I love to write about my gardening successes, but I think it’s equally important—although much less fun—to write about things that haven’t gone so well.
Since very little grows under the four mature bay trees in our backyard, we decided last December to install two 2x2x4 ft. galvanized steel stock tanks and plant bamboos in them. Click here and here to read about this project.
The goal was to have a lush screen that would hide the fence and our neighbor’s house just beyond it. Now, nine months later, I must admit that this goal has not been reached. I know that we will get there, but it will be a while. In hindsight, I made two critical mistakes: I picked the wrong bamboos, and I underestimated how long it would take to reach the desired look.
This is what the stock tank on the right-hand side looked like last week:
|Stock tank with Pseudosasa japonica ‘Tsutsumiana’ and Sasa megalophylla ‘Densa’ (and assorted potted bamboos that are parked there because it is a convenient spot to put them on drip irrigation)|
Mind you, the bamboo on the left had already been replaced because my original choice, Yushania maculata, died suddenly and mysteriously in early summer. The replacement is a green-onion bamboo (Pseudosasa japonica ‘Tsutsumiana’) I had been nursing. While it is a good bamboo for this spot, it’s small and would take a few years to provide that wow factor.
The bamboo on the right, Sasa megalophylla ‘Densa’, has languished even though it did produce new culms. I’m convinced now that sasas simply don’t like our summer heat—not a surprise considering they hail from northern latitudes in Japan and they’re among the hardiest of all bamboos. My Sasa veitchii has fared even worse (see the last photo below); all its leaves turned brown even though it had received regular water.
|Sasa megalophylla ‘Densa’|
After living with this unsatisfying situation for many months, I finally decided to make a radical change. This was precipitated by the fact that I had to move a large potted Phyllostachys aurea ‘Koi’ to make room for the arborists who recently trimmed our bay trees.
|Phyllostachys aurea ‘Koi’ in its old home under the Chinese pistache|
The Koi had completely filled this pot (18 in. tall and wide) and needed to be moved to a larger container. I was going to tackle that project last weekend when the proverbial light bulb went on in my head. Why not put the Koi in the stock tank?
|Phyllostachys aurea ‘Koi’ in front of the kitchen window after it had to be moved to make room for the arborists to throw bay tree branches over the fence|
And that’s exactly what I ended up doing. Initially, the Koi didn’t want to come out of the red pot, but after I loosened one recalcitrant rhizome with my hori-hori knife, the root-and-rhizome mass slid out quite willingly. I meant to take a photo of it but forgot; the rhizomes looked great, promising nice new growth next spring.
I had already removed the two bamboos from the stock tank and dug a large hole in the center. Plopping the Koi into the stock tank took no time at all, and within a matter of minutes the stock tank had been transformed. Finally it looked like what I had envisioned. I’m very happy with the result, and I think the small, yellowish leaves of the Koi create an atmosphere of elegant airiness in a spot that had been the epitome of dullness.
|Phyllostachys aurea ‘Koi’ in the stock tank|
The green-onion bamboo went into the red pot—and the same space—the Koi had previously occupied. There it can take its time to live up to its true potential.
The Sasa megalophylla ‘Densa’ is near the compost tumbler next to the side of the house until I decide what to ultimately do with it.
As for the 2nd stock tank, it’s not ready for primetime either, as you can see in the photo below.
However, I’m happy with the bamboos that are currently in it: Indocalamus tessellatus and Semiarundinaria yashadake 'Kimmei’. They’re still a few years away from giving me what I want, but I will be patient.
The Pleioblastus gramineus I had originally planted in the 2nd stock tank almost died (also because of high summer heat, I believe) and got moved to another pot where it’s currently trying to figure out whether it wants to live or not. In a sense, this was a valuable learning experience for me: Bamboos from extremely cold zones simply aren’t compatible with our climate, and no amount of wishful thinking will change that.