, it would be sadder still to miss the grace and
beauty of this most versatile plant by not including it in your garden
122 West Main Street
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