Bamboo Structures for the Garden
I'm not embarrassed about it. I admit that the way my vegetable garden looks is just as important to me as how much food it produces. I keep the rows straight and well-weeded, and the paths are mulched with a thick layer of straw. Plants are arranged so their foliage and fruit can be easily admired.
Fortunately, when it comes to the vegetable garden, there's no need to sacrifice function for aesthetics. Our display gardens here in Burlington, Vermont, have timber-framed raised beds, wide, bark-mulched pathways and bamboo support structures that are both practical and attractive. We use bamboo throughout the gardens for trellises of all kinds. The bamboo is lashed together with natural jute twine. The twine is also used to create a web for vining plants, such as peas and cucumbers. Teepees are easily made with 7' x 3/4" dia. poles. The shorter, more slender 3' x 3/8" stakes are used to support individual plants.
Bamboo is one of the most versatile natural construction materials on earth. Though very lightweight, it has a hard outer shell that repels water and deters rot. In Asia, bamboo is used for building houses, boats, and furniture; for making shoes, cookware, floor mats and baskets; for building garden structures, fencing and gates, and other garden supports both practical and beautiful.
Here in the West, bamboo has long been favored by the nursery industry for supporting small trees because it's strong, inexpensive and flexible enough to withstand high winds. A new garden trend that really appeals to my aesthetic sensibility is the growing Asian influence on garden style. Bamboo screens, trellises and fencing are finding their way into North American gardens from Vancouver to Miami.
In my own garden, I always keep a ready supply of bamboo canes in 6' and 3' lengths. I cut them to size with a little folding saw, and stick them in wherever I need to provide a quick fix: leaning lilies, fruit-laden peppers and eggplants, wind-battered nicotiana and delphiniums, rain-soggy asters and zinnias. A few strategically placed bamboo canes make the plants happier and the garden look better. The bamboo's pale tan canes seem to blend right in with the foliage.
I also use bamboo to create teepees for cherry tomato plants and tomatillos. Once the teepees are in place, you can just weave hemp twine in and around the plants as they grow up, securing them to the canes for support. This technique also helps keep these unruly plants in bounds.
To make my 20-foot-long pea trellis, I use a combination of bamboo canes and twine. (Can you ever have too many peas?) One spring, as I was putting the bamboo canes in place, the wind was blowing pretty hard. As it went across the tops of the canes, it made a humming sound. A musical pea fence!
I hope you'll think about putting some bamboo to work in your garden this season.
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