Bamboo, or take’ in Japanese, is
probably one of the most consistently used plant materials in Japanese
gardens; although not in the way you might initially think. Being a
grass, bamboo is terribly fast growing, abundant, and is very
aggressive, impeding all other plant growth in its vicinity. It is
typically not planted in the garden for these reasons, but, due to its
copious nature, structural stability and straightness, it makes for a
fantastic building material, especially for fencing.
There are many types of fence, gaki,
within a Japanese garden, each with their own particular purpose and
ambiance, complimented by the gardener's own style. There is the simple yotsume gaki, a rustic, transparent fence with a simple vertical and lateral arrangement, commonly found in tea gardens. There is the mizu gaki,
a solid barrier to provide security and privacy. But fence that I have
been working on and utilizing in the garden is the simple nanako gaki, or hoop fence.
horticulturalist David Vaughn and Chris O’Bryan assisting with last year’s nanako gaki
is typically used along walkways as a simple barrier and a reminder to stay on
the path. Although it may be simple in
form, there is much work that goes into making it. Unlike in Japan, we here in the U.S. do not
have a bamboo store to purchase materials for a job like this, so you have to
make your own. The material for this
year’s fence came from long-time MBG Spring Plant sale vendor and friend of the
garden Paul Little, of Little Hill Nursery. (Be sure to check him out at our
Paul has a grove of Phyllostachys
virdis growing on this property and was kind enough to let me harvest some
for the project. Ideally, you want a
larger diameter bamboo, 6+”, as it will make flatter and wider pieces, but
smaller bamboo, 2-3”, will work as well.
Harvesting of bamboo is preferably done
dormancy of winter, as the sugars in the plant
have turned into starches,
making the material stronger. You want
to harvest canes that are straight and 2-3 years
old. This ensures that they are mature and
structurally sound and keeps the grove healthy.
By removing older canes, you make room for new canes to grow in their
place, making for straighter canes, ideal for
fence material. Older canes will have a rougher texture
compared to smoothness of new canes and will
have black soot of sorts on it as
well. When cutting the cane, be sure to
cut just above a node as these areas are solid
the whole way through, making a
cap of sorts to deter water from rotting out the
area you just cut.
Once you have your material on the ground,
all stems from the cane and scrub the canes with
soapy water to remove dirt and
grime. Next is to determine the length
of your pieces. I prefer a lower style
fence, so I cut my pieces around 24-30”.
Depending on the size of your bamboo you are using, you should be able
to get several sections out of one cane,
providing the cane is straight. Now comes the splitting of the bamboo
sections you just made. Like I mentioned
before, flatter pieces are better as more round
pieces will snap when you put them in the ground. Use a sharp
hatchet and a hammer to gently pound the hatchet
into the bamboo to make two
even sections. Once started, you should
be able to push the hatchet through the piece
with some force and also hitting
it with the hammer. Continue splitting
until you have made a piece that is flat, 24-30”
long and, ideally, .5-1” wide.
To install, simply push one end into the ground
a depth of about 3” as this will give the fence
more structural stability. Now take the other end, start bowing it,
and push it into the ground X distance away. Be
sure not to work the pieces too fast as this might cause them to
break. The next piece overlaps the last
by whatever distance looks right to you. Repeat
the process until you have completed the fence.
features such as the nanako gaki help
to create an ambiance in your garden, setting the mood for which you
desire. Just remember, work slow and be
patient; good advice for most things in life.
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