Go behind the scenes of a bamboo 'oasis' growing in Paso Robles
Gilligan’s Island has nothing on Paso Bamboo Farm & Nursery. Hidden among vineyards and olive trees along River Road in Paso Robles, these exotic tropical forests transport visitors to an Asian landscape.
Gavino Villa, Chief Bambusero, (his chosen title) retired from a career in mechanical engineering to focus on a 40-acre barren dairy farm that bisects the Salinas River. He had developed a strong interest in bamboo, studying up on the many varieties, and started an experimental grove with different types. Paso Bamboo began with one acre and 60 different plants.
“There was nothing here when we started,” said Gavino’s son Xavier, as he motioned toward the forest. He recently graduated from Cal Poly’s College of Business and now works with his dad full time helping with management, tool design, sales and landscaping.
“We soon learned that some didn’t like dry heat and hot summers,” Gavino said. The Paso Robles environment is ideal for more mountainous varieties native to higher elevations in China and Japan. They can take extremes of heat and cold.
Today impressive swaths of tall 20-foot-plus forests of the smoothest greenest Zeniest bamboo one could imagine are showcased at Paso Bamboo. The Villas help create instant privacy screens that stretch upward but take very little space on the ground. This ability to create a peaceful tropical setting in such a small space is highly valued.
“Bamboo is very adaptive to different conditions,” Gavino said while holding onto a smooth green cane. It’s easy to see that he loves these plants and appreciates the magic as they quickly transform any landscape. “You’ll get an oxygen high just sitting among the bamboo and breathing deeply,” he said. We inhaled reflexively.
Because of bamboo’s evaporative cooling properties, the dense forest is 20 degrees cooler than areas outside of the forest. Sitting on a carved wooden bench, breathing oxygen in slowly and deeply, creates a peaceful feeling. “Who in Paso can’t use a little more shade?” says Gavino.
Selling 20-foot-tall plants is a unique business. Today 50 percent of their customers come through their website, pasobamboo.com.
Many customers initially have the misconception that bamboo is invasive and difficult to contain.
The Villas have solutions that include planting with a tough polyethylene barrier 60 mils thick, which contains the roots. Bamboos are grasses with shallow root systems so the barriers are 27 inches deep, with 10 of those inches for insurance. Also, the growth is guided by water or the lack of it. The eight most successful varieties for our area are very drought tolerant.
Villa has found that the running varieties are actually more successful for privacy screens due to the success of their barrier method.
Temple bamboo, with its extremely straight canes, is a favorite for fast upright growth. The greener the canes, the younger they are. Castillon bamboo sports bright stripes of yellow with medium to light green stripes along the culms.
Four large white barn owls have taken up residence among the bamboo groves. They hunt together in this bird sanctuary and provide a natural balance with the doves and robins. Surprisingly, they actually roost in the bamboo canopies.
Gavino and Xavier have developed and made specialized tools for cutting. Ordinary tools bounce off the timber types. Heavy duty spades are used to pot the in-ground plants. Once the plants are in the pot, they are left in place for three months. The root balls mature and provide more of a mature rhizome so they will grow bigger faster. These bigger root balls have a lot of energy for development, Gavino said.
Earthworms thrive in the mulch the Villas have developed. The bamboo forests drop leaves on the forest floor and, as a result, provide a weed-free environment.
Each year the Villas host a large family reunion in the forest with camping and barbecues. They even made an outdoor shower so family members could shower in complete privacy and comfort in a bamboo glade.
Although showers aren’t available to the general public, you can make an appointment to visit the farm.
Pandas at the Charles Paddock Zoo in Atascadero were not mating successfully until zoo staff visited Paso Bamboo. Until then, they had been feeding the pandas bamboo pellets. Yuck! The Villas introduced them to a variety named Bissetii and the pandas went wild for it. Apparently the shoots are very sweet and tender and the feelings of the pandas became sweet and tender too. This resulted in baby pandas.
Paso Bamboo Farm & Nursery
5590 N. River Road
Call 805-712-1759 to make an appointment to visit the farm.