Some readers may be
aware – have I mentioned it before? – that my
school days were spent in Yorkshire, England, in
the dim and distant days of the 1970s.
To be honest, I was a bit of a tearaway at school,
my tearing away mainly revolving around the
furtive inhalation of tobacco smoke with my
equally rebellious mates.
I didn’t exactly walk down the corridors with lit
cigarette in hand, but perhaps I might have done
had it not been for one very effective deterrent –
the cane. It was a standard three strokes on each
hand for smoking in school.
The deterrent worked – somehow I never actually
got caned. But the ever-present threat of the cane
was always lurking in the back of my mind.
Parenting skills have came a long way in the last
century, supposedly. Things are far more
“civilized” now, as innocent children are no
longer allowed to be brutalized by authority
figures with sticks.
So how come the offspring of the parents whose
misdemeanors were dealt with by physical means are
now running riot? Is this coincidence? Perhaps
The more modern approach, according to one school
guidebook, is to “increase parental involvement,
suggest one-on-one counseling and talking to
students about why they behaved in the manner in
which they did and what they think should be done
in order to correct that behavior”.
What complete nonsense. These kids walk out of
their little meeting sniggering, having said all
the right things in terms of “acknowledging their
inappropriate behavior” and carry on as they did
before. I can’t say I blame them – it’s exactly
what I would do if I were a teenager today.
In all those years of avoiding corporal
punishment, I never actually thought where the
implement itself actually came from. Canes of all
varieties come from the bamboo tree.
Apart from producing instruments to inflict
physical pain on pre-1990s British boys, the
bamboo has an incredible number of uses. No
gardener would be able to survive without a supply
of bamboo canes to support young saplings, and how
else would a panda survive? I’m no David
Attenborough, but isn’t bamboo all they eat?
And how else would the outside of large Phuket
buildings get repainted without those huge bamboo
poles that are literally tied together? Bamboo,
compared with its relatively low weight, has to be
one of the strongest woods in existence.
Bamboo exists in hundreds of varieties. There are
a few genera (a technical name for a large
family), but ultimately, they are all officially
types of grass. Some have green and yellow
stripes, but most are green or golden colored.
There’s even a low-growing variety called Buddha’s
Belly, with swollen parts between the sections
that resemble – unsurprisingly – a generous
Some of Thailand’s common bamboo varieties tend to
be huge, so in an average-sized garden, the big
ones are probably not a good idea. Even in a large
garden they can be a bit of a pain as they
continually drop leaves. Being near these is like
living autumn every day. But if you have a garden
that big you’d probably pay somebody to pick up
the leaves anyway.
The taller members of the bamboo family can reach
heights of up to 35 meters, but there are a few
smaller types that are a little more sensible.
These are more dainty, and while they have the
same hollow woody stems, they’re much less likely
to try to take over the garden. There’s even a
miniature type you can grow in a pot and perch on
Watering is more important for potted bamboo as it
doesn’t like to dry out, but nor does it like to
be soggy. You also need to be careful of the types
of bamboo that don’t adapt well to hot sun. If in
doubt about its sun tolerance, think back to where
it was in the garden center when you bought it.
They’ll have got it right.
When planting very tall and slender bamboo plants,
they may need to be staked initially – in fact
“guyed” is probably a better term. This will
prevent wind from uprooting them or damaging
newly-formed roots. Tall bamboo plants are best
guyed with a rope tied about half way up, to short
stakes on three or four sides of the plant.
Newly planted bamboo needs frequent and liberal
watering, probably daily in the Phuket climate
initially. Once it has reached the desired size,
it can survive with much less irrigation, but
until then you need to be generous. Lack of
sufficient water, especially during hot or windy
weather, is the leading cause of failure or poor
growth in new bamboo.
Don’t go mad though, as watering newly planted
bamboo for longer than a few minutes can cause
excess leaf drop. Well-established bamboo is
tolerant of flooding, but newly planted specimens
can suffer from too much as well as too little
All it basically needs is a bit of shade,
reasonably rich soil, and plenty of humidity. So
as long as you don’t plant it in sand with no
respite from the sun, it will be content.
You may be unaware of this, but the bamboo does
intermittently produce flowers. These are nothing
special, being rather insignificant and
half-hidden among the foliage. They’re probably
produced out of boredom – how interesting can it
be being a bamboo?
There’s even a species of bamboo that flowers once
every 48 years – in India’s Mizoram state. The
wild bamboo unique to the region blooms in unison
and after fruiting the plants all die. Weird.
The bamboo that I grew up living in fear of is
much less mysterious – it did the job very
effectively. But now that political correctness
has firmly taken hold of British education, the
traditional cane is not required. Maybe somebody
can come up with an alternative “behavior
modification device” that doesn’t involve quiet
little chats. Or perhaps not. Thwack.