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PRIVACY AND BLOCKING WITH BAMBOO

Whether it's a shorter hedge or a soaring timber variety, bamboo can make a dandy privacy screen.

It's every homeowners' nightmare -- the modest house next door becomes a two-story, lot-filling monster after an ambitious remodel. Or a three-story apartment suddenly springs up where that little bungalow used to be -- every one of its windows looking down into your backyard.

Quickly now, what do you do? Sell? Remodel? Or plant bamboo?

Hardy temperate bamboo encircles the garden of Janice Nole and her husband, and it's impossible to guess what lies beyond this leafy wall. Their Gig Harbor garden is so private and so quiet that one is unaware there's a busy world beyond. Noel says that the bamboo does not actually block sounds, but the gentle, rustling of the leaves seem to mask many urban squeaks and rattles. It certainly blocks any views of neighboring properties and even helps disguise the conspicuous power pole at the rear of the lot.

Inside this private space, landscape architect, Cynthia Taylor, planted a garden on several levels that includes a "bird nest" of woven branches high in the bamboo for the two children to play in, and a magical "secret" path that snakes through the bamboo canes on its way to a sandbox. Mid-size hardy timber bamboo might as well be giant sequoias, as far as children are concerned.

In nearby Tacoma, landscape architect, Katherine Rhodes, has been living with bamboo since 1986 and thinks it's "fabulous." It screens out everything -- even the two-story apartment behind her -- and it is still growing in a neat, hedge-like row, held in check by a 40 mil polyurethane barrier material that is less than 30 inches wide.

She does almost nothing for the bamboo -- she hardly even waters it.

"I've been carefully planting things for the last 30 years so that the garden would be peaceful and private, and in a few months the privacy was gone. All I could see was the three-story white remodel towering over the garden," she said. What did 12 24-inch boxes cost? "My husband won't need to buy me birthday presents for a very long time," she replied, "but I'm 74 and didn't want to wait another 30 years."

Hardy, temperate bamboos can only be grown from divisions, so they are often hard to find and sometimes expensive.

"Bamboos are really big grasses, and like lawns, they love water and fertilizer," says Phil Davidson, co-owner of Jade Mountain Bamboo Nursery in Tacoma. "Give them both to grow; withhold both to slow them down." They also need the mineral silica, used to make those sturdy canes. If you leave the natural leaf litter as a mulch, the silica will be recycled and the bamboo will have enough. But cart the litter away and you will need to add silica. The leaf litter is actually quite decorative and -- once clumps settle in -- new shoots will burst through it with amazing speed. You'll have a grove in no time.

While few sounds equal a soft warm wind gently carressing bamboo leaves, some of our customers buy bamboo for just one reason: privacy. Why? Many new homes today are built close to each other and thus deny the 'inner space' and privacy we all desire. You don't want a backyard party or dip in the hot tub ruined by curious neighbors peering down on you from their second story window.

Bamboo may your answser. It's quick vertical growth, low maintenance and evergreen features make it much more desirable than planting trees to accomplish the same thing - and it does it far faster than trees. Within three years your privacy screen will be complete! The same privacy screen with trees would take from 10 - 15 years and most trees are not evergreen!