As house blocks become smaller and garden areas follow suit, many of the things that were taken for granted, such as shade and privacy, become harder to add.
You can build a privacy screen, but this won’t work in cases where a neighbouring two-storey house overlooks a yard or swimming pool.
The logical choice is to plant trees or shrubs to create the desired effect, but even with advanced plants, it can take years to get the screening needed.
You’ll also be faced with a lifetime of pruning to keep the screen dense and, in most cases, will have plants that take up too much garden space.
The solution is simple.
Plant clumping or ‘escape-proof’ bamboo.
Bamboo is a grass, albeit a very big grass, and like lawn grasses, there are two groups, clumping and running.
Clumping bamboos develop side shoots, or culms, close to the heart of the original plant. They have shallow roots and shoot back over themselves as they age, keeping the clump dense.
Propagation is hard and involves taking divisions from the central clump. It is these characteristics that give it the name ‘escape-proof’ bamboo.
Running varieties of bamboo send out underground stems, or runners, from which culms pop up.
These can run under fences, paths and driveways, and the culms can punch through asphalt, dislodge pavers and even damage thin concrete.
Running varieties regrow quickly from even a small root section.
It is the aggressive and invasive behaviour of this group of bamboos that has given all bamboos a bad name.
Screen or hedge?
These are often used interchangeably, but they are actually quite different.
This generally uses the same species or variety of plants that have been selected for their density, ability to grow together and pruning tolerance.
Most hedging varieties are kept well pruned and provide a very dense, if not complete, screen.
They are ideal for situations that require a high level of privacy.
This uses the same species or a mix of similar varieties that will interweave as they grow, providing partial screening that still lets in light and allows views through.
It is best used to soften a harsh view or to filter western sun.
There are a couple of points to consider when buying potted clumping bamboo.
The first is cost. For a range of reasons, it can be much more expensive than other shrubs in comparable pot sizes.
A murraya for hedging in a 20cm pot will cost less than $20, while a clumping bamboo in the same pot size will likely cost from $30 to $40.
The biggest difference is that in five years, the murraya will just be thickening into a 1-1.5m hedge while the bamboo will be well established at its maximum height and density.
The other consideration is that clumping bamboos don’t look good in pots.
Being vigorous, they get hungry and thirsty, so the stock in nurseries may look spindly and sparse.
But don’t be put off. Once in the ground, they will send out shoots in just a month.