Bamboos from China and Japan were introduced in Europe in the early 1800s. By the turn of the century over 100 different bamboos, mostly temperate varieties, were known. The first bamboo gardens of Europe were established and bamboo gained popular recognition as a beautiful exotic garden plant. Several magnificent bamboo collections were destroyed during World War I and the popularity of bamboo waned. But through the years bamboo collectors continued their search of ever more exotic and rare species, leading up to the bamboo revival of the present day.
In the 21st century, we are witnessing an enormous increase in 'bambooism'. At present over 400 different taxa are cultivated in Europe, over 300 of which are temperate bamboos. Information is available for only about 100 species, based on the long experience and expertise of both amateurs and professionals in Europe.
Temperate bamboos originate in China or Japan, where they have been growing in the wild or cultivated since time immemorial. For Europe the introduction of bamboos meant the introduction of exotic plants. The latitude of Western Europe indeed is much higher than in the bamboo homelands. Also the climatic conditions differ considerably. That is why in the South of Europe (Spain, Italy and Portugal) bamboos can grow to their original height (some up to 20 m), while in Western Europe they do not grow as tall.
In the higher latitudes, plants face shorter growing seasons, colder temperatures and more seasonal differences in temperature. In Belgium and neighboring countries bamboos grow up to about 10 m, which is of course still considerable. Since bamboo shoots reach their full height and diameter in a single 'grand period of growth', you can almost watch them grow. Shoots of subsequent years grow taller and thicker every year, until the maximum height of the plant is reached.
The specific climate in Western Europe creates many possibilities for bamboo in gardens. Depending on the species you can use bamboo as ground cover, for hedging, as wind screens to protect your garden from cold winds or for visual effects, as specimen plants or as a balcony plant.
The variation in possible uses also implies many different growth habits. Variation is found in height (lower, medium and tall bamboos), growth form (erect vertically to spreading horizontally), color of the culms (green, yellow, black, orange, yellow with green strips or vice versa, with or without black spots, etc.), and their need for sunlight (full sun to shadow).