Gardening: Learn how to grow bamboo at Texas Bamboo Festival


Bamboo isn’t just for the pandas.

Plenty of folks, such as Austin resident Carole Meckes, enjoy these distinctive plants, for landscaping, creating crafts or other purposes.

Meckes, president of the Texas Bamboo Society, which meets in Austin, first became enamored with bamboo when she bought her home in the University Hills neighborhood in 1991. The yard had a lot of bamboo growing, and “I loved it immediately,” says Meckes, 68, an assistant manager at a hospital gift shop. “I just started learning about bamboo.” Later, she bought an adjacent property that was covered with bamboo.

“It was a jungle,” she says, filled with one species, golden bamboo. Now her two lots have about 18 species. She loves working outdoors with the bamboo, and she owns an assortment of handsaws to cut them.

“I just love breathing the air in here. I just like being outside working with it. … Now I spend most of my time grooming the bamboo,” she says. “I’m going to stay young with bamboo.”

Meckes will be among those celebrating the many wonders and benefits of bamboo at the 24th annual Texas Bamboo Festival, Saturday and Sunday, at Zilker Botanical Garden. The festival features plants and bamboo items for sale, as well as talks by experts on topics such as “Bamboo Maintenance.” As well, an exhibit will honor the life of bamboo sculptor Cal Hashimoto.

Some vendors will be selling items such as bamboo arrangements, baskets, chimes and noninvasive clumping plants, among other things.

The festival usually draws in 300 to 500 people, with some people simply stumbling upon the event as they visit Zilker garden, Meckes says.

The festival nearly coincides with the annual World Bamboo Day, on Sept. 18, which “is a day of celebration to increase the awareness of bamboo globally,” according to worldbamboo.net.

Bamboo is defined as “any of a number of semitropical or tropical grasses … often resembling trees, with perennial, jointed stems that are woody, hard, springy and often hollow,” according to Webster’s New World College Dictionary. It’s stems are used in construction and furniture, as well as canes. The young shoots of some species can be eaten.

The Texas Bamboo Society, bamboocentral.net, started in 1991 and currently has about 40 members, Meckes says.

Bill Cornelius, the society’s vice president and secretary, says he has been fascinated by bamboo since he was a little kid and a nearby yard had “basically a bamboo forest.” That interest turned into “a lingering fascination, well into adulthood,” says Cornelius, 71, of Round Rock. He joined the society in 2012 and grows lots of bamboo in containers. Among the reasons he likes it is because “bamboo is beautiful,” he says. Also, “There’s all kinds of uses for it,” he says. “People do a variety of crafty things.” Those attending the festival for the first time might be in for a surprise, Cornelius says. “It can start you off on an education to learn more about bamboo.”

Meckes says she knows bamboo has a “bad reputation,” which she likes to dispel. “It spreads, and people don’t like it because they have to work at controlling it,” she says. “I like to tell people that bamboo is a grass, and so is your lawn … They should think of bamboo as a grass that needs care. … Instead of hating your environment, go for it. Other cultures depend on it for their livelihood, food.”

(She wants to let others know that “if they don’t want (bamboo), to just cut them down when they’re just coming up.”) Especially after so much rainfall, she says, fall shoots could be coming up.

Meckes says her neighbors have been accepting of her hobby. She loves pointing out the different characteristics of the species on her property; some are up to 40 feet tall, and some are about 3-inches in diameter, she says.

She also makes beads out of some bamboo, and she has a small business, Bamboo Branch, which sells “bamboo poles, pieces and parts,” bamboobranch.com.

The Texas Bamboo Society is one of 10 chapters of the American Bamboo Society, she says. The American Bamboo Society, www.bamboo.org, started in 1979, has more than 700 members in nearly 40 countries.

Though admission is free, festivalgoers must pay for entry to Zilker Botanical Garden.

The festival is the group’s fundraiser, through vendor fees, sales and silent auction, Meckes says. However, Meckes says, the society’s expenses are low, so the group would like to use its funds to “sponsor a student who is interested in bamboo. … and give a grant for a special project.”

The Texas Bamboo Society meets at 9:30 a.m. on the third Saturday of each month; no programs are planned for the gatherings, which mostly consist of doing maintenance on the bamboo at Zilker, she says.

Meckes says that sharing a common interest makes the society members “like a big family, the bamboo people. … That’s what’s best about it.”

For more information on the Texas Bamboo Festival, check bamboocentral.net.



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