Thursday, July 17, 2003

Getting rid of bamboo

My bamboo is on its way to Burning Man, and good riddance.

Two years ago I knew nothing of bamboo except my husband's tales of the bamboo at his ex-wife's house in Pennsylvania; he claimed it could grow 11 inches in one day.

We'd been househunting for six months when we spotted the clapboard Tudor that is now our home overlooking the Olympics. We loved everything about it--except the backyard, which was overshadowed by a huge hedge of dark green bamboo nearly 30 feet high.

Our first summer in the house we found ourselves avoiding the backyard, which even on hottest days seemed cold and uninviting. In midsummer, the bamboo began to shed ugly dry leaves all over the yard. I called in a bamboo specialist who informed me our bamboo was "the wrong bamboo." Plus it was badly in need of pruning, and it was diseased. He could remove it for $2,000.

$2,000? We decided to let it continue to loom for a while. "I hope it didn't hear you," my husband muttered.

In November, I took drastic action. My favorite concrete contractor, Mike, who had done the driveway at our previous house and poured our neighbors' foundation, was coming to put in a concrete pad for my garden shed project. He agreed to bring in a jackhammer and have his team take out all the bamboo.

"I'll never do that again," he said, after two days of jackhammering and digging. He suggested that I pour Roundup weed killer into the 20-foot-long trench after he'd removed the bamboo. I put my little environmentally correct nose in the air, and declined. Big mistake.

By spring, the bamboo was back with a vengeance. I called several garden services, and they all assured me the only answer was Roundup. "Wait until the sprouts are 6 inches high, clip them, and shoot Roundup down the stems. You'll have to do it for two or three years, but eventually you'll get rid of it," one garden expert told me.

I bought Roundup and rubber gloves, and went to work. Faced with my hostile treatment, the bamboo headed north into my neighbors' yard, tunneling under a concrete pathway and popping up next to their foundation. When their house went up for sale, I took to sneaking over and applying Roundup there, as well. Since I was concerned about pets coming in contact with the treated shoots, I covered all my work with plastic garden pots.

Meanwhile, there was a clump of bamboo in our yard that Mike hadn't removed. The bamboo guru had said it was "good bamboo," in that it was more delicate, and only about 15 feet high. Plus it was contained by concrete retaining walls, preventing it from taking over the yard. Still, it was shedding vigorously, and the leaves were embedding themselves in our cedar decking and piling up unattractively in the garden bed.

I read up on bamboo and discovered that it needs to be pruned--one-third of the stalks removed--annually. I figured ours hadn't been touched for four or five years. The question was how on earth would you get a pruning saw into the thick clump? Eventually I purchased a hori-hori, and went to work on it, sawing the stalks and then tugging and dragging to get them out of the clump. After removing half of the stalks, I was amazed at how attractive the remaining bamboo looked. It waved and rustled in wind.

But now I had a heap of 15-foot bamboo poles drying out in the driveway. I put an ad on CraigsList, offering them for free, and was swamped with takers in minutes. I chose one, and sent an email to everyone else who'd inquired, saying it was spoken for and expressing my surprise at its popularity.

"I'll bet you it's going to Burning Man," one woman wrote back, and, sure enough, she was right. My bamboo turned out to be far trendier than I am.