Think About It

My Latest Garden Adventure

by Don Meyer, Ph.D. | August 01, 2009

Gardens are a form of autobiography.
Sydney Eddison

Every year I like to try something new in my flower garden. A few years ago I tried elephant ears. Now I can hardly imagine my garden without them. I love those huge, green leaves with incomparable texture, shape, and shade. They are ideal for all of those perfect places. 

A casual walk through my garden reveals ample evidence of my adventurous spirit. I have a hard time resisting the temptations of those gardening catalogues when they arrive in the middle of winter. Now you know why I have in my garden everything from mint lea to hardy hibiscus and from yellow coreopsis to pink coneflowers. 

When the Spring Garden Catalog arrived this year two different plants caught my eye: bamboo and palm trees. I have always loved those two plants and when I read that I could grow them in Pennsylvania, I couldn't place my order fast enough. 

You can imagine my excitement when my two new plants arrived. The pictures showed huge, mature evidence of years and years of growth. What I received, however, were two little plants barely six (6) inches high. My adventure nevertheless had begun, albeit quite small. 

Bamboo is part of a group of woody perennial evergreen (except for certain temperate species) plants in the true grass family with about 1000 species. You can find them almost everywhere in the world. They are not native to Europe or Antarctica. 

Bamboo is the fastest growing plant on earth. It has been measured surging skyward as fast as 47.6 inches in a 24 hour period and can reach a maximum growth rate exceeding 39 inches in one hour. Unlike trees, all bamboo grows to full height and girth in a single growing season of 3-4 months. It also spreads easily and requires careful attention if it is to be contained in a defined area. 

The uses of bamboo are abundant. Bamboo shoots are edible and are placed in many Asian dishes. When treated, bamboo is extremely durable and is used for constructing scaffolding and even buildings. The list of practical uses seems almost endless. 99% of a panda's diet is bamboo. 

The palm tree family, however, is made up of around 2600 species, most of which are restricted to tropical, subtropical, and warm temperate climates. They are one of the most well-known and extensively cultivated plant families. 

Human use of palms is as old as human civilization itself, starting with the cultivation of the Date Palm by Mesopotamians and other Middle Eastern peoples 5000 years ago or more. Palms are even mentioned more than 30 times in the Bible and at least 22 times in the Quran. 

I love palm trees. I love to sit under them and look up at their flowing, green branches. I love to study their shadows on the sand. I love to take pictures of them. I love to draw them. I love to study different kinds of them. 

And I used to think that palm trees were only for warm climates. Then I saw in my gardening catalogue the picture of a palm tree with snow on it. I couldn't believe my eyes. Yes, the pindo palm tree (a.k.a. the Cold Hardy Palm) has a species that will survive in temperatures that go as low as 10˚F. 

When I read that, I knew I had to have one. So I ordered it. 

I realize bamboo and palms are very different from each other. Bamboo grows quickly while palms grow slowly. Bamboo handles winter better than most palms. Bamboo can spread invasively; palms usually keep to themselves. Yet both can be edible and both are somewhat unusual to this part of the world. 

But now my garden adventure with them has officially begun. I love trying new things. There is an excitement and drama that permeates our souls when we move beyond the "same old same old." 

Think about it.


Dr. Don Meyer is President of 
Valley Forge Christian College, Phoenixville, PA 
Responses can be mailed to president@vfcc.edu
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