The Asian Reporter 19th Annual
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From The Asian Reporter, V16, #50 (December 12, 2006), page 13 & 20.
Exotic plants for the ordinary gardener
By David Crompton
Timber Press, 2006
Hardcover, 306 pages, $39.95
By Josephine Bridges
I have long felt a need for a book that properly covers the growing of bamboos and that is easy to read and suitable for the ordinary gardener wishing to acquire more knowledge," writes Peter Addington, Past President of The Bamboo Society (Great Britain) in his foreword to Ornamental Bamboos. David Crompton, "a nurseryman who has specialized in bamboos for some 20 years," is familiar with "the many joys, wonders, and successes of bamboo gardening, not to mention some of the pitfalls and disasters that can be avoided with a little foreknowledge." He can make you gasp, and he can make you chuckle.
Bamboo, poor thing, is fraught with misunderstanding. From the incorrect supposition until the middle of the 19th century that "all bamboos were of tropical origin and therefore too tender to be grown outdoors in the gardens of Europe and North America" to the people who "still think there is only one type of bamboo," to the author’s own mistaken belief that his enthusiasm for bamboo was "something not shared by others," somebody has been wrong about bamboo at one point or another in just about every way possible.
What plant family is bamboo in? Which two continents have no native species of bamboo? What did Alexander the Great and Marco Polo have to say about bamboo? You’ll find the answers to these and other burning questions in Ornamental Bamboos.
The first six chapters take up less than half of this book, but they are packed with information and gorgeous pictures of these photogenic green neighbors. The questions in the previous paragraph come from "Discovering Bamboo," the first chapter and a virtual spellbinder. A section here on bamboos in Asiatic culture compares and contrasts the role played by bamboo in Chinese and Japanese culture.
"The Bamboo Plant" contains a photograph of culms, and another of leaves of more than a dozen species of bamboo side by side, as well as pictures and discussions of rhizomes, roots, sheaths, flowers, and seedlings. In "The Horticultural Uses of Bamboo" the author addresses everything from bamboo as ground cover to combining bamboo with other plants. His caption for a photo of palms and bananas in combination with bamboo includes the words "riotous assembly." You gotta love a gardener who can go off the deep end like that.
In "Cultivation and Maintenance," the author has fun with bamboo’s notorious tendency toward colonization. A photograph of an "unwanted rhizome … represents just one year’s growth in the moderate climate of southern England!" And why stop with one exclamation point? Two pages later another photo is identified as "Trench warfare!" "Propagation" is a brief, instructive chapter, and "The Utilization of Bamboos" contains a wealth of information on bamboo’s activities related to smuggling silkworm eggs, the first incandescent light bulb, and, more recently, the plant’s use as a building material and source of pulp for paper.
The bulk of this book is devoted to a descriptive list of "the temperate woody bamboos in cultivation in Western gardens …. Most if not all the bamboos described here can be obtained in Europe and the United States with a little perseverance." The entries begin with Arundinaria gigantean, native to North America and found in the United States, albeit well south of the Pacific Northwest. On facing pages in this section are photographs of a bamboo that can "develop an intense red coloration when exposed to strong sunlight," and another specimen "known as the blue bamboo because of its distinctly colored younger culms."
David Crompton is an engaging writer and an admirable photographer, and it’s clear he’s found his inspiration in bamboo. "These beautiful plants," he writes, "imbued with an age-old essence of Far Eastern horticulture, are at last gaining the appreciation they deserve in the gardens of the West.