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Bellingrath’s magical bamboo groves


Bamboo stalks line the path along Mirror Lake.
Timber Bamboo at the Asian Garden.
Timber Bamboo at the Asian Garden.

By Dr. Bill Barrick, Executive Director

Year after year, the plantings of Timber Bamboo in the Gardens continue to generate questions, particularly this time of year when the new shoots appear. Visitors are enthralled by the exotic look of the bamboo groves, particularly the large trunks at the eastern edge of the Asian Garden.

Although we do not have exact records of when this species of bamboo first was planted in the Gardens, we were told by the late Ernest Edgar, nephew of Mrs. Bellingrath,  that Mr. and Mrs. Bellingrath acquired them from an outing to Jungle Gardens on Avery Island in Louisiana in the 1930s. Mr. McIlheney’s estate gardener, A.A. Hunt, an English-trained horticulturist, must have given them plants for the Gardens.

Evidently, the bamboo was not the only thing they acquired from the trip; within weeks, Mr. Bellingrath hired Mr. Hunt away to become his head gardener, for which Mr. McIlheney was none too pleased.

Bamboo sprig
Bamboo shoot near Mirror Lake.

The species of Timber Bamboo we have is Phyllostachys edulis ‘Moso,’ and like the common name implies, it can reach heights of excess of 90 feet, with stems four to five inches in diameter. We have two plantings, at the Asian Garden and a second planting just north of the Bellingrath Home.

Bamboo railings in Japan.

Each spring, new shoots arise from underground rhizomes and these shoots grow rapidly, reaching mature heights in a matter of weeks.  The newly emerged shoots are edible (the species name “edulis” actually means “edible.”) It is indeed a running type of bamboo that spreads easily, but can be managed by simply cutting off the shoots as they emerge.

Within recent years, bamboos have taken on greater importance as a “green” renewable source of wood. Bamboo flooring is dense and quite durable. Laminated beams and paneling are beginning to be produced.

In Asian countries, bamboo is extensively used to create decorative screening and railings for steps. One of the most impressive uses are the elaborate scaffolding used in construction.

And there is nothing like bamboo to add drama to our gardens.  An added benefit is the soothing sound made by the wind blowing through clumps of bamboo.

A bamboo gate in Japan's Adachi Museum.
A bamboo gate in Japan’s Adachi Museum.

This Post Has 3 Comments

  1. Thank You for this and all the Bellingrath Gardens updates!!
    Is the Bamboo for sale? Would like to add some to our landscaping.

  2. It is not for sale (sorry). We recommend that you purchase the variety known as “clumping bamboo,” which you may be able to find at local garden centers or from online landscaping sites. It’s also easy to dig up some bamboo to transplant it if you have a neighbor who is looking to clear out some bamboo. (Our Nursery Manager also cautions that bamboo tends to spread rapidly and can be difficult to eradicate.)

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