Friday, February 7, 2014

To bamboo, or not to bamboo – that is the question…

As I’ve been thinking over how I want to use, and plant, the newly open space in our back garden there was one thing I was sure of. No more bamboo in stock-tanks! Over the years I’d come to feel they weren't the best solution for our need for privacy along the back fence. That I’d jumped at the fastest answer instead of thinking long-term, and at times I regretted having done it.

Why? As the neighbors laurel re-grew (it had been cut back hard in order to build a fence) it reached east towards the sun, out and over our patio. This caused the bamboo to grow out at an angle as well. We trimmed several of the larger laurel branches last summer, which helped, but it’s still an issue. Plus during our (usually) dry summers the bamboo needs water, a lot of it. I bought a short hose extension last summer which makes it a little easier to get the hose out there and let it run (as opposed to standing as close as I could with the spray nozzle aimed in that direction watching about 70% of the water actually make it into the tank). Ultimately the bamboo looks stressed an unhappy more often than I would like…which is why I had decided, no more! Nevertheless standing on the patio looking at the back of the neighbors intimidating two-tone garage my first notion was “we need another long stock-tank and more bamboo…”

So, talk some sense into me! What do you think? Here are some more random thoughts on the matter…

Pros:
  • continuing the tanks and bamboo will create consistency between the area next to the patio and the “new” area to the north.
  • tall bamboo will provide an almost instant block for the part of the new view I find the most troublesome.


Cons:
  • maybe it’s good to have the “status quo” stop with the patio pavers?
  • continuing a planting scheme I’ve admitted to, at times, regretting.
  • we’ve already got 11 stock-tanks…and I’m planning to add least one more for a full-sun water garden (tadpoles!), how many is too many?


I've also considered getting another of the shorter tanks, like below, and putting in something else (thus continuing the tank-theme, but not the bamboo-theme). However that wouldn’t necessarily help with the garage view would it?

Oh and are you surprised I haven’t mentioned the snow? What about the crazy wind blowing the bamboo almost horizontal at times? It had just started falling when I took these pictures at about 1:30 on Thursday afternoon. At 19F the wind-chill had it down to a “feels like” temperature of 3F. Bitter cold and the snow was just getting started, by 5:30 several inches had fallen. Another storm is due through here tomorrow. Fun times ahead!

So back to the question…to bamboo or not to bamboo. What say you?

All material © 2009-2014 by Loree Bohl for danger garden. Unauthorized reproduction prohibited and just plain rude.

68 comments:

  1. Well, I vote No on bamboo. I know it's hard to resist the temptation of quick coverage. I would try to find something else that grows fast, a small tree or shrub. I know Andrew has nixed Eucalyptus, but what about an Empress tree? I put a Ceanothus in my gravel garden for a screen, and it has grown very quickly on little water, plus it's evergreen. How sunny is this spot? Another possibility is perennials that get big quickly. My artichokes and cardoons get huge, and grow back quickly after dying back. They're already about a foot tall, although hard to say how they'll look after this cold snap and snow.

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    1. Empress tree is an interesting idea Alison, I do love those big leaves. I'm jealous that your ceanothus experience is that they've grown fast - mine is the opposite! Very sunny, up until late afternoon, and then once things are tall they should get another bit in the evening...

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  2. I must admit I was distracted by the snow. I love snow--but only a distance, not at my house--and yours looked so good.

    I can see why you're torn. I face the same issues with bamboo, except our water situation is even more dire. You don't want your back yard to turn into a tank farm, but I'd do almost anything not to see that two-tone garage. I don't think there's anything that will give you a tall screen as quickly as bamboo. I'd pick one with small leaves, like Phyllostachys nigra 'Henon'. It looks awesome and is hardy to -5°F.

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    1. You should see it now! Storm #3 is dropping big fat flakes. We've got 8"+ thus far.

      A "tank farm"...good description!

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  3. Although I think bamboo definitely works in your garden, I don't know if I'd feel it necessary to add more. I meant to tell you a while ago...I think YOU need one of those shade-sails in that corner...it would look awesome in your garden (I honestly think one would overwhelm my small space). Then you're free to plant whatever you want without having to chose just for privacy...just my 2 cents.

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    1. Scott I would love on of those sails, but #1 it's not in our budget and #2 after the insane wind we've experienced the last few days I think I'd be afraid to install something that could become a liability. On Thursday (before the snow fell) I was out and about around town and it really drove home just how much worse the wind is up here in my part of NE Portland. Sure there was wind all over town but nothing like the gusts in my neighborhood.

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  4. So many good options, and you're so good at seizing them. I do love Bamboo, and there are so many to choose from. I love the color, the sound, the movement. And the birdies love it too. I guess I'm voting yes on Bamboo, unless you come up with some other fabulous idea--which I will immediately endorse as well.

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    1. I like your flexibility and support...although if I suggested planting tree of heaven I bet you'd quickly slap me upside the head?

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  5. Too bad you can't move the existing tanks to the right temporarily, at least until your new plantings get established. They don't seem to be needed for screening at their current location anymore.

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    1. You'd be surprised, the laurel leaves a gap which the bamboo nicely hides. Since we spend so much time sitting on the patio during the summer I'd be hesitant to lose it.

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  6. sandy lawrenceFebruary 07, 2014

    I like the shade-sail idea of Scott. But, if you decide to go with the bamboo for quick green coverage, what about moving the tanks you already have to cover the schizo garage for an instant fix until you decide what you want to do? It appears from your photos that you no longer need them where they are due to the neighbor's greenery growing back. Or is that just a trick of the eye?

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    1. It is a trick of the eye Sandy, but even if it weren't moving those tanks would require machinery (and money) that we don't have.

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  7. what about Mexican Weeping Bamboo? It might not be quite hardy enough for Portland, but it doesn't need as much water as regular bamboo. And it's supposed to be non-aggressive so you could free it from the stock tanks if you wanted to. I haven't tried it yet myself but I'm planning on trying it.

    http://www.smgrowers.com/products/plants/plantdisplay.asp?plant_id=222

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    1. Oh Amy I wish I could! I love that bamboo, it is just gorgeous! But you're right, not hardy enough for Portland. SMG lists it as hardy to 20/25, with this winters temperatures it would be toast several times over.

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  8. If it were my yard, I think I would plant a few narrow trees or shrubs in the ground. Not sure about the best options here (still new to the area), but ceanothus sounds lovely. Although the garage is bothersome to look at for now, I wouldn't be in such a hurry to cover it up--it's not like it's a window looking in to your space (like poor Scott's) or something really ugly. I think too many stock tanks makes a garden look more like a cattle ranch. Would it make sense to paint them?

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    1. Thank you for the encouragement to look at the long haul, and you're right about the window. As for painting the tanks Andrew, my husband, likes to say that I've never met a shiny silver object that I don't love. So painting isn't really an option for me, I like the metal look. And really, I know it sounds impossible, but when you're here they blend...

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  9. Maybe you could ask the neighbors (nicely) if you can paint the back of their shared garage (at your expense), since they never see it. Also, more bamboo would probably look monotonous. I recommend more variation, even if something other than bamboo might take longer to fill in.

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    1. I really should ask, as that would alleviate a lot of my problem relatively cheaply and fast. All they can say is no right?

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  10. If you could move the existing tanks over that would help give new plants time to fill in.

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    1. At hundreds of pounds each on soil (as opposed to a solid surface) that just doesn't seem remotely possible.

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  11. Salix matsudana tortuosa "golden curls"! Golden corkscrew willow, they grow really fast. Need water but you will have the hose out there for the bamboos anyway....

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    1. Pretty! I do love the look. I've got a Maytenus boaria 'Green Showers' that looks similar(ish), a gift from Sean Hogan. It's small but hopefully will be a fast grower once in the ground. I know it's going in this area somwhere, I just haven't decided where yet!

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  12. I'm kind of agreeing with Scott's shade-sail idea, although I also think it looks like the "leaning" due to the laurel regrowth wouldn't be a problem in the new area because it looks like there are no laurels growing there. Gerhard's suggestion of the smaller leaf bamboo might work if you just don't like the bamboo you've chosen. I personally like the tanks and bamboo, shade-sails could help but the wind might wreak havoc on it/them. Is there a way you could run a soaker hose to help with the water problem? Sorry...more questions than suggestions I fear! Look forward to seeing what you guys decide.

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    1. The wind is definitely an issue for me...and no problem about the questions. They send me thinking!

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  13. I like the shade-sail idea too as temporary screening, and agree that more bamboo would work well aesthetically as would moving the existing stock tanks. I'd be reluctant to do more stock tanks, however, even for consistency, because you can just plant right in the ground as long as you don't plant something too aggressive & like you mention you have many already. I would consider ways you can temporarily screen the neighbor's garage without compromising your planting space too much (build an awesome trellis and grow a kiwi or something?) & gather inspiration from things like the plant screen that lines the driveway at Cistus, or what Lilyvilla has done to create privacy in her space for the long term. That way you won't ever feel like you settled for something less than what you really want. We rarely get to think about large plants in our small city gardens, so it's a great opportunity. Think of the: Tetrapanax! Bananas! Strawberry trees! Hardy palms! Manzanita! Twisty baby locust! Ceonothus! (your mileage may vary)

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    1. A trellis is really something I need to think more about and lordy how fabulous a grove of tall tetrapanax would be! (I wonder if I would lie awake at night in fear of them pushing up the patio pavers in their desire to take over the world?)

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  14. Your blog is very interesting. And although in Poland do not grow plants you write about reading and watching everything with pleasure. Interesting garden ideas.

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  15. It looks like you don't really need the bamboo screen where it is, and the neighbor's hedge provides the defacto screening you want, so the stock tanks could (not so simply) be moved. Might you also consider removing these bamboo from the tanks and planting them in the ground for screening? It may require rhizome barrier to keep them from spreading, but they grow taller and need much less irrigation when planted in the ground. Here in the Bay Area we have so many more non-cold hardy narrow growing/fast evergreens to choose for narrow screens, of which few take your extreme winter zone 6b/7a lows of this winter. Perhaps a tall structure of wire mesh framed with wood or metal, and evergreen vines such as Clematis armandii, Trachelospermum jasminoides, Bignonia capreolata or such. Tall evergreens such as Rhamnus alaternus or Azara microphylla, Mahonia lomariifolia or Podocarpus macrophylla could go into the vacated cattle troughs for more instant height.

    Re: thirsty bamboos, it may be time to think about adding a battery operated valve with drip lines for the extra thirsty things, it makes life so much easier as well as allowing for deeper irrigation than hand watering. I've often planted permanent plantings in cattle troughs with open cutouts at the bottom to allow things to root into the ground, greatly reducing the need for regular irrigation long term.

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    1. When we planted up the tanks we weren't careful with out choice of bamboo so I don't really know if I would ever trust them in the ground. Judging by their ability to run to the edge of the tanks letting them free in the ground (even with a barrier) could be a huge issue. I appreciate the wire mesh concept...going have to think on that one a bit.

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  16. I like bamboo and as I live in a quite wet area it does very well in my climate.

    Why can't you plant it in the ground with a decent root barrier to stop it wandering? That would help reduce the frequency of the watering.

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    1. You're right of course, but for some reason I just can't wrap my head around planting bamboo in the ground. If I was to ditch the idea of another tank and plant in the ground then I think I'd have to go with something else. I have no idea why!

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  17. We love bamboos as you've noticed when you visited but we'd suggest use something else and not bamboo this time. Also you'll be sweeping your patio a lot less often by not using bamboos...

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    1. Ha! Just yesterday I was picking dried bamboo leaves out of some of the plants in the basement and remembered what a mess they can make. Good point!

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  18. I don't know about the bamboo, but what about one stock tank (for continuity) in front of a larger and more substantial raised bed. Or dwarf-er bamboo in a pot--again, for continuity.

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    1. I am a fan of continuity, what do you think of the shorter tank I shared an image of above?

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  19. I also like the idea of moving the stock tanks over because it looks like the laurel is now doing the job. If you want to keep them where they are, what about planting some bamboo (gasp) in the ground right against the fence with a barrier, of course and having the bamboo itself be the unifying element and the stock tanks stopping with he patio? Or how about doing a pattern with the stock tanks long, round, long, round...dashes and dots, morse code? Bamboo being tall and greenish in the long tanks could be punctuated by something with really cool with purple or nearly black leaves. I know that your favorite is kale but I was thinking of something different like a nearly black corydalis or phormium. You know, because those will never let you down in a cold winter!

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    1. Alan (INWIG, below) estimated it would take about 10 people around the tanks who could each lift 50lbs to move them. Are you up for the job? (hehehe). What a nightmare to even think of trying.

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  20. If stock tank is the only option for bamboo, then I say no, don't add more. It's so difficult to keep containerized bamboo happy when the weather is hot and dry, unless you have an automated watering system. So, what about installing bamboo rhizome barrier and planting in the ground? Or better yet, since you're obviously a hands-on gardener, just use a mulch-filled trench as a barrier and rhizome prune every year. If nothing will convince you that these methods are safe, then I'd say give up on the taller running bamboo, but take a look at Fargesia robusta -- a clumper. It won't get tall as quickly, and I'm not sure how it will do in your climate, but an option. If you'll just never be comfortable with the idea of bamboo in-ground, then I say forget about bamboo and move on.

    That being said, it might be nice to move one of the current stock-tank bamboos over -- no point in having both crammed together now, right? I wonder how many Flingers it would take to lift one of those? Hmmm...

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    1. I wish you were my neighbor and I could hire to you to be my bamboo guy. It would look so much better than it does now I'm sure. That link you sent me (http://www.bamboogarden.com/Fargesia%20robusta.html) has some gorgeous shots.

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  21. I thought my idea was original until reading comments by beatgrl and sandy l. The whole point of planters and pots is being able to move them around (though moving those big stock tanks might be a heavy duty undertaking). Wouldn't solve the watering problem, but the bamboo would no longer be in competition with the laurel.

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    1. Ricki the mere thought of undertaking the moving of those containers is causing chiropractors all around town to contemplate expensive vacations.

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  22. I think the bamboo works quite nicely in your garden, and you know me -- you can never have too many stock tanks. But to me the key part of your concern is the watering. Knowing that, I'd vote no on adding more bamboo in a stock tank and suggest planting a screen of tall, well-adapted shrubs instead. Or even replace all the containerized bamboo by putting up a trio free-standing screening panels of some kind; I'm sure you and Andrew would come up with a cool design.

    I wouldn't dare put a running bamboo in the ground, even with a rhizome barrier. But I do have a few clumping varieties in my own hot, dry garden, and they do pretty well with a once-a-week watering (being in the ground helps keep them from drying out). My best performer is 'Alphonse Karr', which gets quite tall and bushy, although pruning helps keep it more upright. I've tried the Mexican weeping bamboo twice, and may have just lost my beautiful, established clump in this year's hard freezes (sob!). Although it is one of the most drought-tolerant bamboos, I think you'll have the same problem with keeping it alive over the long haul, since it would be most unhappy in your current weather conditions. Go with 'Alphonse Karr', though, and you should be golden. Or screening panels. Or shrubs. :-)

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    1. 'Alphonse Karr'...golden...you're good Pam! That looks to be a beautiful bamboo, thank you for the suggestion. And I am so sorry you've lost your weeping bamboo!!!

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  23. We have had success growing Azara microphylla to screen our view of neighbouring town-houses. Took a couple years to establish and has now reached ~18-20 feet. It is easily pruned, delightfully fragrant in the spring, and has a soft look to it's shape. Handles sun and shade with aplomb and is not thirsty. Really love this shrub!

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    1. I love that shrub as well, in fact I've recently bought 2! I plan to plant them somewhere in this newly open area but hadn't considered them for the screening job. Thank you for the suggestion!

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  24. It seems as though you need to find a short-term solution that allows you to achieve peace with the neighbor's odd garage paint job while giving you time to find a screening solution you'll love (as opposed to one like the bamboo/stock tank idea which it appears you find acceptable but not exciting).

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  25. I would say no to the bamboo. It's just a troublesome plant. There are so many beautiful trees or shrubs you could plant to block that two toned garage, why don't you try one of your favorites?

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  26. What about planting a Photinia "Red Robin"? It's a hardy broad-leaved evergreen that grows quickly, has bright red leaves in spring and can be pruned heavily if needed. I hate them as hedges, but perhaps as a specimen?

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    1. But wouldn't all my plant nerd friends laugh at me? (I kid) There used to be a row of them next to our driveway, blocking our neighbor to the south. I missed them when he cut them all down. I'll look into it, thank you!

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  27. I would be sorely tempted to sneak over the fence and paint the grey side to match.;-) They probably can't even see it. Well, you know I'm a big bamboo fan, I don't know the expense of the concrete barriers in the ground.... That golden bamboo at the Chinese garden is really tempting. I have to say that what I imagine is a long tall structure to match your other one with an opaque back toward the fence and a deck to use for socializing with chairs or else a garden shed or plant display area.

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    1. Actually Hannah I am seriously thinking about it! Not sneaking but asking, and the "red" side would be the one to go - I find the grey a much nicer shade to blend with my orange habit. Uhm...another structure! I hadn't considered that. Way to think outside the box!

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  28. This has been my problem as well. I have been planting evergreens between the plastic pots of bamboo. And replacing plastic pots for stock tanks. It's seems to be taking forever. I would love just to pull out all the pots of bamboo, Philip won't let me, he fears the back neighbors will put up TARP again …ugh.

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    1. I've noticed more stock tanks in your blog photos lately, they look fabulous!

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  29. Earlier, I suggested a Photinia, but another idea might be to erect a large trellis with vines on it. That wouldn't take up much of your garden space and would certainly hide that shed! Maybe something like an evergreen clematis?

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    1. Indeed this is a possibility. I go love the opportunity to grow a vine and don't have enough of them!

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  30. Bamboo is one of the best hedge materials for narrow urban lots like yours where there is often an urgent need for more privacy. As a screen, it needs less maintenance then most, with very little shearing, shaping or topping. No other plant can grow as fast in terms of density and vertical height which is important in neighborhoods with large adjacent buildings. Best of all is how the leaves act like a deciduous tree's, rustling and moving in the wind but it is evergreen if you pick the right cultivar for your climate. Here in Massachusetts, Zone 5-6, I design with Phyllostachys bissetii/David Bisset Bamboo. If you have the space and need something really tall and live in Zones 6 or warmer, the timber bamboo, Phyllostachys Vivax is incredible. Bamboo are too vigorous to grow well in containers, even ones as large as your watering troughs. I would recommend planting your bamboo at grade with a barrie which will allow the roots to get more nutrients and water from the ground. This will give you healthier, denser plants and cut down on the need for watering. The barrier you use could be your troughs, with the bottoms cut off, sunk into the ground or you could use a 40 Mill black plastic root barrier set 2.5-3' below grade. Yes, a lot of trenching but worth it if you are thinking long term. Americover online is a great source for roles of rootbarrier.

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    1. Thank you Jonathan! The bamboo we have has been in the containers for about 8 years. Do you predict a gradual decline where it will look even worse than it does now?

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  31. Why are you planting into stock tanks and not directly in the ground? Aren't there clumping bamboo that are hardy in your zone?

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    1. Yes there are, but in 2006 when we did this I really wanted the containers, loved them and still do.

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    2. I think I would just plant clumping bamboos directly in the ground to conceal the crazy two tone garage. I think it will look find next to the ones in stock tanks. Of course you do have lots of new space where maybe you could try some other plant that you have always wanted but didn't have space for.

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  32. I'd paint the fence below the two-tone garage to match the garage, except with the colors reversed--the part of the fence below the grey part of the garage painted red, and the part of the fence below the red part of the garage painted grey. It's my weird sense of humor I guess but that garage is simply hilarious.

    What about just moving the stock tanks of bamboo over to the two-tone garage area? Then you've got that neighboring laurel for a screen and the bamboo to screen the two-tone?

    My experience has been that getting screens right takes at least three attempts. At least I'm on my third one...at least that garage hasn't dropped a 30 foot branch into your yard...

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    1. From what I've seen of your home and garden your taste seems to be much better than your sense of humor would indicate! And you're right...no 30ft branch from the garage. We did get a 10ft one from one of the Fir trees though.

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  33. Moving those stock tanks isn't that difficult if you leverage them via cylindrical pipe underneath, the same technique used to move entire buildings detached from their foundations. Using plastic rhizome barriers trenched into the ground and set with their lip 4 inches above the ground really does work, but you still have to inspect at least 2x a year and cut off any rhizomes that try to jump the barrier. It does make a huge difference in drought tolerance getting bamboointo the ground. Another screening alternative that could relate to all those galvanized steel stock tanks could be to build a fence with overlapped corrugated sheet metal siding; if set vertically on their 8' dimension, they'd block that garage view almost entirely, and provide a clean contrasting backdrop to whatever you decide to plant. There are also plenty of hardy clumping bamboos to select from, pity the Mexican Weeping Bamboo isn't hardy for you.

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    1. I really like your corrugated sheet metal set on end idea...uhm....

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  34. Or if budget isn't tight, corten steel panels look gorgeous as fencing,but at $300 per 4 x 8 panel, not cheap.

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