Xanthe White chats to bamboo

Xanthe White ponders the virtues and failings of bamboo.

Xanthe White ponders the virtues and failings of bamboo.

Landscape designer Xanthe White talks one-on-one with bamboo, a plant of great cultural and economic importance but also a threat to some ecosystems.

Xanthe: The soundscape of a bamboo forest is one of those experiences that can only be captured in reality. The visual scale of giant grass surrounding you is intensified by the sound that engulfs you not just on every side but above as well. Like Alice in Wonderland we are shrunk, with the light shafts flickering through, swaying stems, our perspectives altered.  

Bamboo: Yes humans are used to mowing grass down with cattle and sheep, tractors or motor mowers. We are the queen of the grasses and the strongest of us are very hard to defeat. That makes you feel uncomfortable. Humans like to feel in control of the nature around them, am I not right? 

Xanthe: That is probably true. When you can see something growing as you watch perhaps it makes one feel like life is passing too fast. But also I think we are concerned about the damage to the natural environment. To a delicate ecology that is on the brink in places.

* Xanthe White on the good brown stuff
* Xanthe White's creation explores impermanance 


Bamboo: Yes that's an argument we always hear but humans choose very carefully what gets blamed. Your own occupation of the landscape is seen as a fundamental right. Humans introduced us then they chastise us and want to send us back behind borders, well we won't just curl up and go back to where we came from, we will persist where ever the opportunity allows – as you and your family would in the same situation.

Xanthe: That's a challenging argument. I think though surely as gardeners we should be conscious of the diversity around us and be somehow responsible guardians. Some bamboos clump so they are less invasive others run and are very hard to manage.

Bamboo: See you said it again, "manage". It's all about control. So some bamboos are superior to others? In your wars you call these sorts of ideas genocide!

Xanthe: I'm sorry I wasn't trying to suggest that you should be wiped out just maybe contained to countries where are you are traditionally important…

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Bamboo: It is the same argument. Open the borders, shut the borders. You would like us to block out your neighbours but not run across your lawn. You would like shelter from the wind but want to maintain the views. You say we can live in cities but not in the countryside. I'm not going to change you, I understand this, but nor will you change our nature and it's this strength that will see us survive because in life you just can't keep controlling everything. We will move under fences, into parks, we will occupy what you have left behind. Because you talk about returning us to the places where we belong but you ignore the fact that these forests are disappearing too, that your borders are pushing into the last remnants of wilderness and everywhere there is control. Concrete jungles where even you are not free any more. 

Xanthe: I'm not sure if I should be afraid of you or impressed. I'm finding it hard not to listen to your argument but I also feel compelled to protect the forest that is left here even more. Is it perhaps about choosing sides?

Bamboo: No, not at all. Nature is always in competition, constantly changing, and humans are at the moment driving that competition as they extend their borders. Perhaps you will win against us, perhaps but will you win against yourself? Which is the greater challenge? Your kauri forests are dying but you don't stop building around them or trampling through them. 

Xanthe: You really have given me something to think about. It's true some bamboo is very gentle and slow some very determined and vigorous… perhaps not at all unlike people. 

Bamboo: We have seen dinosaurs come and go and have seen your great civilisations fall. We see time in a different scale like you see us. That is what makes you so afraid.

Xanthe: Yes, I think you are looking at the world differently, I see that after talking to you. I imagined we would discuss philosophy, tradition and ancient arts but this is fascinating. We might need to talk again. 

Bamboo: Anytime. I'm not going away anywhere in a hurry. 

 - NZ Gardener


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