Bamboo vexes Kent Street resident

Jun. 08, 2014 @ 07:19 PM

When city officials made it illegal to let the grass in your yard grow to more than a foot high, they probably weren’t thinking of bamboo.

But a Kent Street resident unhappy with a former neighbor’s exotic gardening choice says they need to start.

“I would like the city to follow its own code … to get rid of nuisance vegetation,” resident June Forsyth told the City Council last Thursday.

Forsyth, an officer in the Durham Council of Garden Clubs, is unhappy because her former neighbor put in a stand of bamboo, a plant that to put it mildly isn’t exactly native to this area.

Bamboo is also, botanically speaking, a grass, albeit one quite different from the fescue and Bermuda variants that typically feature in Durham lawns.

It’s easily capable of growing to 50 feet or more in height, and when it comes to growth, can relegate even a fast-growing weed like kudzu to the slower half of a tortoise-and-hare analogy.

Forsyth said her former neighbor ignored her requests to keep the plantings more than 10 feet away from the property line.

An investment company that acquired the property last year has been more cooperative, twice dispatching workers to knock down the stand. But the first time around, they didn’t pull the bamboo out by its roots.

Being a grass, the leftovers did what grass does, and naturally enough paid no heed to the existence of a property line.

Forsyth said she and her family in their yard have had to “cut back over 400 shoots, which grow 6 or 7 inches, apparently, overnight.”

The bamboo has also made it onto city property on the side of Kent Street, making it a problem for the city’s Public Works and General Services departments. But Forsyth said her complaints to city foresters and other administrators haven’t born fruit.

Some are of the view that “even though the ordinance says grass over 12 inches in height, that did not include bamboo,” Forsyth told

The ordinance, which targets trash and undergrowth, prohibits “a place of dense growth of weeds, grass, vines, or briars over 12 inches in height, and within either 100 feet of an abutting public street or 50 feet of a house or other residential, commercial or industrial building.”

When officials learn of a violation, they should see to it the plants involved are “cleared and cut to not more than 6 inches in height,” it adds.

City Manager Tom Bonfield promised Forsyth and the City Council he will look into the matter. “I’m just hearing about it for the first time,” he said.