Now that’s some big grass: Bamboo comes in many sizes and colors.


The mark of cane, but able

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 not.

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 Buddha’s midriff.

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 a windowsill.

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 water.

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.



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