You don’t need to be a master guru of eastern mysticism to recognize the sublime beauty of a Tibetan Buddhist Thangka. Simply take a close look at one of these traditional religious paintings, and you can practically feel your heart, mind and soul being swept away to a higher plane.

The magic and mystery of this sacred art form is nothing less than mesmerizing. But the more you know about the stories and symbols that go into these rich religious paintings, the more respect you feel for the wisdom that they depict.

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The Thangka Tradition

Devotional Buddhists have special practices for creating a sense of sacred time and space, namely chanting and meditation. And though they don’t exactly worship idols, it is common for Buddhists and Hindus to create altars and decorate them with paintings and statuary to help maintain that sacred presence.

Among the most powerful of such religious images are the Tibetan Buddhist Thangka paintings, part of a tradition that dates back roughly 1000 years. Thought to be a spin-off of the far older tradition of cave painting, these exquisitely decorated artworks are typically created to be light-weight and portable.

Most often depicting a specific deity or bodhisattva, the monks and votaries paint these religious icons on silk or paper, which is further protected by a silk cover, and then rolled up like a scroll. Especially conducive to the nomadic or hermetic lifestyle, the devotee can travel with his Thankga and unroll it whenever he sees fit, for times of prayer and meditation, for example.

I like to think of them as the bonsai trees of religious art. Originally, the Samurai warriors kept bonsai trees, which they could carry along on their extensive journeys. Something like a family member in their solitary lives, the Samurais cared for the trees and enjoyed a special connection with nature, wherever they went.

As with the bonsai trees, the Thangka paintings are created with extraordinary care and attention. With a high quality Thangka, the finished work should inspire a sense of divine reverence, and that’s the same sort of devotion and concentration that the artists employ to produce these masterpieces.

Religious Imagery in the Thangkas

The variety of imagery in Thangka paintings has grown immense over the centuries, but traditionally, the artwork depicts a single Buddhist deity, a meaningful icon, or in some cases, a narrative scene.

DEITIES

Probably the most common subject of a Thangka painting is the Buddha, who may appear in his ascetic, meditating form as Shakyamuni, or in his more portly and jubilant incarnation as the Laughing Buddha. But the variations go on and on, eyes open or closed, hands lifted or clasped in prayer. The possibilities are endless. Check out this brilliant Buddha Thangka on Amazon for an example.

There’s no definitive, orthodox interpretation of the symbolism, but it depends more on the experience of the beholder. You cannot judge a Thangka painting by any objective measure, only by the sort of feeling it produces in you. If you are decorating an altar or shrine, you’ll want to consider the types of energy you wish to invoke, whether calming, invigorating, uplifting, transcendental, or something else.

Besides the venerable Buddha, there are dozens of other deities and bodhisattvas in the pantheon. One of the most popular and frequently depicted is Tara, who herself has a variety of avatars. We generally associate Tara with mindfulness and meditation.

The Green Tara, more specifically, invokes powers of protection from darkness, temptations and illusion. White Tara stands for health and longevity, as well as compassion. Here’s an example of a spectacular Green Tara Thangka on Amazon.

Another highly revered bodhisattva, Avalokiteśvara represents the deepest embodiment of compassion. This deity can take either a male or female form, and very often appears as the goddess Quan Yin, frequently holding out a vessel to collect the tears of mankind’s sorrow.

One of the most terrifying images to adorn the Buddhist Thangka is Chemchok Heruka with his twenty-one heads and forty-two hands. The Tibetan Book of the Dead speaks of the Hundred Peaceful and Wrathful Deities, and Chemchok Heruka is the most iconic of the 58 wrathful deities. He often appears in the presence of the 42 peaceful deities, including a panoply of buddhas, bodhisattvas and gatekeepers.

BUDDHIST ICONS

Instead of depicting a personal deity, another type of Buddhist religious art involves some highly symbolic icons. The most common of these symbols are the Mandala and the Wheel of Life, and both are well worth meditating over.

The Mandala

The Mandala holds a very special place in my own spiritual practice, and the first Thangka I acquired was a phenomenal Mandala painting from Bhutan. I have seen a few different explanations of this sacred geometric image, having to do with multiple worlds and layers of reality. But the following is my own interpretation of this cosmic symbol.

Mandalas come in many versions, but generally they feature a small circle at the center, enclosed by a square (or series of squares), finally surrounded by a greater circle. I read this pattern as a metaphor for psychological and spiritual development.

At birth we are in the small circle, at one with all things, unable to differentiate between self and other. This is the level of unconscious perfection. With time and age we learn, like Adam and Eve, to recognize the pairs of opposites. We enter the material world of squares, of us and them, heaven and earth, good and evil, the state of conscious imperfection.

Finally, with concentrated spiritual practice, we strive to enter the realm of cosmic unity, where all things are connected and interdependent. This is the state of enlightenment, the grand circle of conscious perfection. And in most Mandala paintings, the outer circle is surrounded by a multitude of Buddhas and bodhisattvas, enlightened beings.

The Wheel of Life

A powerful symbol throughout world religions, but especially in the far east, Hindu and Buddhist traditions look the Wheel of Life as a representation of endless and ongoing reincarnation. Metaphorically, we can also think of the Wheel as a symbol of the ongoing back-and-forth struggle between desire and fulfillment, one of the chief themes in Buddhist philosophy.

One of the primary goals of Buddhist spiritual practice is to break free from this arduous cycle. The cycle, after all, is based on the illusion (Samsara) that desire can be fulfilled and that fulfillment will bring satisfaction. In fact, we know from experience that the fulfillment of one desire only leads to the birth of new desires and dissatisfactions. The initiate must choose then, to break the cycle, or to accept its inevitability.

The iconography in these Wheels of Life can be some of the most fascinating and intricate. Keep an eye out for the rendering of the Three Higher Realms, in the upper portions of the wheel, occupied by humans, gods and demi-gods. And then look at the bottom spokes of the wheel to find the Three Lower Realms, including the hells, the animal realm and the hungry ghost realm.

Check out some of these stunning Wheel of Life Thangka paintings at Amazon.

NARRATIVE SCENES

Less common, but more visually appealing for some, narrative scenes make up another genre of Thangka paintings. These works depict various scenes from eastern mythology, including the Mahabharata or the life of Lord Buddha.

If there’s a particular episode from Buddhist or Hindu mythology that really resonates for you, you can probably find of beautiful Thangka painting of it somewhere.

Further Reading: If you enjoy these sorts of philosophical excursions and interpretations, you’ll also want to check out the following articles.

Meanings in the Mandala: Roadmap of the Mind Om is where the Heart is: Meditations on the One The Symbolism of the Indian Ganesh Archetypal Dimensions of Kermit the Frog Bamboo Symbolism and Mythology
Zero waste bamboo spork

Did you know that 380 million tons of plastic were produced in 2018? That brings the total quantity of plastic up to about 6.5 billion tons since its introduction in the mid 1950s. Yeah, that’s a lot of dixie cups.

A PLASTIC APOCALYPSE

Generous estimates say that first world countries manage to recycle about 25 percent of their plastic waste. If it’s disposed of responsibly, the remaining waste should end up in the landfill.

But I would encourage you to visit your local landfill and see for yourself just how responsible it is. Like the holocaust museums in Germany, they are something every citizen of this planet should be aware of.

Civil society has found a way to make it look like our garbage simply disappears at the end of every week. But that’s not actually how it works. Talk about burying the truth.

Meanwhile, we know for certain that astronomical quantities of plastic and packaging are ending up elsewhere. How do we know that? Because there are multiple islands of litter floating around the sea, and they are larger than some countries. And I don’t mean Malta or Liechtenstein. The Great Pacific Garbage Patch, though difficult to measure, is at least the size of Texas or France, and some estimates say many times larger.

But the plastics don’t just sit there, floating about harmlessly like a few olives in a salty martini. If only.

For several decades now, birds and marine life—not trained to be on the watch for harmful particulates—have been consuming this toxic debris at a brisk and predatory pace. Biologists estimate that 90 percent of birds now contain particles of plastic. And by 2050 there will likely be more plastic in the seas than fish. Let me say that again: More plastic than fish.

URGENT ACTION NEEDED

You would have to be numb and heartless not to recognize this as the global crisis that it is. And I would have to be somewhat naive and Polyannaish if I told you not to panic. By all means, if there were ever a time to panic, this is it.

We should be panicking in the streets. We should be panicking at the mall. We should be panicking in classrooms. We should be panicking in the halls of Congress.

Perhaps you feel helpless. Perhaps you don’t think there’s anything you can do as a single individual that could make a difference. But we need to do more than just panic. And we can. These ginormous garbage patches are nothing more than a conglomeration of single individual pieces, and we as individuals need to start doing something. Now.

REDUCE YOUR WASTE

A lot of people are talking about zero waste these days, and that’s a good thing. But don’t be put off by the fact that you will never actually be able to reduce your waste down to nothing. The point is, there are dozens of simple things you can do to drastically reduce your waste.

Two of the biggest sources of waste are packaging and single-use plastics like cups, straws and utensils. And these are some very easy things to scale back on with just a minimal adjustment of your personal habits.

REUSABLE BAGS & CONTAINERS

We’ve known for years about bringing our own shopping bags to the grocery store. This is basically square one. It might take a few trips to get into the habit, but your best bet is simply to keep some extra bags in your car at all times.

Nowadays, you can find flimsy tote bags just about anywhere. But if your goal is to reduce your waste, then you’ll want heavy duty canvas (non-plastic!) bags that are going to last. Check out this set of three cotton canvas grocery bags from Amazon. Or this set of organic canvas and jute tote bags.

Shopping bags are the first step. Now what about produce bags? If you’re still putting your bananas into a disposable plastic bag at the grocery store, I need to tell you something: STOP! Please. Bananas already come individually wrapped. Nature’s packaging is perfect. Don’t mess with it.

But you might still want to bag your grapes, your lettuce and your broccoli. You could easily go through 5 or 10 of those bags every week, and they disintegrate quickly so they’re almost impossible to reuse. But you can find lightweight reusable bags for that too. A set of 9 cotton mesh produce bags can eliminate the need for hundreds of disposable bags each year, in your household alone!

When you’re really ready to step up your game, you can start bringing your own jars and containers for the bulk dry goods section, for pasta, grains, cereals and so on. When you think about it, almost every single thing you eat comes in a package, but it doesn’t have to, and it sure doesn’t have to be a single-use package.

More and more grocery stores are expanding their bulk sections and zero waste stores are increasingly offering a wide range of bulk goods and cleaning products. Just bring a container and refill it with granola, honey, shampoo, tooth paste, you name it.

I’m partial to glass jars, and a set of 6 32-oz. jars will definitely get you started on converting your pantry into something closer to zero waste. For smaller servings I usually just save and re-use old jelly jars.

REUSABLE UTENSILS

When it comes to disposable living, one of my biggest pet peeves has to be the single-use plastic utensil industrial complex. Throwaway forks, throwaway containers, and my greatest nemesis, throwaway straws.

Make a habit of keeping a set of bamboo utensils in your car, in your purse, in your desk, or all of the above. Our family has been using re-usable To-Go Ware utensil sets for years and we love them. They are durable, easy to clean, and come in a nice carrying case that includes fork, spoon, knife and a pair of chopsticks. They also make sets for the kids, ideal for the lunch box.

But for true minimalism, you have to love the bamboo spork. The pinnacle of efficiency, with its sleek design and low profile, nothing can rival the functionality of the bamboo spork. You can even find them at Bambu Batu with a handsome cork carrying case. And yes, they make perfect gifts. More sporks means less waste, so give generously!

Finally, stop throwing away those pesky plastic straws after one use. Instead, you can order a set of 8 stainless steel straws that basically last forever. The set even comes with nice little brush keep the straws clean.

You might ask, with 8 billion people, what difference can I make with my one little straw and my one little spork? But if 8 billion people all ask the same question, and come back with the right answer, then of course we can make a difference. So go ahead, get started today, and be a part of the solution.

Learn more: For more tips on earth conscious consumption, check out the following links.

The best zero waste shops in California The best bamboo towels The best bamboo sheets Bamboo Q & A

Disclosure: Bambu Batu is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program that helps pay for the maintenance of the site. When items are purchased through our links, Bambu Batu receives a small commission at no additional cost to the customer. It’s a free and easy way for you to support a small, family-owned business like ours.

Questions about bambooAnswers to the most frequently asked questions about bamboo

The world of bamboo is vast and fascinating. With so many varieties, so many uses, and so much to know about this remarkable plant, we never seem to run out of questions, myths and misconceptions.

So let’s cut to the chase and answer 12 of the most common questions about bamboo that we hear all the time from our readers and customers.

1. Why is bamboo called a grass?

Botanists classify bamboo as a grass because of its perennial, flowering, monocotyledonous growth habit. Like all grasses, bamboo has stems that are mostly hollow except at the nodes, and grows with leaves that form a sheath around the stem. The grass family, Poaceae, includes about 12,000 species, with approximately 1,500 species of bamboo belonging to more than 100 different genera.

2. Which bamboo is non-invasive and easy to contain?

Most bamboos propagate themselves with underground roots called rhizomes. We call these types of bamboo “runners” because of how the rhizomes spread quickly and aggressively. Other varieties of bamboo have a more compact growth habit and we call them “clumpers”. Most species of the Bambusa genus are clumpers, including the very popular Oldhami. Alphonse Karr is another popular clumper.

For more suggestions, check out this article on the 10 Best bamboos for your garden. We also have an article on How to contain and control your bamboo, because even the clumping varieties will spread over time.

3. Which bamboo grows the fastest and tallest?

Bamboo is famous, in some cases infamous, for how fast it grows. Some varieties can grow up to two feet a day, but that’s under optimal conditions (usually in the tropics) and only during the new growth season. The genus Phyllostachys includes some of the most vigorous species of running bamboo. The tallest and thickest varieties of bamboo are generally referred to as timber bamboo; some are runners and some clumpers. Phyllostachys vivax and Olhami are among the most popular timber bamboo.

Again, check out our article on the 10 Best bamboos for your garden.

4. What species of bamboo is Lucky Bamboo?

Sorry to burst your bamboo-loving bubble, but Lucky Bamboo is not actually a bamboo at all. Rather, it is a species of the temperate houseplant, Dracaena. But don’t fret, almost all varieties of bamboo are lucky by their very nature!

You can read our article on Dracaena sanderiana for more details.

5. Will bamboo grow in Canada and cold climates?

Good news! Even if you live in Canada, Minnesota or the heights of the Rocky Mountains, you can find an assortment of cold hardy bamboo species that will thrive in your area. The most cold hardy varieties belong to the genus Phyllostachys (mostly runners) or the genus Fargesia (mostly clumpers).

Definitely take a look at our article on the Best cold hardy bamboos. You can check your local nursery, or you may want to order specific varieties of bamboo online.

6. Will bamboo grow indoors?

Generally, bamboo does NOT grow well indoors. Being a grass, bamboo requires a lot of fresh air and sunlight. Some bamboos prefer shady places in the garden, but not inside the house. You can keep bamboo in a sunny window for a few weeks, maybe even a few months, but it will not thrive. White flies, spider mites and other pests can become a problem. If it has to be indoors, better to stick with Lucky Bamboo. (See above.)

7. Why is bamboo eco-friendly?

Bamboo’s incredible rate of growth and self-propagation makes it an incredibly renewable and sustainable resource. And its versatility makes it an ideal substitute for timber, cotton, even steel. Unlike most crops, bamboo grows naturally in dense “mono-crop” settings without the need for pesticides and fertilizers. Furthermore, an area of bamboo can produce 35 percent more oxygen than the same area of trees, making it an excellent remedy for carbon pollution.

8. Can you eat bamboo?

Absolutely. Asians have been enjoying the nutritional benefits of fresh bamboo shoots for thousands of years. Not every species of bamboo has tasty shoots, but a few of the more popular edible varieties are Bambusa oldhamii, Phyllostachys edulis, and Phyllostachys bambusoides.

To learn more about the history and nutrition of eating bamboo, you can read our article on Edible bamboo shoots.

9. What kind of bamboo do pandas eat?

There are roughly 40 different species of bamboo that make up the diet of the giant panda bear. None of these includes Moso bamboo, which is the Chinese variety used most widely for commercial purposes, including bamboo clothing and bamboo flooring.

10. When does bamboo flower?

Different species of bamboo have different flowering schedules, which can vary dramatically. Many varieties only flower once every hundred years or so. Interestingly, in many cases, almost every specimen of given species, anywhere in the world, will flower at the same time when the blooming cycle comes around. In some cases, the bamboo will die after flowering. Because bamboo typically propagates itself by spreading its roots, the flowering is not so important for survival the way it is in other plants.

11. Can you grow bamboo from seeds?

Bamboo can be grown from seed, although it’s not the standard practice. It’s much easier to propagate bamboo by taking root cuttings and dividing established clumps. To grow bamboo from seed is more of a novelty for real bamboo and botany enthusiasts. Growing from seed can result in a slightly different strain, rather than the identical copy you get from a cutting.

12. What’s so great about bamboo clothing?

Bamboo has gained increased attention in recent years with the advent of bamboo clothing and textiles. The benefits of bamboo clothing are almost too numerable to list. To begin with, bamboo’s tenacious growth habit makes it incredibly renewable and sustainable. As mentioned above, bamboo grows quickly, requires no pesticides and herbicides, and needs no replanting after harvesting. This is in sharp contract to conventional cotton which is extremely pesticide intensive.

In addition to the ecological advantages of bamboo, anyone can easily feel the difference when they handle a luxuriously soft bamboo t-shirt or bamboo bath towel. Not only is bamboo fabric soft, but it has antimicrobial properties that make it hypoallergenic and resistant to odors. You will also discover the temperature regulating qualities when you wear a bamboo shirt or sleep on a set of bamboo sheets — warm in the winter, cool in the summer!

Photo Credit: David Clode (Unsplash)

Build your own Bamboo Living Home

Imagine a house built entirely from bamboo. Natural yet modern, simple yet elegant, rustic yet secure. Maybe I’ve just watched too many episodes of Gilligan’s Island, but I can already hear the palm fronds rustling in the breeze, the bamboo canes clonking softly, and the bonobo chimps making monkey love in the distance. Almost as arousing as the size of my minuscule carbon footprint.

But is it just one great tree-hugging fantasy, or can you really build a house entirely out of bamboo? Well, it probably depends on your definition of a house, and what you mean by entirely.

If you want to sleep in a grass-roof shack like Gilligan and the Skipper, then, yes. You can do that entirely with bamboo poles. Although you might still want some palm or sedge thatching for a bit more insulation. But if you’re looking for a modern family home with all the amenities, then you’ll have to talk to the Professor.

The Bamboo Gurus

When it comes to bamboo construction, there are a few names that stand out, genuine experts in the field. So let’s head to Colombia.

Engineer and architect Simón Vélez has been designing incredible bamboo structures and pavilions around the world for decades. A number of his buildings and installations have received prizes, and his name is almost synonymous with bamboo housing. In fact, his book, Grow Your Own House, is one of my favorites on the subject.

Less renowned, but certainly prolific, Estaban Morales is a civil engineer, also from Colombia, with a very impressive resume of bamboo construction projects. Specializing in bamboo, earth and wood building, he has participated in the design and construction of hotels, houses, restaurants, temples and other buildings throughout Colombia and Latin America.

©Filosofía Renovable y Arquitectura Mixta

Estaban’s website showcases a beautiful collection of building that he’s worked on, including the Izakaya Restaurant in Mexico, pictured above.

Thinking outside the Cubo

Now let’s head to the Philippines, where 23-year-old engineering student Earl Forlales is making history with his cutting edge housing solution. Inspired by the bamboo huts that cover his native islands, Forlales developed the Cubo, a simple, modular bamboo house that can be manufactured in a week and assembled in about four hours for a meagre $10 per sq.ft.

Judges from the Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors awarded Forlales first prize in the Cities for the Future competition in November 2018. His incredible design aims to address the critical housing shortage facing the Philippines. Forlales now has his eyes on some land on the outskirts of Manilla, and we’re all eager to see the Cubos go into full-scale production.

Next stop, Nepal

Bamboo houses are nothing new in tropics of southeast Asia, nor in the shadows of the Himalayas. Habitat for Humanity, an international non-profit organization dedicated to building houses for families in need, recently launched a program to build a series of bamboo homes in Nepal.

Framed partially with concrete columns, these simple, affordable homes rely almost entirely on locally harvested bamboo for their structural integrity. Volunteers, coming primarily from western countries, assembled the homes alongside a team of more experienced local builders. Together they cleaned, split and weaved the bamboo to construct the rustic but solid walls.

Later they mixed a kind of plaster from mud, straw, water and dung, which they used to coat the floors and walls, inside and out. Corrugated metal sheets served as the roof, and the end result was some wonderfully inviting housing, completed in less than two weeks. Check out YR Architecture Design to see the complete story with dozens of photos.

Do-It-Yourself Bamboo Homes

Now let’s say you don’t have the ingenuity of the Professor or the wherewithal of Thurston Howell III, and you lack the means to design and construct one of these masterpieces of green-building for yourself. Or you live in a country with much stricter building codes. No problem.

After all, you’re probably not looking to build a house of god, although some of Simón Vélez’s bamboo temples are pretty spectacular. You just want a modest family home with a little bit a of style and the least environmental impact possible. It’s all possible, and you don’t even have to relocate to a developing country in southeast Asia.

Introducing Bamboo Living Homes, based in Hawaii. For 25 years now, partners Jeffree Trudeau and David Sands have been paving the way for bamboo home enthusiasts around the world. Not only are these innovative homes easy on the eyes and soft on the earth, they’re also light on the pocketbook. What’s more, Bamboo Living is the first company in the world to design bamboo houses that meet international building standards.

Their prefab bamboo structure come as small as 100 square feet, making an ideal tea room or meditation space, starting at a paltry $8,300. You can assemble these small models yourself in as little as two days. But from there, the options go through the roof. Bamboo Living offers some 3 and 4 bedroom models with over 2,700 sq. ft. feet, plus porch space of up to 1,100 sq. ft. Check their website and feast your eyes on all the magnificent models and designs.

To date, the company has provided more than 350 bamboo homes on the islands of Hawaii and elsewhere around the world. The style of construction is ideal for tropical habitats, aesthetically and in terms of climate. Every model has the option of single-wall construction for temperate climates or double-wall with space for insulation in hot and cold zones.

If you’re looking for the most eco-friendly and sustainable bamboo house possible, that’s also reasonably priced and permitted by building regulations, look no further. For those of us who live and breathe all things green, Bamboo Living Homes are like a dream come true.

Once the home is built, you can fill it with bamboo furniture and stock the rooms with sumptuous bamboo towels and bamboo bedding. Then, of course, you’ll have to invite your friends over for piña coladas and a three-hour tour.

FULL DISCLOSURE: This article may contain affiliate links to Amazon and other websites, so that if you purchase any items through those links we may receive a small commission. This helps to finance the website, but we do not allow it to bias our opinions and recommendations. And we do NOT receive commissions from Bamboo Living Homes; our enthusiasm is perfectly genuine.

Zero Waste Shop in Northern California

The story of zero is a long and arduous one. The Mayans dabbled in it, the Ancient Greeks resisted it, and not until the 13th century did Europe fully embrace it. You might argue that it’s good for nothing. You might even say it’ll never amount to anything. But I beg to differ.

Putting aside the whole binary revolution, the zero today plays a vital part in one of the 21st century’s most progressive and common sensical innovations: the Zero Waste Shop.

What is Zero Waste?

The phrase “Zero Waste” refers to a certain lifestyle choice that involves trying in every possible way to reduce your production of trash and recycling by composting more and avoiding packaging and things like single-use bags and utensils.

Realistically, living Zero Waste is not an all-or-nothing affair. Zero Waste is an ideal. The fact is, it’s next to impossible to live in this world without making an occasional trip to the garbage can. No, reverting to hunting wild game and gathering berries is not the solution. But taking small steps forward is, small steps toward the ideal.

And it’s a philosophy we fully support at Bambu Batu. Our reusable bamboo sporks and bamboo utensil sets are a perfect example of how you can eliminate your need for disposable plastic utensils.

What is a Zero Waste Shop?

In order to accommodate this growing lifestyle choice, eco-entrepreneurs are increasingly opening businesses to cater to and promote the Zero Waste mentality.

For the most parts, these Zero Waste shops are grocery stores that use as little packaging as possible. They encourage you to bring your own reusable containers — glass jars, cloth bags, etc. — and fill them with bulk goods. Pretty much any health food store you visit will have a bulk section offering grains, legumes, granola, and more. But some will go a step or two further, giving you the option to refill your own shampoo bottles and almond butter jars.

Where can I support some Zero Waste shops in California?

NORTHERN CALIFORNIA

1)With locations in Arcata and Eureka, the North Coast Co-op is fully committed to the reduction of waste and often sponsors local events encouraging others to do the same. The grocery stores feature a vast array of bulk goods, including nuts, grains, pasta, maple syrup, soap, shampoo and much more. They also offer an extensive selection of locally grown vegetables and dairy products

2) In Nevada City, S.O.A.P. touts itself as Northern California’s original eco friendly refill shop. Since 2010 this progressive business has been encouraging its customers to bring in and refill their own containers. In their crusade to eliminate the need for single-use plastics, SOAP estimates that they have helped their clientele refill more than 35,000 reusable bottles.

3) A truly pioneering retail shop, Refill Madness is a family owned and operated soap refillery and gift shop in Sacramento. The store offers an immense selection of ecological products for personal hygiene, household cleaning, and so much more. They always encourage customers to bring and refill their own bottles, and they try their best to only carry products that use biodegrade packaging.

THE BAY AREA

The San Francisco Bay Area is teeming with forward thinking health food stores with a growing emphasis on bulk goods and refillable containers. Sprouts and Rainbow Grocery are couple prime examples, but you can find dozens of smaller shops and food co-ops as well.

4)Fillgood.co offers a truly unique Zero Waste delivery service throughout the Bay Area. Basically, they’ll provide you with the reusable containers for a countless variety of groceries and household items. On delivery day, you leave your empties outside in their special reusable black bag, and they come in the hybrid-powered delivery vehicle to refill or replace as needed. When necessary, dirty containers will be taken, washed and sterilized to be used again. Check their website for complete details on how their service works and what products they offer.

CENTRAL COAST

5) Small but progressive, San Luis Obispo has a fabulous Natural Food Co-op. Over the years, their bulk section has steadily grown, and today you can even refill your containers with fresh nut butters, local honey and local olive oil. Of course, they also offer a wide array of local, organic and non-GMO produce.

6)The Secret Garden is a tiny but terrific resource for top quality teas, herbs and traditional medicines, all sold in bulk. Remember to bring your own jar.

7) If you’re looking for additional ways to reduce waste, Bambu Batu in downtown San Luis Obispo has a great selection of reusable utensils made from durable, sustainable bamboo. Also check out their water bottles and stainless steel lunch box sets.

SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA

8) In Ventura, the Refill Shoppe has a great selection of bulk products for the bath, home and body. Refill your own containers with soaps, shampoo and household cleaners, and revel in their eco-friendly assortment of natural cleaning products.

9) The SustainLA Refill Station is a mobile operation that provides refill service at different farmers markets and events throughout the southland. In their effort to eliminate disposable plastics, they can refill your containers with packaging-free soaps, shampoos and other cleansers. Visit their website to see their schedule and learn more about their services for catering and special events.

10) A newer Zero Waste shop, just opened in 2017, BYO Long Beach offers a sensationally sustainable selection of reusable personal items, like water bottles, bamboo utensils, and stainless steel straws. The also carry bulk teas, soaps and cleaning products. As their name suggests, you are expected to Bring Your Own containers.

ELSEWHERE

If you’re not in California, a quick online search will provide you with a wealth of Zero Waste resources in your area, as the movement is spreading quickly across the U.S and Europe. Waste no time and do it today!

Also be sure to visit our article on Going Zero Waste with Bamboo and Stainless Steel.

Why is Zero Waste so important?

Some years ago, when I was a junior writer at the SLO New Times, I took a trip to the Cold Canyon Landfill. I was working on what I thought would be a hopeful, uplifting story about the county’s fabulous new recycling program. Instead it was a shocking, eye-opening revelation, one that would leave me with permanent psychological scars.

The sheer magnitude of this modest-sized garbage dump, for a small college town with a population of 40,000-ish, was enough to send shivers through my brain. I watched the trucks come rolling in, one after another, hour after hour. And I could see that our accumulating waste was literally transforming the landscape. I tried as I could not to ponder the number of similar dumpsites littered across the state, the country, and the planet, but to no avail.

Not only is our garbage creating actual mountains, large enough to rival some of the county’s most stately landmarks. No, it’s worse than that. Of course, for anyone or anything downwind, the stench is unspeakable. And the land itself will be permanently poisoned and unapproachable, for centuries anyway.

But no, it’s even worse than that. Landfills like this are major producers of methane. Methane comprises about 20 percent of the greenhouses gases in our earth’s atmosphere. And what’s more, as a greenhouse gas, methane is about 34 times more potent than carbon dioxide.

And the landfills (as we so affectionately call them) are just where the responsible people’s garbage ends up. Don’t even get me started on the litterbugs and the islands of plastic and manmade detritus drifting across the world’s many oceans. Scientists currently estimate the Pacific Garbage Patch to be somewhere between the size of Texas and the size of Russia!

As you can clearly see, our clever species is literally smothering the planet with garbage. And the Zero Waste movement is but one simple and elegant approach to counteracting this calamitous trend. So what are you waiting for?

Bamboo Import Europe

If you’re living in California, you probably already know where to get your bamboo. Of course, if you’re in San Luis Obispo, Bambu Batu has everything to satisfy your appetite for bamboo socks, towels and bedding, as well as an endless array of gifts and decor for the conscious lifestyle. And when it comes to finding bamboo flooring and building materials, we are happy to recommend Cali Bamboo down in San Diego. But this is only the tip of the proverbial bamboo shoot.

In today’s global village, someone on any corner of the planet might take an interest in something they read about on some other corner of the planet. For example, I regularly get people from Europe and Canada asking me where to find good bamboo products. If they’re in Canada, it’s not too unreasonable to have something shipped from California. But in Europe, the cost of shipping and customs makes it pretty impractical. Which leads us to our question.

Where can I find the best bamboo in Europe?

Versatile and multifarious, bamboo comes in all shapes and sizes and formats. We could be talking about bamboo for your garden, bamboo for your kitchen floors, or bamboo to replace your worn out bed linens. So let’s just tackle one category at a time.

BAMBOO BUILDING MATERIALS IN EUROPE

Apart from a few ornamental gardens and arboretums (see below), no one in Europe is really growing a significant crop of bamboo. The most useful varieties, being predominantly subtropical, just won’t thrive in a European climate. So if you’re shopping for bamboo flooring, bamboo thatching, or bamboo poles for a special building project, you’ll be buying imported bamboo, just like you would in California.

Our extensive research of the continental market led us to Bamboo Import Europe, based just outside of Amsterdam, in the Netherlands. Their vast showroom is open to the public, Monday through Saturday. If you can’t make it up to Holland, they also ship anywhere in Europe, usually within 3-6 days.

Bamboo Import’s selection of building materials is as impressive as any I’ve ever seen. Peruse their website to view an immense assortment of bamboo poles, fencing, plywood, pergolas, picnic benches and more. No project is too big or too small.

Their site also features an epic photo gallery that could inspire even the most reluctant bamboo skeptic with visions of tropical dream homes and architectural marvels that range from the truly exotic to the immaculately modern. And if you find any of these visions irresistible, Bamboo Import’s installation team can come to your home and help turn your bamboo fantasy into a reality.

Bamboo Import works directly with longstanding partners in China, Indonesia and South America to source the very best materials and maintain the highest levels of quality control on all their bamboo products.

BAMBOO AND NATURAL FIBER CLOTHING

I’m pleased to report that eco-boutiques specializing in natural fiber clothing are not an altogether rare site in Europe, at least not in the larger cities. I’ve seen several in Barcelona and in Germany, even in some smaller cities. If you can visit one of these small boutiques, that’s always your best option. There’s nothing like seeing, feeling and trying it on in person. You can also reduce the carbon footprint by avoiding shipping.

If you can’t find a shop close by and you’re happy shopping online, we can earnestly suggest Thought, formerly Braintree Clothing, based in the UK. Originally founded in Australia, this small team of forward thinkers have been developing their brand since 1995, in accordance with the strictest standards of sustainability and social responsibility.

It’s clear that this visionary company of eco-fashionistas has put a lot of thought into everything they do. From their sleek website to their elegant garments, everything has been done with care. Today they offer an extensive line of men’s and women’s wear, made from naturally grown bamboo, cotton, wool and hemp, as well as tencel and modal.

Thought’s stunning selection of sustainable clothing will leave you feeling good, and their mantra will give you something to think about. “Wear Me, Love Me, Mend Me, Pass Me On.” Their website has a whole section devoted to promoting better care for your clothing, which translates into taking better care of our planet.

BAMBOO TOWELS AND BEDDING IN EUROPE

Finding bamboo towels and bamboo bedding remains a challenge, which is too bad, because these are two of my favorite bamboo applications. We’re still looking for the best source (or any source, really) for sheets, but we have found a German towel manufacturer with a line of bamboo towels.

Möve (that’s German for seagull) is based in east Saxony and has stores all over Germany, mostly in the east and the north. Furthermore, they produce all their towels in Germany. German craftsmanship is something I’ve come to love and trust, but unfortunately their selection of bamboo bath towels is a bit limited at the moment. Black, white and hot pink are not my favorite bath colors. But they do have a wide variety of bamboo hand towels and wash cloths. And until further notice, this is our best lead.

BAMBOO GARDENS IN EUROPE

If you’re looking to buy live bamboo for your garden, you can start by just visiting your local nursery and checking out some seasonal garden shows. They take place all over Europe in the spring and summer.

Or if you just want to see a pretty bamboo garden, check your nearest botanical garden. Just about every city has one, they are often affiliated with the local university. In France, Germany and northern Europe they are particularly impressive, and I recall that Berlin has an especially nice Japanese Garden.

But if it’s Europe’s most incredible bamboo garden you’re looking for, you’ll want to head to the south of France. About 30 miles northwest of Nimes, the Bambouseraie has been propagating vegetation and welcoming visitors since 1856. Today the spectacular garden includes about 300 varieties of bamboo, making it one of the most diversified bamboo collections on earth. (Experts put the total number of bamboo species somewhere between 1200 and 2000.)

Among the 80+ acres of bamboo groves, you’ll also find a flourishing boscage of century-old magnolias, ancient ginkgos, and majestic oak trees. The Bambouseraie even has a bamboo hedge labyrinth, so you can truly get lost in the sticks!

International Sensation

In California, we sometimes like to think we have a monopoly on all things hip, cool and eco-conscious. It’s true, California has produced and popularized some pretty cool things: Vans, Frisbees, the Tesla Roadster, the Grateful Dead. I could go on and on. Just check out this documentary on California Innovations.

But Californians certainly cannot take credit for bamboo. Bamboo is a prolific plant with an ancient history and widespread appeal. Some of today’s most important innovators and producers of modern bamboo products may be based in California and Oregon, but we could hardly refer to this miraculous plant as a West Coast original.

Bloggers Without Borders

The fact is, I do some of my best writing when I’m traveling, on the road and away from California. At the same time, our international readership is growing. When we launched the Bambu Batu blog back in 2008, we were writing for the small, local community of the Central Coast. But today we get readers from across the country and around the world, so we see it as our duty to cover a more cosmopolitan array of bamboo topics.

A recent sojourn through the Old World made me aware of a growing bamboo scene in Europe. Germans and Scandinavians are somewhat well-known for their progressive energy and environmental policies, so it should come as no shock that alternative materials like hemp and bamboo are as popular in Europe as they are in the Golden State. Still, it’s always a bit of surprise to wander through a city of gothic cathedrals, black turtle necks and heavy trench coats, and then come across an island tiki bar or a colorful boutique filled with tree hugger t-shirts.

Now if only I could find a decent Frisbee anywhere between the Amstel and the Ebro.

Arashiyama Bamboo GroveBamboo Tourism

So you’re in love with bamboo, and you just can’t get enough of it? Welcome to the club.

My name is Fred and I’m a bambooholic. That’s right. Without my regular fix of noble bamboo grasses, I get terribly wound up. When the monotony of ordinary life brings me down, or a particularly grueling day at the office leaves me on edge, there’s only one thing to bring me back to center.

That’s right, there’s nothing so calm and balancing as a quiet stroll through a majestic grove of bamboo. And when that’s not available, an inconspicuous seat among a few clusters of potted bamboo will do just fine.

If I could, I’d travel the world to visit all the greatest bamboo forests in the world. And I’d pay a visit to every arboretum and botanical garden with a bamboo collection worth mentioning. Well, unfortunately that hasn’t been possible yet. But in the meantime, I’m keeping a list of the world’s best bamboo gardens, just in case the opportunity arises.

DISCLOSURE: Some of the links in this article are affiliate links. This means that, at no additional cost to you, we will earn a small commission if you click through those links and make a purchase. This helps us meet the cost of maintaining our website and producing great articles.

The Bucket List of Best Bamboo Gardens

Now if you Google “best bamboo garden” — and maybe you already have — you’ll probably get pages and pages of results for Chinese restaurants, all cleverly (if not originally) named Bamboo Garden. Maybe someday we’ll get around to writing reviews for bamboo themed restaurants. But don’t hold your breath. Instead, grab your notepad and your world atlas, because we’re heading on a tour of the world’s greatest bamboo gardens.

NOTE: We present following list in no particular order, although the gardens are numbered to make the list easier to scroll. Otherwise we have organized the list by continent, beginning with Asia, which not surprisingly lays claim to the greatest number of incredible bamboo gardens, especially in Japan.

ASIA:

1. Arashiyama Bamboo Grove in Kyoto (Japan)

In a city teeming with monuments of historic and cultural significance, the Arashiyama Bamboo Grove of Kyoto — also called the Sagano Bamboo Forest — adds yet another rich layer of texture to this glorious metropolis. A natural forest of sprawling, towering bamboo, the Japanese Ministry of Environment manages the grove as a tourist attraction and natural reserve. There are several trails leading through the park, where visitors can feel themselves being swallowed up by the massive grasses. Once upon you could come here and meditate to the sound of rustling leaves and clonking bamboo poles, but today the forest has risen to the status of world-class, must-see destinations, so don’t expect to have the place all to yourself.

2. Higashikurumeshi Chikurin Park, Tokyo (Japan)

A peaceful botanical garden with a naturally flowing spring and some 2000 thriving shoots of bamboo, Chikurin Park is located close to the train station and charges no entrance fee. If you’re looking for an oasis of bamboo in a quiet suburb of Tokyo, this densely wooded grove is well worth a visit.

3. Hokoku-ji Temple in Kamakura (Japan)

A Zen Buddhist temple dating back to the 14th century, Hokoku-ji is often referred to as the Bamboo Temple. Amidst the various structures, all beautiful specimens of Japanese architecture, you’ll find of grove of about 2000 Moso bamboo poles. If you want to take in a genuine Zen experience with your bamboo, this is the destination.

4. Suzume-no Oyado Ryokuchi Park in Tokyo (Japan)

Though not one of Japan’s larger bamboo collections, this grove has been established for more than 200 years. The metropolitan park is named after the large species of sparrow (suzume in Japanese) that once overwhelmed the area. Today you’ll still find many of these and other birds among the bamboo, but not in the great quantities of centuries past. You can also visit a traditional and fully restored Japanese house here.

5. Wangjianglou Park in Chengdu (China)

Deep in the heart of this central Chinese super-metropolis (population approx. 14 million), Chengdu’s Wangjianglou Park is the ultimate urban hideaway. With charming teahouses and meticulous landscaping that sprawls out for acres and acres, the highlight of this stunning park is arguably its historic and extensive collection of bamboo. Numerous monuments here are dedicated to Xue Tao, a famous Tang dynasty poetess, whose passion for bamboo has been well documented. In her memory, the landscape architects also planted more than 200 species of bamboo, and today they have grown to magnificent size and splendor.

6. Zizhuyuan Park, Purple Bamboo Garden in Beijing (China)

One of Beijing’s seven largest parks, with a history tracing back to the 12th century, the Purple Bamboo Garden consists of three lakes and a series of canals and bridges occupying more than 100 acres. The bamboo planting began in the 1500s, during the Ming Dynasty, and today you can find more than 50 species growing on the premises, as well as an assortment of bamboo structures. The park earned its name from the abundance of purple bamboo, but the quantity and diversity of bamboo growing in the park is truly astonishing.

7. Juknokwon in Damyang (Korea)

The South Korean county of Damyang is well-known for its thriving bamboo forests, and the residents have gone so far to make a tourist attraction out of their prolific bamboo. In addition to the verdant arboretum, the region is also home to a bamboo theme park, a bamboo museum, and a bamboo festival. The arboretum, “Juknokwon”, features some very scenic and well-maintained walking paths and an artificial waterfall.

8. Son Tra Mountain Bamboo Forest and Museum in Da Nang (Vietnam)

Vietnam’s largest bamboo museum is the essentially the work of a single monk named Thich The Tuong. He started collecting and planting bamboo in this idyllic corner of the country about 10 years ago as a way to preserve and share this vital symbol of Vietnamese heritage. He claims now to have more than a 100 species of bamboo on his property. You can discover an amazing array of treasures — both natural and manmade — throughout the surrounding forests of the Son Tra peninsula.

9. Carolina Bamboo Gardens (Philippines)

Carolina Gozon Jimenez began this garden in the year 2000 on a 5 hectare (12 acre) plot of land just outside the crowded capital city of Manila. Today the beautifully landscaped acreage features about 45 species of bamboo, both indigenous and exotic. Some very striking bamboo structures also showcase the plant’s impressive potential as a construction material. Most interesting of all may be the Bambusetum, Carolina’s bamboo gene bank, preserving a diversity of bamboo genetics for generations to come. The facility also hosts seminars and events to promote bamboo and environmental stewardship.

SOUTH AMERICA:

10. Serra dos Órgãos National Park near Rio de Janeiro (Brazil)

In any other setting, this bamboo garden would be a highlight in itself, but here in the 40-square-mile national park, the bamboo almost gets lost in the landscape of dramatic rock formations and lush vegetation. A peaceful trail leads through the grove into a place of zen known only to real bamboo aficionados, but that’s only one small facet of this stunning landmark. Come for the bamboo, stay for the spectacular topography!

Sunrise over Serra dos Órgãos National Park with the iconic “Finger of God”. (Wikipedia) 11. El Paraiso del Bambu y La Guadua (Colombia)

A real Mecca for the most serious bamboo enthusiasts, Colombia’s “Bamboo Paradise” is like a living monument to this astonishing plant. Outside of Asia, Colombians probably make better use of bamboo than any other nationality on earth. An educational facility and agro-tourism destination, the Paradise hosts tours and workshops, and grows some of the most impressive bamboo specimens in the world. Demonstrations provide participants with hands-on experience in planting bamboo and using it for a vast range of purposes, from ecological conservation to construction. Of course, all the buildings on the premises are fashioned from giant timber bamboo.

NORTH AMERICA:

12. Manoa Falls Trail near Honolulu (Hawaii)

A very popular hike on the island of Oahu — where it’s pretty difficult to walk into the woods and find anything less than sensational — this trail will lead you up the mountain through a lush jungle and a gorgeous bamboo forest before reaching the namesake waterfall. At the bottom of the hill, Lyon Arboretum (formerly Manoa Arboretum) offers plant lovers a spectacle of tropical diversity,  brimming with palms, gingers, heliconias, bromeliads, and aroids.

13. Pipiwai Trail and Bamboo Forest of Maui (Hawaii)

Located within the Haleakalā National Park (famous for its 7-mile wide volcanic crater), this 6-mile trail will take you through a massive, wild forest of bamboo that stretches out as far as the eye can see. For such an majestic and expansive forest of bamboo, it’s one of the easiest in the world to reach. Prepare to be mesmerized by the sound of leaves rustling and bamboo canes knocking together. Keep going and you’ll reach a couple of incredible waterfalls, one of them (Makahiku Falls) over 200 feet tall. Technically, bamboo is not native to Hawaii, but then nothing really is, because the terrain was created by volcano eruptions. Everything living on the islands today arrived from elsewhere, by wind, by sea or by bird.

14. The Makaleha Hike on Kaua’i (Hawaii)

Unlike many other bamboo gardens on this list, this one is no walk in the park. I mean that quite literally. To reach this wild bamboo forest, you may have to explore deep into the outback. Although the trail is officially less than three miles, it is recommended only for expert hikers. Bring rugged hiking shoes, and a first aid kit, just in case. Along the way you can expect to see 5 or 6 waterfalls and a plethora of biodiversity. And beware: if you wander too far from the river, you might also expect to get lost in the dense forest of bamboo and jungle!

15. Allerton Botanical Garden on Kaua’i (Hawaii)

Covering 80 acres on the south shore of Kaua’i, this botanical garden offers one of the most picturesque settings on an exceptionally picturesque island. Among its rich array of tropical wonders, the garden has a glorious grove of golden bamboo. Besides the stunning diversity, this garden emphasizes landscape design, so you don’t have to be a trained botanist to appreciate the meticulous planning and outdoor aesthetics.

16. Bamboo Giant in Aptos (California)

As we’re based in San Luis Obispo, on California’s Central Coast, I just had to include this “local” favorite, a phenomenal nursery nestled in the coastal hills just south of Santa Cruz. But if you think this is merely a case of provincial favoritism, think again. Bamboo Giant encompasses 38 acres of sprawling runners and clumpers and koi ponds and bamboo pagodas — just big enough to feel lost, without actually getting lost. I’m guessing there are well over a hundred varieties of bamboo on the property, but it’s hard to say. For the most part, the various groves are very well labeled with little markers, which can be very rewarding for more horticulturally curious bamboo lover like myself. But eventually, even I reach the saturation point and lose count. Anyway, if you happen to fall in love with a certain strain of bamboo, you can take some home in a pot, because it’s all for sale.

17. Bamboo Garden in North Plains (Oregon) Overlooking the Bamboo Garden Nursery in North Plains, Oregon

Boasting the largest collection of temperate bamboos in the United States, the Bamboo Garden Nursery occupies more than 20 acres in a beautiful woodland setting, just outside of Portland, Oregon. The garden operates as a nursery, with hundred of varieties of bamboo for sale, but it’s also open to the public. In addition to the outdoor groves, there are numerous greenhouses on the premises. Spend a couple hours and you can expect to see some interesting wildlife among the bamboo as well.

EUROPE:

18. Bambouseraie bamboo garden in Languedoc (France)

Looking for another excuse to visit the south of France? Here it is. (You’re welcome.) About 30 miles northwest of Nimes, the Bambouseraie has been propagating flora and welcoming visitors since 1856. Among this prepossessing collection of oak, gingko, magnolia and more, you’ll soon find that this privately run botanical garden specializes in our favorite grass: bamboo. Today the leafy menagerie includes about 300 varieties, making it one of the most diversified bamboo collections on earth. (Experts put the total number of bamboo species somewhere between 1200 and 2000.) Wander about 80+ acres of bamboo groves and soak up the serenity as you bathe in the glory of this amazing plant. They even have a bamboo hedge labyrinth, so you can truly get lost!

19. Kew Botanical Gardens in London (U.K.)

Not necessarily one of the most impressive groves of bamboo, no must-see list of botanical gardens would be complete without mentioning the Royal Botanic Garden of Kew, which covers a tremendous 326 acres and calls itself the home of a mind-boggling 8.3 million plant and fungal herbarium specimens. For an enhanced sense of tranquility, the bamboo garden lies hidden in a quiet corner between the lake and the Rhododendron Dell. In addition to the several resplendent stands of bamboo, you’ll also find some prehistoric ginkgo trees and a traditional Japanese farmhouse. Keep an eye out for the local dragonfly population as well.

And last but not least!

20. Batumi Botanical Garden (Autonomous Republic of Georgia)

Who would have thought that a world wide tour of bamboo gardens would bring us to the former Soviet state of Georgia? Me neither. It’s probably pretty off-the-beaten-track for most of us, but the Batumi Botanical Garden definitely deserves a spot on the bucket list. I thought I’d been to every great Botanical Garden in Europe, from Lisbon to Bucharest, but here’s a new one.

Now if you’re like me, you might think a former Soviet territory would be the last place on earth to find a tropical wonderland. And so, where is Georgia anyway? You may want to consult an atlas, but Georgia is located on the eastern shore of the Black Sea, between Russian and Armenia; it also borders Turkey and Azerbaijan. So is that in Europe or Asia? God only knows.

This immense garden covers more than 250 acres of rugged terrain on this remote stretch of subtropical coastline known as the Green Cape of the Black Sea. Open to the public since 1912, a few of the gardens highlights are its majestic, 125-year-old magnolia trees and giant sequoias. Batumi also boasts an incredible diversity of succulents, palms, roses, camellias, citrus, evergreens, and yes, bamboo. An astonishing collection of East Asian plant life comprises about 40 percent of the garden, including some exquisite Japanese gardens and a profusion of bamboo forests. If you’re looking a for a far-flung botanical adventure, this one’s for you!

The world’s a big place, and bamboo is notoriously prolific, so I’m sure we’ve missed some significant examples here. A certain corner of Central America? The entire island of Bali perhaps? If you have a favorite bamboo forest or garden that we overlooked, please let us know in the comments section below.

FURTHER READING: If you’d like to learn more, take a look at some of our most popular articles about bamboo.

Best bamboo varieties for your garden Bamboo symbolism in mythology and folklore Bamboo shoots: delicious and nutritious Bamboo Q & A: Ask the experts

Featured Image: Arashiyama Bamboo Grove, Kyoto, Japan (Unsplash)

Cold hardy bamboo in the snowCan I grow bamboo in the snow?

We hear this question all the time, especially from our friends in Canada. Can I grow bamboo where it snows? The short answer is YES. But the long answer is that it really depends what variety of bamboo you are growing.

NOTE: To make shopping easier, this article may include one or two affiliate links.

There are more than a thousand species of grass in the bamboo family, and the majority of the most popular bamboos for gardening come from the tropics or subtropics, so they much prefer the warmer climates. But with that many varieties to choose from , you can be sure that a sufficient number of bamboos will grow happily in the snowy mountain regions and far northern latitudes like Canada.

In fact, there are dozen of varieties of cold hardy bamboo to consider. Most of them belong to either the Phyllostachys or the Fargesia group (genus) of bamboo. Phyllostachys is one of the most prevalent genera of bamboo, primarily native to China and including about 50 distinct species. Almost every species of Phyllostachys is a fast spreading runner (with an aggressive rhizome root system), and many of them are cold hardy, down to -5 or 10º F.

Fargesia is another major genus of bamboo, also indigenous to China and southeast Asia. Unlike Phyllostachys, the Fargesia bamboos are chiefly dense growing clumpers. This and their cold hardiness have made many varieties of Fargesia very popular among gardeners.

Cold hardy runners Phyllostachys aureosulcata: The “yellow groove bamboo” is easily recognizable for the yellow stripe that’s visible on the dark green culms. A subspecies known as “crookstem bamboo” has shoots that sometimes grow in a zig-zag manner. This visually interesting and attractive variety can grow up to nearly 50 feet in height, even in freezing temperatures. But in zones were it regularly gets below -10 or 15º F, it probably won’t grow more than 10 feet tall. Phyllostachys heteroclada f. solida: This subspecies of “water bamboo” is commonly known as “solid bamboo”. It’s one of the few varieties that actually has a solid stem, rather than being hollow inside. It’s also a bit more cold resistant than ordinary water bamboo, hardy down to -10º F. Phyllostachys bissetii: Very dense growing, with a thick bushy canopy, and very cold hardy. The one-inch shoots will grown up to about 20 feet in height. Phyllostachys nuda: A very attractive and cold hardy species, its shoots get 1-2 inches in diameter and 25-30 feet in height. Young shoots appear very dark, almost black, turning a rich, dark green as they mature, usually with pretty, white rings around the culm nodes. Phyllostachys atrovaginata: Popularly known as “incense bamboo”, this variety has a waxy coat that gives the culms a very pleasant fragrance in hot weather or when rubbed. Many gardeners appreciate how fast his bamboo grows, with thick culms of 3 inches or more in diameter and up to about 40 feet in height. Good at temperatures as low as -10 or 15º F. Phyllostachys parvifolia: Like water bamboo, the rhizomes of this species are well adapted for wet and saturated soil. Small leaves make the thick, dark green culms stand out, and the white rings around the nodes give them even more character. Fresh shoots of this variety are reputed to be delicious in flavor. Mature shoots can get up to 40 feet tall, and it is cold hardy down to -15º F.

REMEMBER: If you’re planting running bamboo, like any Phyllostachys variety, always use a root barrier. Check out this Deep Root Barrier available from Amazon. Also check out this detailed article on bamboo containment practices.

Cold hardy clumpers Fargesia murielae: Commonly known as “umbrella bamboo”, many consider this to be among the most beautiful varieties for cultivation. New shoots have a light blue hue, turning dark green and yellow with age. Growing this bamboo in a shady area will help preserve the rich blue shade. Thin shoots will get about 12 feet tall, and it’s hardy down to -20º F. Fargesia nitida: “Blue fountain bamboo” earned its name from the dark purple, bluish culms and the thick, cascading canopy of foliage. One-inch poles can get to about 15 feet tall, and thrive in temperatures as low as -20º F. Fargesia dracocephala: “Dragon head bamboo” has think culms growing to about 10 feet, with a thick, weeping leaf canopy that can provide a good privacy hedge. Not recommended for hot, humid climates, but cold hardy down to -10º F. Fargesia rufa: A compact, thick and bushy variety, Rufa much prefers the cooler climates, and also does well in partial shade, protected from afternoon sun. This species is hardy down to -15º F. Thin culms grow to about 10 feet tall. Fargesia sp. ‘Jiuzhaigou’: This species includes many interesting and cold hardy cultivars, including “red dragon” and black cherry”. As the names suggest, these are some more colorful varietals. With thin culms growing to around 10 feet, this is a more compact species of bamboo, but cold hardy down to -20º F. Pack your bags for Canada! Growing Bamboo in the Cold

As you can see, there are plenty of bamboos to choose from if you’re looking to landscape an oriental style garden in the northern habitats of the US, Canada or even Europe. Most of these species are hardy into the negative Fahrenheit territory, so as long as you aren’t expecting to dip below minus 20º or something, you should be fine. And even if the leaves get a little fried in an abnormally severe cold snap, the roots should still endure.

Have fun gardening, and if you have any photos of snowmen in your bamboo grove, please send them our way!

Bamboo for Gardens is one of the best books about bambooBamboo literature for your library or coffee table

Here at Bambu Batu, we’re just crazy about bamboo. Perhaps you knew that by now. We grow it, we wear it, we eat it, and we read about it.

As one of the oldest cultivated plants in human history, you can believe there are quite a few books about bamboo. So your chances of reading every bamboo book are about as good as your chances of visiting every bamboo garden. That’s why we’ve put together this list, a sort of greatest hits compilation from the world of bamboo literature.

Yes, you might say we’re a little obsessed. But no, we’re not completely bamboo bonkers. That is, we haven’t read every book about bamboo ever written. We’ve read quite a few though, and sold several titles in the shop. We’ve also spent years researching bamboo and networking in the bamboo industry. There’s no doubt, in fact, that we are authorities on the subject.

NOTE: To make shopping easier, we’ve included some affiliate links in this article.

Bamboo Subject Matter

Bamboo is an enormous subject, so to get a better handle on it, let’s break the literature down into three distinct topics. And before you order what may be described as the “bible of bamboo”, be sure that it actually covers the topics of bamboo that you’re interested in.

For example, if you’re planning to build a bamboo house, and your “bible of bamboo” is actually a phenomenally comprehensive account of bamboo’s anthropological history, then you might be in for a disappointment. Just be sure you know what you’re looking for, and always check the product description or the summary on the back cover before you make a purchase.

To make shopping for the right book even easier, we’ve included direct links to Amazon.

Books on BAMBOO GARDENING & HORTICULTURE

If you’re planting or maintaining a bamboo garden, be sure your book is about growing bamboo. Plenty of bad book reviews on Amazon come from gardeners who bought books filled with “useless” information about the history of bamboo.

1. Bamboo for Gardens, by Ted Jordan Meredith

Probably of my number one go-to for bamboo eye candy, this beautiful volume explains the many great reasons for planting bamboo, and then goes about describing how to do so in your own garden to get the very best results. An excellent addition to the coffee table, the book is also rich with encyclopedic, botanical information on selecting, planting and maintaining the best species for your setting.

2. Ornamental Bamboos, by David Crompton

Another very nice looking and extremely informative anthology of bamboos, this beautifully illustrated book covers a couple hundred varieties of the most attractive tropical and subtropical bamboos. Not only fun to look at, but also filled with useful, specific advice for planting and growing.

3. Farming Bamboo, by Daphne Lewis and Carol Miles

If you’re thinking about growing bamboo on a larger, maybe even an industrial scale, then this is the book for you. Lewis and Miles are positively the North America authorities on large scale bamboo cultivation. An invaluable resource for any bamboo farmer, the book is loaded with practical information on the growing, harvesting and marketing of bamboo for myriad purposes.

Books on BAMBOO HISTORY

For the real bamboo enthusiast or scholar, there is an abundance of literature out there on the 7,000-year (give or take) history of bamboo. These sorts of books will typically address the many uses of bamboo over the centuries, from eating to building to paper making. Some are likely to focus on one area more than another. You’ll also find a wealth of mythology and folklore that usually appears alongside bamboo history. More specialized books can also cover those erudite topics.

4. The Book of Bamboo, by David Farrelly

This comprehensive compendium just overflows with fascinating facts, stories and illustrations. Written with exuberant passion, the book covers the history of bamboo and its co-evolution with Asian civilization, exploring the plant’s countless uses in both the past and the present.

5. Bamboo, by Susanne Lucas

Here’s yet another handsome volume to prove that bamboo is magnificently photogenic, on top of all its other remarkable traits. One of America’s foremost authorities on bamboo, the author Susanne Lucas is executive director of the World Bamboo Organization and a horticulturalist, designer, and landscape gardener based in Massachusetts. Her book provides a very thorough history of bamboo and its uses by humans over several millennia, while also cataloging the impressive range of innovations and applications in modern times.

Books on BAMBOO CONSTRUCTION

A subject that’s undergone something of a renaissance in recent years, bamboo construction is fascinating even for the layman, and can get very technical for those actually wanting to build a structure they can comfortably live in. Depending which sub-category you belong to, be sure that the bamboo construction book you buy contains the types of pictures and the level of detail that will be most useful and interesting to you.

6. Grow Your Own House, by Simón Vélez

Considered something like the Master Guru of bamboo construction, no one has done more to demonstrate the incredible building potential of bamboo than Colombian architect Simón Vélez. In Grow Your Own House, Vélez presents a stunning selection of bamboo structures that will change the way you think about bamboo shelter. Contrary to the title, the book only includes a handful of houses, but it’s filled with examples of ingenious construction features that could be used across a variety of applications.

7. Building With Bamboo, by Gernot Minke

This stimulating volume is loaded with useful, practical images and information about bamboo’s uses as a construction material. Featuring a great selection of bamboo structures, the book will inspire you with its broad scope and educate you with its up-close details.

8. Bamboo Architecture & Design, by Chris van Uffelen

This beautifully laid out book showcases an array of bamboo structures in Asia and South America, demonstrating the plant’s ability to measure up favorably against both timber and steel.

Appendix and Endnotes

There are literally hundreds of books about bamboo out there, and these are just a handful of our favorites. If you’re looking for something more specific —whether it’s Building a Bamboo Fly Rod, the secret to Cooking With Your Bamboo Steamer, the exotic elegance of decorating with Bamboo Style, or whatever have in mind — it’s all available.

And just when thought you knew all there was to know about bamboo, perhaps you’ll discover a brand new obsession with Japanese Bamboo Basketry. Wherever your bamboo passion takes you, go there with gusto, and maybe some day you’ll be writing a bamboo book of your own.

Bamboo Fountains for Feng ShuiGet into the Flow

Maybe I just watched too much Gilligan’s Island as a kid, but there’s something about being surrounded by bamboo that I find very relaxing. Whether it’s a thriving bamboo garden, an attractive arrangement of lucky bamboo, or a tasteful piece of bamboo furniture, it can really set the mood and create a sense of space. There’s no doubt that a little bamboo can do wonders for your Feng Shui, and nothing will do it better than a nice bamboo fountain.

NOTE: To make shopping even easier, we’ve included some affiliate links in this article.

Feng Shui for better Chi

Feng Shui experts agree that a well-placed fountain is one of the best ways to introduce a positive energy flow into your home or office. A good fountain can improve your Feng Shui in three basic ways.

WATER: One of the five primary elements of Feng Shui — along with earth, metal, wood and fire — water is easily overlooked in most interior decoration schemes. But according to Feng Shui, water plays a crucial role in matters related to money and career. Still water (in a fish tank, for instance) brings a calming energy needed for new beginnings. Flowing water helps you to move forward and let go of things you no longer need. Just watch for spills. Stains and water damage to your hardwood floor are not likely to improve your financial well-being! MOTION: One of the chief functions of Feng Shui is to encourage the flow of Chi, or Qi, the fundamental energy force in traditional Chinese medicine. By arranging furniture and other objects in an advantageous position, the Chi can be sped up or slowed down. You can also redirect it towards or away from different aspects of life, including health, wealth, romance, and so on. An excellent way to promote the movement of Chi is to have something that actually moves, such as the flowing water of a fountain. Just be careful, as excessive or inappropriate movement can stir up chaotic and disruptive energy. SOUND: Another element that people often overlook in their home decor, sound is a form of energy created by vibrations in the air. Properly harnessing these vibrations can attract very beneficial energy into your home or office. Pleasant sounding wind chimes (from bamboo, for example) can accomplish this, as can the sound of trickling water from a fountain. Again, be careful when you introduce sound to the setting. As with motion, sounds that are too loud, too repetitious or just too shrill, can do more harm than good. Bamboo Fountain Features

For years we’ve been using bamboo fountains around the house and in the store. And it doesn’t take a Feng Shui zen master to see how these water features improve the overall good vibes. Whenever a child comes into the shop, they almost always make a bee line for the bamboo fountain set-up. I’m not sure whether they see it first or hear it, but it never fails to captivate their attention. Maybe it’s the Chi, maybe it’s something else, but the wisdom of the child is absolutely tuned into it.

Sometimes I like to add a couple water plants, and maybe one or two goldfish, to give the fountain even more life. This requires changing out the water more regularly, but it’s worth it. The vibrant plants and happy goldfish can bring priceless benefits to your Feng Shui.

Also, it’s a good idea to used bottled water, because the city water (in my experience) tends to be very hard, so the calcium and minerals can muck up the water basin and the pump pretty quickly. If that happens, an old toothbrush and some vinegar solution will usually do the trick.

With these factors in mind, let’s go ahead and take a look at a few of my favorite bamboo fountain kits. To make shopping easier, we’ve included some Amazon affiliate links in this article.

Five Arm Bamboo Fountain

Probably my favorite bamboo fountain, for price and simplicity. The five arms — three running in one direction and the other two running perpendicular — allow it to balance easily on a round or square container, and lend the fountain an interesting, elegant appearance. Ideal for indoor use.

This kit includes the pump and the bamboo and takes about two minutes to set up. All you need is a medium sized bowl (about 12-18 inches in diameter) made from glass or ceramics. Do NOT use a bamboo or wooden bowl. As nice as it sounds, it will swell and crack from the water. For the construction of the fountain, this company uses a specific variety of bamboo (which seems to be a trade secret) that does not split in water. You’ll also need a place to plug it in, as the pump runs on old-fashioned electricity.

The Five Arm Fountain is available from Amazon for easy delivery.

24 Inch Adjustable Fountain

Great in any container and perfect for outdoor use, this fountain makes an excellent addition to the zen garden. The kit is simple to set up and easy to attach to a bowl, barrel or pond liner. The height of the spout is adjustable, which means you have some control over the sound of the water: the higher the spout, the louder the splash. If you’re setting it up outside, try to keep it mostly in the shade, as this will preserve the bamboo by protecting it from prolonger, direct sun exposure. 

You’ll also need a place to plug in the electric pump, either an extension cord running into the house, or you can order this small solar power inverter from Amazon.

Bamboo Accents makes a great line of bamboo fountains, each of them, including the 24″ Adjustable Fountain is available conveniently from Amazon.

20″ Rocking Fountain Shishi Odoshi

Also known as the Deer Scarer, because of the knocking sound it makes as it teeters up and down, this is another excellent fountain for outdoor use. The traditional design relies on the weight of the water as it fills one end of the fountain and causes it to tip over, spill out and swing back up. 

The kit is fairly simple to assemble, but with a little imagination you can cleverly incorporate it into a pond or other more elaborate garden setting. You will need a vessel or pond basin of some kind to catch the water as is spills forward from the front spout. From there, the water pumps back up to the top spout. 

The pump, hose, platform base and all bamboo parts are included in the kit. The Shishi Odoshi Rocking Bamboo Fountain is also available from Amazon. And for an outdoor electricity source, you might consider a compact solar power inverter from Amazon.

There you have it. I hope these ideas help. It really doesn’t take make much add a little splash of Om to your home or a bit of zen to your den! 

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