Sunday, February 10, 2008

the tougher the bamboo, the sweeter the victory!

When we moved into the Small Red House back in July, we quickly learned that there were two types of bamboo. The nice type is called "clumping bamboo", because it grows in neat, orderly clumps, right where you wanted it. And then there's "running bamboo", which sends out tendrils underground that push up new shoots wherever they can. Naturally, that's the kind we inherited all over the yard.

As you can see, the bamboo had conquered the property. One couldn't see the street or the neighbors', and it was no accident that the patch in the picture above became a home for empty liquor bottles and fussing, defecating sparrows. A tenant's desire for privacy is understandable, I'll allow, but the bamboo had taken that inch and grabbed a mile. The Potomac-Anacostia basin may be a swamp, but we'd be damned if we let it remain a jungle.

Among the lessons of the past half-year has come intimate, inexplicable knowledge of the ways of running bamboo and its sworn enemies, the lopping shears and the mattock. Lopping shears can fell and trim, but only the mattock can rend greedy roots from the ground they have colonized.

So vast was the task that I found ways to break it into manageable chunks. First came the clearing of one garden bed in front of the house. (See before and after.) Then came the legitimate distractions: I'd be out with the mattock anyway, breaking clods within the garden frame, and I'd inevitably find myself in the corner of the backyard yanking up long yellow tentacles. The backyard still bears the brown, rutty scars of those battles.

Fast forward to this weekend. With spring on the horizon and a newfound consciousness as gardeners, we have become all too aware of our plot's disadvantageous lay: it slopes northward, it extends east-to-west, with the house shading one side or the other half the day, and the uphill neighbors' house blots out a good chunk of our southern exposure. Perhaps the only thing we can do to improve our latent garden's sunny chances, we realized, was to strip away the 8'-10' walls of bamboo that lined the southern, uphill fence. Somehow, without prior discussion, we tacitly agreed that yesterday was the appointed day. Maybe it was the 60-degree, mosquito-free weather. Maybe it was the homework that faced us inside. Whatever it was, the bamboo had to die.

After a couple hours, I had cleared the front fenceline and went to the back to thin the 20'-30' stalks around the swingset. Maria fetched some shears and trimmers from her folks' and hacked down the clump by the sidewalk (at which I had made a small dent over the preceding months). By sundown, our yard had doubled and our street opened its arms to our view.

My zeal was waning around the swingset, so I contented myself with clearing some holes to let the sun through and to give Khymi some more space to play. (Click here to compare.)

Besides the original bamboo-cum-leaf pile, the backyard now sported two new bamboo piles. One for the shorter ones from the front...

...and one for the giants in back.

(For scale, note that the garden bed is 4' x 8'!)

Anyone know a hungry panda?
Barring that, maybe we'll make some windchimes.

Mind you, we're under no illusions. Unless we pour Roundup (per Annie) or Essig-Essenz (per Jon Singer) down the stems, the roots will send up plenty new shoots in the spring. Perhaps this was the inspiration for the tale of Cadmus and the soldiers who sprang up from the ground. I suppose the modern analogue is the touting of bamboo as "renewable". But what's a renewable resource in one place is a doggone weed elsewhere. Whatever. We'll be ready for 'em!

1 comment:

cian said...

Wow. I'm impressed by your battle with the bamboo.

As for roundup, it's not the best stuff to put in your lawn, but it's also not the worst. It is, as I have been told, the least toxic of the conventional chemicals to put in one's lawn. It's supposedly salt-based, so pick a dry weekend and use sparingly.