Bamboo can come in a variety of sizes, habits, makeup and be used for a wide range of purposes. Screening, windbreaks down to dwarf planting interspaced with ornamental grasses. While strictly speaking a Bamboo is a true grass (Poaceae family), we tend to class the ornamental varieties as such and Bamboo as a tree.
Fargesia murielae (Umbrella Bamboo) is one variety that tends to get used for hedging. It is quick to establish itself, bushy habit providing substantial foliage all year round. It can be crossed with another Fargesia (nitida) which fuses the best of both plants. The thick foliage and attractive canes. Usually an X is indicative of a hybrid or when two plants have been crossed. There are large, thickset Fargesia but some can have quite delicate foliage – F. nitida Gansu ‘Shadow Light’ with its purple canes and F. nitida ‘Volcano’ with its red to black. For dense coverage, there is Fargesia robusta too – a reliable variety that is shade tolerant.
Phyllostachys nigra (Black bamboo) will give you dense foliage and ideal for attractive screening but standing alone it can offer architectural benefits to a garden. Startling results can be achieved with its shiny black canes. Phyllostachys humilis, green in appearance, has an upright habit but more compact. It doesn’t grow as tall but often used as hedging/screening.
Fargesia ‘Black Dragon’ is recommended for this reason. It has a tight clump forming habit with interesting black to purple canes which means it’s effective in standing alone.
The smaller varieties like Pleioblastus are more feathery in appearance but no less invasive. They can be a problem as ground cover. This growth is particularly aggressive with neighbouring plants and often underground. Pleioblastus chino ‘Elegantissimo’ is a good choice for a shaded spot but its root system spreads sideways so probably better in a container or where it can spread. These often need protection from the elements and prefer a sheltered aspect. A small, vigorous growing cousin Sasaella masmuneana albostriata can equally be a problem. In the right place, it can spread so quickly. Having said this, the white striped hairy bamboo is clump forming, very attractive, hardy and offers a energy source to beneficial insects so does have some redeeming qualities.
Ornamental grasses like Miscanthus (the Poaceae family) share clear similarities with softer bamboos. Miscanthus offer plumes of white flora through mid summer and foliage interest into winter, while they are easier to look after and less dominating of their space, Pleioblastus viridistriatus can rival this with its variegated foliage. It offers interest all year round adding green striped, golden yellow leaves to its landscape. As long as the space is adequate and side shoots are kept in check, bamboo’s have a lot to offer.