Denver, Colorado, crapped all over my gardening dreams. Plant a blue hydrangea in Denver and it will bloom pink in rebellion like a teenager drinking straight from their father’s scotch bottle. The soil isn’t the right pH, you have to drop some acid around that shrub to get it the color of Kurt Cobain’s eyes. (See what I did there?) We’re talkin’ bag after bag of chemicals each and every spring–you become the Walter White of garden design. It’s expensive, too, like redoing your bedroom in a kinky gladiator theme: eventually, the dry cleaning for centurion tunics will get pricey.
Bamboo was my other horticultural sob story. The few varieties that survive in Colorado only do so with a level of special treatment and attention that would make Gwyneth Paltrow uneasy. You basically have to import a small section of China and freeze it in time in your backyard. You end up sinking more worry and maintenance into that tiny patch of land than your entire house and your water bill begins to resemble the dancing waters of the Bellagio.
So, I resigned myself to twelve summers of decorative grasses in the Mile High City until I unpacked a U-Haul in my first Oregon driveway. After stocking the fridge and getting internet installed, I looked for bamboo and blue hydrangeas, because gardener.
Enter the Portland Japanese Garden, destroyer of credit cards. I thought it would be worth it because everyone said it was gorgeous. I mean, okay, if you scrape off all the nattering tourists, turn down the dull roar of downtown traffic only a couple hundred yards away, and pretend you didn’t just pay $17 for admission and metered parking, it’s gorgeous. The trick is to focus on the landscaping details and ignore the family of five stomping past you, screaming, “Mommy, I saw a fish, I saw a fish!” Also, avoid the gift shop, you don’t need that level of financial self-flagellation on your day off.
I anticipated thick forests of tremendous green bamboo weaving back and forth in the breeze, all Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. Instead, I managed to locate a few patches here and there like an unsuccessful hair plug operation. Japanese sister-city, my ass. If there were any hydrangeas, they must’ve been hidden way in the back because there was nary a blue ball in sight.
I tried a new strategy: garden centers. This was a bad call. Have you ever seen a toddler walk down the cereal aisle for the first time? I lost my frickin’ mind. There were oceans and curtains of hydrangeas, all colors, all kinds. I wanted twenty of each, I was like an alcoholic at Oktoberfest. I imagined myself falling backwards into a gigantic spongy pile of blue hydrangea blossoms all around my house. Then, I turned over the price tag on one of those little pots….
Long story short, I learned you can grow any hydrangea from a cutting. A couple trips to the local cemetery after dark with a hand pruner and I was in business. Just kidding–it was the middle of the day. Being poor as dirt is ironic for a gardener but it motivates one’s inner pirate.
But you can’t just roll up on bamboo with a machete and some rooting powder, you need to pilfer from the rhizomes….
rhizome [rahy-zohm] noun An insidious, stronger-than-steel root that laughs at your puny shovel and tiny arms and turns all pruning efforts into Saw III.
If the garden centers of Portland were an embarrassment of leafy riches, the Bamboo Garden Nursery was like falling down a psychedelic rabbit hole and coming out the other end in China, no acid required. They had over 300 varieties of things I couldn’t afford on 20 acres (they’ve been adding on to it every year like an episode of Hoarders), an overwhelming fact necessitating golf carts and guided tours. Luckily, they stopped the cart whenever I wanted to bound from my seat and up to something gorgeous to fondle it (I never asked the price, I was having a good day) and they tolerated exhaustive picture taking with commentary:
“I’ll take one of these, too. How much? That’s okay, I can get by on one kidney.”“Look, a water feature. Gimme 60 lily pads and a bullfrog.”
His name was Luna and the staff laughed that he was so friendly, he’d gotten into customer’s vehicles before and ridden halfway home with them before they found out. This could work; I needed a tiger for my new jungle. Of course, I had to tell him that said “jungle” would most likely start out as a discount hair plug of three green stalks in the corner of the backyard….
Luna understandably rejected my offer.
August 6, 2016