February 16, 2008
“All bamboos of one species, the story goes, flower at the same time and then promptly die. You may have been a witness. It certainly happened here, 15 years ago, when our three clumps of the common Fargesia nitida blossomed. Tiny as each flower is, they transform the plant, dying it smoky purple and freighting each culm with tiny dangling wheat-like seeds that arc it almost to the ground. Within six months all three were dead, and gardeners far and near reported the same – with feeling: digging out the remains of clumps five feet across was no joke. Mysteriously, replacements were available. I should of course have asked the nursery how and whence, since obviously not all Fargesias had perished. For reproductive purposes the flowering seems a great waste of effort: the millions of seeds we must have had produced only one seedling, which to this day is barely waist-high. My replacement plants, meanwhile, have flourished, grown, and to my horror, this spring flowered again. 15 years is surely far too short a lifetime for a bamboo.
This time, though, I cut out the flowering shoots just as they reached the low-bowing stage and gave the depleted clumps a feast of food and water. That was in April. To my delight the few remaining shoots have put out new leaves: recovery seems possible. And just in case, I have planted a clump of the near-related (and perhaps even more beautiful) Fargesia murielae.”
That was what I wrote in my diary last July. Things continued to look hopeful until late autumn. Then the new shoots made flower buds, a crop of purple seed appeared, and the stooping culms took on a hangdog look, slowly turning sere. So it was just a swansong, the regrowth that gave us hope. Now it seems there’s no avoiding the big dig to remove the roots. The proper attitude, of course, is to see it as a planting opportunity. But supposing what we want there is bamboo…..