The Culm Before The Storm

The exotic garden is certainly not complete without a Bamboo or six. Simon Olpin makes some suggestions.
by Dr Simon Olpin, 124 Dobcroft Road, Eccleshall, Sheffield, UK
Chamaerops No.20, published online 23-07-2002

Above: Trachycarpus fortunei (the Chusan palm), Thamnocalamus tasselata, and Sinarundinaria murielae, together with ferns and cordylines in Simon Olpin’s wonderful garden.
Below: Phyllostachys nigra showing cascading foliage, with Trachycarpus and phormiums.

Looking out of my living room window on a cold and wet February afternoon, my garden still looks surprisingly green and fresh, despite a winter which has delivered us far more than our usual quota of winter gales, lashings of rain, and on one occasion, six inches of snow.

This greeness is largely maintained by a good mix of evergreen trees and shrubs, including, over ten Trachycarpus of various sizes, phormiums, yuccas, cordylines, arbutus and eucalyptus and even a much branched lOft Echium pininana. Although, in all honesty, the latter can hardly be said to offer much green lushness having just scraped through the winter with some direct protection.

However, for me the real heroes of the winter lushness are the bamboos, which, if chosen carefully can provide architectural structure and shelter even to the coolest of British gardens. Indeed, the strategic siting of bamboos around palms and other exotics not only complements and enhances the tropical effect, but actively promotes it by protecting many of these other plants against the ravages of the winter storms. It is true that bamboos do not like direct exposure to strong winds, but within the primary shelter of garden boundaries they can be used to dampen down winds and create a protected microclimate within the garden. Some species are more wind tolerant than others, and while many bamboos will withstand fairly strong moist west and north-westerly winds, it is the cold and drying easterlies that can do most damage. When this does occur however, the new season will see new leaf and culm growth, which will quickly replace the damage.

I live on the edge of the city of Sheffield which is situated in a giant bowl on the south-eastern edge of the Peanines. Several large valleys run down the sides of the bowl producing marked folds in its surface. The actual city centre is only about 300ft above sea level, but quite large areas of suburbia are between 600ft-1000ft. This means that there are considerable climatic variations within the city boundaries, ranging from high exposed moorland to sheltered wooded valley bottoms. My garden is situated at 450ft above sea level on a south easterly facing slope and has only moderate exposure to the north and northwest being about 150ft from the valley bottom.

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