Denver, Colorado, crapped on all 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 gardening. It’s expensive, too, like redoing your bedroom in a kinky gladiator theme: Eventually, the dry cleaning for centurion tunics gets pricey.
Bamboo was my other horticultural sob story in the Mile High City. The few varieties that survive there 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 resembles the dancing waters of the Bellagio.
So, I resigned myself to twelve summers of decorative grasses 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. Everyone said it was gorgeous. I mean, okay, if you scrape off all the nattering tourists, turn down the dull roar of downtown traffic a thousand yards away, and pretend you didn’t just drop $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 found a few patches here and there, looking like an unsuccessful hair plug operation. Japanese sister-city, my ass. If there were any hydrangeas, they hid ’em 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 tiny little pots….
You’ve got to be fucking kidding me.
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 must 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.
Happily, 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 to it every year like a botanical 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 to fondle something gorgeous. I spewed questions.
“I’ll take one of these, too. How much? Well, I can get by on one kidney.”“Look, a water feature. Gimme 60 lily pads and a bullfrog.”
This could work, I needed a tiger for my new jungle. Of course, I had to warn her 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 this offer.
(sigh) Back to the cemetery.
August 6, 2016