San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Living with Bamboo Inside and Outside

THIS is the time of year when bamboo populationsare on the increase, when the tips of fresh new culms pushup briskly from the earth. Fat, skinny, black, brown orgreen, they grow with tremendous vitality towards thelight.They look like projectiles rooted in the soil and are asurprising testimony to the great regenerative forces ofnature. In an age of diminishing resources, this livelyrenewal is a balm to the soul.There are two basic types of bamboo: clumping andrunning.In Guápiles, a town on the Caribbean slope, the persistentheat and rainfall make clumping bamboo the idealchoice for the garden. This type of bamboo stays whereyou put it, while the running type of bamboo is much moreinvasive.For those with small areas to plant and property lines torespect, a clumping bamboo is best because it is self-limitingand does not make for quarrels with neighbors.CLUMPING varieties come in a range of sizes fromgraceful diminutives to giants 30 meters (98.5 feet) high.There are varied shades and sizes of foliage and thick orthin culms in yellow, green, black, tan, gray or stripes.There are 30 of these species in my garden, which I call“La Magda.”In Costa Rica, there are many kinds of bamboo available,but a good many of them are exotic species fromother parts of the world.Even the most common bamboo, Bambusa vulgaris, isa native of Madagascar and was introduced here to be usedfor props in banana plantations, a practice that has sincebeen superseded by aerial cables and plastic twine.There are species native here, particularly those of thegenus Chusquea found along the Cerro de la Muerte (thehighest point of the Inter-American Highway south), butthey often lean or clamber on other plants and thus do notmake good freestanding specimens in the garden.GUADUA is another type of bamboo to be found inCosta Rica, mainly in plantations, and has been used extensivelyin construction.The 18 trusses supporting my workshop roof are madefrom guadua strips and have a 30-foot span. Because theyhave been treated, termites and powder-post beetles (polilla)won’t touch them.The same strips can be used for moldings in interiors,for ceiling or wall treatments, for shutters or even for floors(imported from China). The poles can also be opened outand flattened (esterilla) to be used as a wall or ceiling covering.I am a bamboo craftsman, so it’s not surprising that Ilive surrounded by exotic bamboo plants and that myhouse and workshop are full of furniture made from thesame.I live with bamboo year round, inside and out, and Inever tire of its soft foliage in the garden, nor run out ofinspiration from it in the shop. It’s a hardy, benevolentplant that always has more to give.GUADUA is my bamboo of choice in the workshop. Itis strong and sturdy, thick-walled and not very prone tosplitting. Since it is treated against insect attack, it is a reliableas well as an attractive material for making furniture.Most of my furniture design work is based on the useof guadua strips combined with round bamboo, because theparallel edges of the strips introduce the possibility of someregularity or standardization in the otherwise always-undulatingmeasurements of round bamboo.Different types of beds, tables, dining chairs, easychairs and couches, room dividers, benches and wallplanters are some of the things that can be made to orderwith guadua bamboo.Working with the client, I can usually come up with justthe right proportions, just the right look to fit the need.Bamboo gives an out-of-the-ordinary accent to any room,and lends an exotic, organic grace that otherwise might bemissing.Brian Erickson was the prototype designer for theBamboo Foundation of Costa Rica (Funbambu) for eightyears. In 2000, he opened a private workshop nearGuápiles. He has shown at the Museum of ContemporaryArt and Design (MADC) in San José, and his work hasbeen exhibited at conferences in Costa Rica, Nicaragua,China, Colombia and the United States.He can be contacted at Muebles Brieri at 710-1958,, Web site

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