High Strangeness

May 13, 2015 ferns 012


Do you know this plant?

What would you think were you to find this emerging from the Earth sporadically all over your garden?


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This is absolutely one of the strangest things I’ve encountered in this terribly odd Forest Garden we tend.


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There is a bamboo grove at the bottom of the back garden, growing out of the ravine, which sends up new shoots of bamboo each spring.

We try to keep it in its bounds, but that is sort of like keeping an English Setter puppy on its leash at the beach.  If you’ve raised a  hunting dog, you know exactly what such creatures do.


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And this bamboo, in its exuberant spring growth, sent up this massive shoot more than 20 feet from the established stand of bamboo.  Look at its massive girth!  It came up right at the base of a young fig tree, in the midst of a sage plant.  And as if that weren’t enough, there was no sign of this bamboo when I was last tending this bed on Sunday.  This appeared between Sunday afternoon and Wednesday afternoon.

We realize now that the bamboo has sent its roots and runners underneath this entire area in the lower garden.  We found other, smaller, shoots coming up in several places far and wide from our “Bamboo Forest.”  A Japanese friend told us we can eat them, but we still have not.  We remove them, marvel at them, and compost them.

When I removed this one today, I was surprised to notice how large the empty cavities are within the stalk.  These cavities, separated by thin membranes,  contain water.  Bamboo is a most useful plant.  And I am sure in regions where it is regularly harvested and used, it is very desirable.  Our particular variety quickly grows to the height of a tree, more than 40 feet tall, in a few weeks.


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Plants become invasive when they upset the balance of life in an area.  When they grow unchecked, taking over the territory needed by other, weaker plants, then they cause a problem.

Many of us don’t think ahead far enough to realize that the beautiful plant we bring home to our garden may one day take over and become an invasive nuisance.  We often barely even consider the mature size of a plant, let alone what may happen with it decades down the road when its seed and roots have spread far beyond where we originally intended for it to grow.


Our ancient grove of native Mountain Laurel

Our ancient grove of native Mountain Laurel


Many plants, like ivy, take a few years to get established.  Then once they have grown a large system of roots, they suddenly take off, surprising you with their rampant growth.

My day has been spent in the garden today. 


A lovely Azalea, planted long ago, nearly swallowed by the shrubs and trees which grow around it now.

A lovely Azalea, planted long ago, nearly swallowed by the shrubs and trees which grow around it now.


One of my beloved gardening sisters invited me to dig ferns from the steep slope behind her home.  She’s been weeding and tending the slope for long enough now that the ferns have begun to take over.  She has at least six different varieties naturalized, and called me to share in the bounty.

I’ll show you more of that adventure tomorrow, and some of the beautiful ferns she gave me.


One of the ferns growing in my friends' garden.

Two of the ferns growing in my friends’ garden. I dug tiny starts of both of these varieties.


My task, once home, was to clean up the shady bank where I wanted to plant them.  More invasive plants gone wild:  honeysuckle and wild strawberry vines, clumps of grass, unknown yellow flowering weeds, and more had to come out before I tucked the new ferns into moist shady Earth where they may grow and spread.

One man’s weed is another man’s wildflower, so they say.  Gardening is always about making choices about what may grow and what must go!


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Some of the newly planted ferns are visible lower right, dovetailing into the fern garden we’ve been working to establish for the last five years.  The new Rhododendron is just visible top, center. This area is cut with a path.


But whether “desirable” or not, plants serve their purpose in the garden community.

As I was pulling tall “weeds” from around another fern bed today, there was a beautiful painted turtle hiding in their moist shade.  Those weeds were his mid-afternoon shelter.  He probably eats the insects drawn to them, or perhaps some part of the plant itself.  I quietly left off pulling in that area, and moved on elsewhere to leave the turtle in peace.


The Rhododendron I brought home in February has finally bloomed!  Some may find these electric purple flowers highly strange.....

The Rhododendron I brought home in February has finally bloomed! Some may find these electric purple flowers highly strange…..


Our gardens are always full of high strangeness, when we take the time to observe.  We may find an unusual insect, a new bird, or a beautiful flower in bloom.


May 13, 2015 ferns 034~

It is never the same from one day to the next, which is why the garden endlessly fascinates me.



Woodland Gnome 2015


May 13, 2015 ferns 047

About woodlandgnome

Lifelong teacher and gardener.

21 responses to “High Strangeness

  1. There is now a bamboo forest across the road from our house. It wasn’t there at all this time last year. The road is only one lane, and my husband is afraid the bamboo will invade our front yard. So far, so good, though!

    • What a story. A bamboo forest grew up that quickly? Watch the road… you may just see the asphalt buckle and a bamboo shoot appear right through the asphalt some hot summer day! I hope it doesn’t make it to your front yard… Best wishes, WG

  2. I will never forget seeing skyscrapers going up in Shanghai with bamboo used as the scaffolding for the construction workers. Quite the juxtaposition of the modern and ancient world. Yes, we have to be careful with those invasives. I’m having a time getting rid of camouflage plant which somebody gave me with no warning, years ago, that it is nearly impossible to get rid of.

    • What a sight, Barbara! Bamboo is so strong that I’m not surprised it was used in the scaffolding. I’ve always loved things made from bamboo, like shades and informal furniture. I don’t know camouflage plant, and perhaps that is a good thing. The Chameleon plant Eliza mentioned in her comment by its proper name was sitting there, pretty as you please, at the garden center today. It was in the “marginals” part of their water garden section. So innocent and pretty… but I was forwarned !

      • OH NO! That’s it, E.! I’ve got it too. I called it camouflage but i’ts chameleon after checking on google. Oh dear, flame-thrower time? YIKES!!!

        • So it’s really that bad? YIKES! I want no parts of another invasive. Enough hours of my life are spent pulling the wild strawberries, Vinca, Virginia Creeper and honeysuckle vines which creep across every bare inch of the ground here. You and Eliza save me yet again with timely advice! Have you noticed how often the plants sold for water and bog gardens end up as invasive plants?? I did buy some lovely Asclepias incarnata today 🙂

  3. It always surprises me that something as prolific as bamboo can be so expensive to purchase in the first place. We have several different varieties…keeps our digging muscles toned up.

    • See- you get foliage and a workout 😉 Priceless… I am regularly amazed at the high prices on common plants. I just paid $12 for a pot of Asclepias tuberosa… a common weed…. but a lovely addition to my new bog garden 😉

  4. We have bamboo growing in our garden, WG, and it just shots up in front of your eyes. We’ve never been able to get rid of it. Yes, it has had its uses such as bamboo canes but I only wish we had a local Zoo or Wildlife park that had pandas so we could donate it to them, as they eat huge amounts of the stuff every day.

  5. Wow- that bamboo looks like an alien species! I thought it would produce more slender, reedy looking shoots! The ferns are beautiful and I look forward to seeing more pics. I love ferns and was amazed by all the different varieties growing at the park I visited last week. Blessings, Sarah

  6. That bamboo surely looks determined. It always amazes me how the absence of one predator (in the case of bamboo, an Asian underground rat that tunnels under bamboo groves and pulls out new shoots and roots from below) can cause garden plants to become completely unchecked. Best of luck constraining it to a human scale! 🙂
    On a happier note, that Rhododendron is stunning – I love the blooms do you know the cultivar?

    • Thank you, Matt, for the tip about the Asian rats who keep bamboo in check. While we don’t have rats, we are plagued by Voles. Such a shame they eat so many sorts of roots but leave our bamboo roots alone. And we don’t even have a neighborhood Panda to help, either! Our Japanese neighbor offered to help with the sprout control 😉 Our ecosystem is designed with such delicate balance that yes, moving or removing a single species can cause tremendous upset. I wonder, sometimes, why bamboo doesn’t cover the globe by now….
      Our new Rhododendron is ‘Purpureum Elegans’ which is hardy to Zone 4. I haven’t planted it in full sun, only partial, but it is supposed to grow to 5′ tall and wide. I found it at a local nursery last February. The photo on the plant tag showed a much more subdued lavender color to the flowers. I was delighted when it opened to this electric hue 😉

  7. The ups and downs of gardening 😉 That bamboo looks like a monster! Yikes. It’s always something that comes along and we go, ‘uh-oh’! I wish I had a magic wand to eliminate my “annual” bamboo that turned out to be perennial. That and houttuynia are my nemesis!

    • Monster is as monster does…. That poor Sage! So you are fighting the bamboo, too. The Houttuynia looks pretty in Bing images- especially the variegated variety- but something tells me it spreads unmercifully. Hope you’ve enjoyed this beautiful day in the garden too, Eliza 😉 ❤

    • I’ve got it too, Eliza, the wretched houttuynia. How will I ever get rid of the stuff? I even hate the fishy smell as I rip it out of the ground. Curses on the guy who gave it to me without a hint of what I was in for. But here’s the good news: we have germination. The scarlet runner beans have popped out of the ground. Yahoo!

      • H. is horrible, isn’t it? The Vietnamese eat it – bleah! It’s supposed to boost immunity, high antioxidants, etc. I have tried sieving the dirt to extract the roots, but the smallest piece will produce a new plant. It is so entrenched I don’t see how I will ever be rid of it. It is marching across the lawn even where I mow it. My worst plant nightmare. I suppose if the end of the world comes, I’ll be able to eat it! 😉
        Good news about the SRBs…I hope they do well for you.

      • Wonderful news on the beans! It has been warm long enough for summer vegetables to germinate! Loving it 😉

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