Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Foothill College Bamboo Garden, part 1

Foothill College is a community college in Los Altos Hills, California. This upscale Silicon Valley town is one of the most expensive places to live, not only in the greater San Francisco Bay Area, but in the entire country. According to the Multiple Listing Service, the median home price in 2009 was $2,435,000. Apple co-founder Steve Jobs was a long-time resident of Los Altos Hills.

In light of this, it should come as no surprise that the campus of Foothill College looks more impressive than that of most state universities. I had certainly never seen a college parking lot that offers valet parking!

I went to Foothill College last Thursday together with Eric Fandel, a fellow bamboo enthusiast from Germany, to visit their renowned Bamboo Garden. It started in 1989 with just six black bamboos (Phyllostachys nigra) and has grown over the years into a collection of more than 70 species. Unlike Hakone, which we also visited on Thursday, the Foothill College Bamboo Garden contains nothing but bamboo. There are no companion plants other than a few stately oak trees. I wasn’t sure if such a focused planting scheme would work, but it succeeds splendidly thanks to the diversity of size, shape, texture and color inherent in bamboos.


Initially I wasn’t sure how to best present the photos I took at Foothill College: by type of bamboo, by region of area, by size, etc. Ultimately I decided to show you the photos in the sequence in which I took them as we explored the two-acre garden. My hope is that this will allow you to share the sense of excitement I felt as I came across species upon species of bamboo, many of which are not commonly grown in our part of the world. I realize that this post—and tomorrow’s part two—will appeal mostly to bamboo lovers, but I hope that everybody else will still enjoy my photos.

I don’t want to duplicate information available elsewhere, most notably in the Species Source List of the American Bamboo Society, so I will restrict myself to captions indicating the genus and species.

The first view of the Bamboo Garden I saw as we were approaching from parking lot 6.
The tall bamboo in the middle (and right) is Phyllostachys bambusoides ‘Allgold’,
on the left is Phyllostachys edulis (aka moso).
Chusquea culeou, one of many chusqueas on display. It seems that they’re establishing a chusquea collection on this hillside. (Chusqueas are bamboos from the mountain ranges of Central and South America.)
Chusquea pittieri
Chusquea pittieri
LEFT: Chusquea pittieri culms (notice the root primordia on the internodes)
RIGHT: Chusquea sulcata

Chusquea gigantea, the largest of the chusqueas. This one is still a baby.
Chusquea gigantea
Bambusa chungii, the big brother of the Baby Blue bamboo in our front yard
New culms on Bambusa chungii have a white coating that makes them look steely blue
Sasaella masamuneana ‘Albostriata’
Chimonobambusa marmorea ‘Variegata’
Phyllostachys bambusoides ‘Allgold’
Phyllostachys bambusoides ‘Allgold’. Notice the variegated leaves.
I loved this gathering space in the middle of the bamboo grove.
Clearly, it gets much use by students.
120427_FoothillBG_Borinda-angustissima_ -Yushania-boliana
LEFT: Borinda angustissima
RIGHT: Yushania boliana (previously Borinda boliana)
View of the lower path, with Yushania boliana on the left
and Semiarundinaria fastuosa ‘Viridis’ on the right
Yushania boliana culms
Yellow buddha belly (Bambusa ventricosa ‘Kimmei’).
In a residential garden, I’d recommend heavy thinning so the remarkable culms can be enjoyed without having to push aside the foliage.
Bambusa oldhamii, the same bamboo we have in front of the house
Bambusa oldhamii shoots late in the season (as late as October) and some of the shoots don’t harden off sufficiently before winter, resulting in frozen tops. The rest of the culm is perfectly viable and will leave out normally.
Temple bamboo (Semiarundinaria fastuosa ‘Viridis’). In Japan, this species is commonly planted near temples, hence the name.
FOREGROUND: Hibanobambusa tranquillans ‘Shiroshima’
Pseudosasa owatarii, a very vigorous groundcover bamboo
Pleioblastus shibuyanus ‘Tsuboi’. This variety has been flowering all over the world, and I was very surprised to see such a healthy stand with no sign of flowering.
Weaver’s bamboo (Bambusa textilis), a relatively cold-hardy clumper that can become quite large, as seen here
LEFT: Bambusa multiplex ‘Alphonse Karr’ (the largest clump I’ve ever seen!)
RIGHT: Bambusa textilis
Bambusa textilis
Bambusa textilis

Click here to read part 2 of my visit to Foothill College’s Bamboo Garden. You’ll see giant tropical clumpers and beautiful moso and vivax.


  1. Very nice! Do many of the leaves seem unusually yellow to you? I know new leaves are light green, but I'd expect them to be a deeper green, even if it is early in the season.

    1. Funny you should say that. Eric noticed that also. To me the yellowish leaf color seemed normal, i.e. that's what I see in many places in Northern California. After some discussion, Eric and I decided it must be the water. In tomorrow's post I'll have some photos of culms with pronounced hard water (calcium) spots.

      Not all species seemed to be affected the same way. It was mostly phyllostachys that showed yellowish leaves.

  2. 2 acres, wow! The specimens looks very well taken cared off and quite a nice collection especially the Chusqueas on this installment. I reckon they could do with more oriental sculptures though to complement the bamboos.

    1. A few stone lanterns would be awesome. I'm sure they wouldn't turn down a generous donation :-).