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From The Asian Reporter, V16, #36 (September 5, 2006), page 15.

There’s nothing to fear

Hardy Bamboos: Taming the Dragon
By Paul Whittaker
Timber Press, 2005
Hardcover, 300 pages, $39.95

By Josephine Bridges

If you like bamboo — especially if you like bamboo but all the rumors have you spooked — this is the book for you. Start opposite the title page: a full-page close-up of bamboo leaves dusted with frost. On the modest title page itself is Chu, "the modern Chinese symbol for bamboo." There’s nothing to fear.

Paul Whittaker comes across like the guy next door with a loopy sense of humor — "After all, if you bought a hamster from a pet shop and it died two years later, would you take it back and demand another one?" — but he knows everything about bamboo. And he loves the stuff. He’s also an engaging writer and a stunningly good photographer and draftsman. Hardy Bamboos appears to be his first book, but you’d never guess that from the quality. Here’s hoping there are many more to follow.

Following a foreword by Roy Lancaster O.B.E, V.M.H., F.I.Hort. — these designations couldn’t possibly be any more impressive to someone who knows what they mean than they are to this neophyte — and an author’s preface, the book is divided into four sections.

The first section is called "Introduction" and it contains four chapters. Accompanied by the author’s sumptuous photographs (one bears the caption, "Bamboo flowers, which fortunately do not appear very often") and drawings, the text introduces the reader to the author and to the vegetation in question, including bamboo’s distribution. Did you know that one species of bamboo is native to North America? The last chapter here, "In at the Deep End," introduces botanical classification and nomenclature.

The first two chapters in the second section, "The Need To Know," cover the structures of bamboo, including such marvels as pachymorph rhizomes, which the author illustrates with a very strange and captivating line drawing. The last chapter in this section, "The Hostile Environment," touches on bamboo’s tolerance for cold, heat, and a variety of soils.

"Nothing but the Plants" is the heart of Hardy Bamboos, and "The Chosen Few" is the heart of this section. Here you will find 140 pages’ worth of description of the hardiness, aspect, height, spread, habit, culms, leaves, and uses of various temperate bamboos. Line drawings accompany all of the entries, and photographs accompany many. Brief chapters on less hardy bamboos and bamboos for specific purposes conclude this section.

The how-to section of this book is titled "Feeling at Home," in keeping with the author’s encouraging approach to a plant that too often intimidates. Purchasing, planting, barriers, containers, propagation, and pests are among the topics covered in the first three chapters. (The chapter on pests and diseases is titled "Beware of the Enemy" and is complemented by a painting of a panda.) "Myths, Legends, and the Four Seasons" is a brief pep talk and musing on the beauty of bamboo throughout the year. To help the avid reader wind down, two appendices, a glossary, and a bibliography follow.

It’s not difficult at all to describe the structure of this book or to note how well written, authoritative, and approachable it is, but to convey the visual opulence of Hardy Bamboos by means of language is challenging indeed. Suffice it to say that if you never read a single word of this book, if you never cultivate even one bamboo plant, if you only turn the pages and look at these pictures, you will be very glad you did.


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