Pocket guide to bamboos

by Ted Jordan Meredith

Coler of Pocket Guide to bamboos bookThis extremely readable small guide to the big world of bamboos is a whistle stop tour of 300 species of this grass sub family (there are some 1,400 species, but this is a pocket guide after all!). Beautiful photographs intersperse the text at relevant places, more useful than the colour plates utilised by some other texts, which require much thumbing of pages to find.

In his enthusiastic introduction, the author quickly launches into the wonder and diversity of bamboos, soon disproving my favourite description “the grass that thinks it’s a tree” as he discusses their growth habits in a clear but un-patronising way. Touching on their versatility as a garden or landscaping plant (an emphasis that runs throughout the book), the author explains the necessity for doing both your homework and your groundwork before introducing any bamboo. However, I would have expected more on the phenomenon of gregarious flowering at this point. The topic of Rhizome control is given some prominence here before covering other cultural tips.

Having discussed the dangerous world of bamboo taxonomy (still evolving to catch out the unwary) in his preface, the A-Z section predictably uses the American Bamboo Society convention of nomenclature. This may upset some purists, but is adequate for most readers, myself included. Each genus description gives enough information to help with identification, and useful close-up photographs of relevant detail such as branch formation and culm sheaths. Essential information for the gardener or landscaper on size and hardiness is included in the concise species detail that follows, but I found the information on native growth habit and how the harvested plant material is used in its country of origin fascinating.

Typically, this book finishes with an adequate glossary, worldwide nursery list, suggestions for further reading and a clear index.

If you are looking for a field guide to bamboos, this book is not for you. But as a well written nursery or garden guide (and especially if you have large American-sized pockets!) it gets my vote.  

Reviewed by Steve Burrell, April 2010

Pocket guide to bamboos is published by Timber Press and is widely available.

About the author

portait photograph of ted jordan meredithTed Jordan Meredith has written books on viticulture, enology, wine appreciation, garlic, and bamboo. His Bamboo for Gardens (Timber Press 2001) was awarded the Council on Botanical and Horticultural Libraries Literature Award and The New York Times Editor's Choice for Best Books for Gardening, and his The Complete Book of Garlic: A Guide for Gardeners, Growers, and Serious Cooks (Timber Press 2008) has become the standard reference for garlic enthusiasts. When a housing development suddenly took away his privacy, Ted became interested in bamboo as a beautiful, rapidly growing, evergreen screen. He quickly became captivated by bamboo in all of its aspects and began to grow, research, and write about bamboo. A native of Montana, Ted recalls the daring use of fresh garlic in the family kitchen. In later years, as his interest in cooking grew, Ted enthusiastically incorporated garlic into much of his cuisine but initially regarded garlic as a supermarket commodity with little distinction. It was at a farmer's market that he purchased a few heads of a Rocambole garlic, 'Spanish Roja'. Ted realised then that all garlic was not the same, and he never looked back, voraciously exploring a new-found world of hundreds of cultivars in nearly a dozen different horticultural groups. Ted and his wife garden and grow bamboo at their home in Washington state. In addition to writing and photography, Ted enjoys cooking, gardening, hiking, and music.