A Garden Rhapsody in Bamboo

A Garden Rhapsody in Bamboo
A Garden Rhapsody in Bamboo

Estimated reading time: 7 minutes

Winnie is only really happy when she’s working in her gardens. She’s been building gardens ever since joining me here in the US, trying different plants and different techniques. For this year, she’s outdone herself not only by building her largest garden ever, but in her elaborate use of bamboo for fencing and trellises.

She’s truly built a garden rhapsody in bamboo.

In The Beginning

Winnie grew up in rural Southeastern China rooted in a culture of traditional agriculture. Almost the first thing she did after joining me in Mississippi was to start a small vegetable garden in a plot of bare soil behind my house I euphemistically called a “flower garden.” Hurricane Katrina wiped her first garden out a few weeks later, but Winnie managed to collect a few houseplants over the year of rebuilding. Some of those houseplants even made the move up here to Northern Virginia.

We moved into this house in February 2007, and the first spring here Winnie started her first garden. She quickly discovered a nemesis not previously known either in China or Mississippi – deer. Our house backs up to a county park and watershed conservation area, and is literally loaded with deer. It didn’t take too long for the word to get out among the deer community about fine dining at the Charest resident. Winnie countered with fencing, and her war against nature ensued.

Winnie's First Garden in 2008, with a MK 1 Mod 0 Anti-Deer Defense.
Winnie’s Garden in 2008, with a MK 1 Mod 0 Anti-Deer Defense.

Fast Forward To Now

So, for the past fourteen years Winnie has been expanding her garden plots and defending her territory against local wildlife. Some years she does good, some years – not so good. Last summer was a wipeout, as the local deer decimated her garden. We had no homegrown vegetables at all, which was the first summer this happened since we’d been living in Northern Virginia. Winnie decided that wasn’t going to happen again.

We’d put up four-foot high wire fencing along our backyard area, as means of keeping out the local deer, several years ago. Only to discover that deer could easily jump over it. I suggested to Winnie several times during the years since that we should raise the fencing higher, but she always insisted it was “too much work.” After last summer’s gardening disaster, Winnie announced she wanted to raise the fencing higher.

So, starting in early spring we raised the fencing higher with a four-foot topping of chicken wire fencing added to the existing wire fencing. The fencing looked tacky, but gave us an eight-foot high barrier against the county park, and I was pretty sure the deer couldn’t jump this. We also put fencing on either side of the house, connecting to neighbor’s fencing, to completely enclose our backyard. As this faced the road, we used some rather expensive decorator fencing that actually came out looking fairly nice.

It was also about this time Winnie discovered a source of free bamboo.

Bamboo Construction Projects

Winnie is very resourceful and comes up with some ingenious ideas. She is also very frugal and will not spend money on materials unless she has absolutely no alternative. Being frugal is not a bad thing, but her attempts to square circles to avoid buying materials for building projects can be very frustrating. For me.

During this past winter we discovered a free source of good quality bamboo, and Winnie’s fence-building projects took off. She was very familiar with using bamboo from growing up in China, and her expertise showed. First, she spent about one week building a section of bamboo fencing. Just for practice. Then she really dug in.

Winnie's First Bamboo Fencing Project
Winnie’s First Bamboo Fencing Project

Next, she decided to improve the looks of our anti-deer fencing by adding bamboo toppings. It was a lot of work, but she enjoyed doing this. The results did improve the look of our fencing. A little.

Anti-Deer Fencing with Bamboo Toppers
Anti-Deer Fencing with Bamboo Toppers

But her greatest bamboo engineering project was deer-proofing her front garden. Our house faces south, and between the high profile of our house along with lots of backyard trees our backyard doesn’t get much sun. In past years’ Winnie has had the most success with a garden in front of our house. This is also the garden that deer most like to dine on. So, armed with a nearly unlimited amount of bamboo and free time, along with some fencing wire, Winnie deer-proofed her front garden.

Winnie's Deer-Proofed Front Garden
Winnie’s Deer-Proofed Front Garden

She didn’t want to make the fencing on our front lawn eight-feet tall, so she opted for low fencing with a topper. The top pieces are cleverly designed to stop deer from jumping over the two-foot high fence, and removeable so Winnie can get into her garden. I also added a solar-powered anti-deer light/ultrasonic noisemaker just as a precaution, and because I bought it last year. It didn’t seem to do much to prevent deer-based garden massacres but I had to use it somewhere, so…

Organic Fertilizer

While Winnie was building her fencing, we also tackled another long-standing problem she’s had with our soil. Our soil is heavy red clay and not naturally fertile for anything more than growing grass and weeds. We’ve tried various soil-conditioning techniques in past years including miracle-grow fertilizer and compost sourced from our world-class county dump. She’s had mixed results.

Earlier this past winter, Winnie learned about a local horse boarding stables near our house that gave away free horse manure. It seems the operators just clean out their stables and piled the manure in a field with public access, free for the taking. So, starting in early spring, we hauled a total of three loads of free horse manure using our 5’x8′ utility trailer. Once home, I wheel-barrowed it where ever Winnie told me to. Then she worked the manure into our clay soils.

A Garden Rhapsody

The results seem to speak for themselves. So far this year we’ve been deer-free, and her garden is the absolute best she’s ever built.

A Wall of Climbing Vegetables
A Wall of Climbing Vegetables
Winnie Pointing to a Giant Cucumber
Pointing to a Giant Cucumber
A Zucchini Plant with More Zucchini's Coming In
A Zucchini Plant with More Zucchini’s Coming In
Winnie's Front Garden in Full Bloom
Winnie’s Front Garden in Full Bloom

So Winnie is justifiably proud of this year’s garden. We’ve been getting all of our vegetables from her garden since about May, starting with lettuce and some type of Chinese greens. So far this summer, we’ve enjoyed asparagus, artichoke, lettuce, several types of Chinese greens, several types of beans, zucchini, cucumbers, squash flowers, and now tomatoes. She still has squash (she calls it “pumpkins”) coming in along with American Okra and Chinese Okra, two types of yams, potatoes, and some more beans. She’s also just planted “White Carrots,” another type of Chinese vegetable, which should be ready to harvest this fall.

Along with our home-grown eggs, we’ve been eating pretty healthy this summer.

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