The bamboo man|What started as a suggestion is now his signature

Published 12:00 am Sunday, October 19, 2008

He sleeps on sheets made of bamboo and wears T-shirts of the same material and, though it may sound like corduroy, Rob Mendrop will assure you that the fibers are smoother than silk and more comfortable than cotton.

Mendrop could be called a cheerleader for the many uses of bamboo, a cane from which one can make furniture, houses, cooking utensils and countless other items.

Though most think of it and associate it with Asian cultures, mainly because of the many movies with settings in the South Pacific, the hollow-stemmed treelike grasses have become so popular in the United States that there’s even a bamboo plantation in Brookhaven, where more than 250 varieties are grown and sold.

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And though a few varieties are native to Mississippi, you don’t want to just go out there and cut it down and try to make something out of it — and you don’t want to get it and just start planting, for some is very evasive and others clump.

And it’s fast growing, Mendrop said, ever faster than kudzu. He laughed and claimed that a grove of bamboo “makes you feel so good, so positive, and less apt to go out and shoot somebody.”

The more usual uses for bamboo — not clothing and bedding — are trellises and fences in the garden and furniture and frames and screens inside. Bamboo can also be used for flooring and roofs and in numerous other ways,

Mendrop’s love of bamboo began when a lady in New Orleans, Mercedes Whitecloud, read about some of his landscape designs when he lived in the Big Easy and was “making trellises out of wood and they didn’t last. Termites were eating them, and they fell apart within a year.”

Whitecloud felt Mendrop could do better with bamboo, and she introduced him to the plant. He began reading about it and finding countless facts, such as people eat it (you can buy it at Kroger) and that termites eat it only as a last resort.

Another thing he learned is that “you don’t want to get into it just because it is different. You don’t want new growth — it’s too moist — and you need the right tools.” He began splitting bamboo with a meat clever and a rubber mallet. A green bamboo pole stuck in the ground will rot, so, to keep it from making contact with the soil, he uses either rebar or concrete.

Mendrop, who grew up on Porters Chapel Road, the son of the late Robert Mendrop, remembers the bamboo, or cane, in the woods behind their home. There are few varieties native to North America but, as the practical uses of it have become better known, millions of dollars worth are imported each year. The endless varieties include some with variegated leaves, some that grow in the sun, others that do better in the shade and some that are cold-hardy and will grow up north.

Mendrop went to Warren Central, Hinds and Delta State before graduating from Mississippi State and, at first, majored in business, at his father’s insistence, “but I didn’t do well in accounting or economics, and my mother said, ‘Son, major in what you like to do,’ which was all about plants and horticulture, so I changed my major.”

He had a strong background in landscape design, but didn’t want to be a landscape architect because he felt he would be limited to the use of the same plants over and over.

What he likes to do is personalized gardens that reflect the owner because “your garden is for you. It shouldn’t look like Rob.” He doesn’t care a lot for annuals, “so you won’t see a whole row of azaleas,” which attract lace bugs and require a lot of water for two weeks of blooms, nor does he care for what he terms “a moustache landscape where you’ve got a little of this and a row of that,” an example being “a crepe myrtle and three shrubs.”

He gives his mother, Nell, who lives at Eagle Lake, credit for his artistic talent. “She’s a beautiful lady who taught me how to fish, drive and cook,” he said. “She insisted I get an education.”

After college, Mendrop moved to Los Angeles where he worked for a man “who taught me all the things I didn’t learn in college.” After 10 years, he began his own business. His 18 years in California were fascinating, with so many different cultures and such an exciting city as Los Angeles. After the riots in 1993 he decided to move, to be closer to his family.

“Los Angles had become a rat race, “ he said. “It was a long way from Vicksburg in more ways than one.”

In his move back to the South, he chose New Orleans where he lived until last March when he moved to Edwards. Mississippi beckoned him with “the foliage, the country, the quiet,” and Edwards is where “the people are so nice, so real, and actually mean it when they say, ‘Let’s have dinner,’ because you do have dinner.”

He has his own landscaping company, Dreamscape Designs, and though bamboo is obviously one of his favorite plants, he utilizes an endless list of others. With bamboo, though, you can makes trellises, fences, furniture, picture frames, curtain rods, walking sticks, wind chimes, candlesticks, stilts — even charcoal. You can weave it, crisscross it, paint, stain, or varnish it, “and a fence with pointed bamboo is one nobody can climb over.”

He admits to being “a creative nut with nervous energy” and specializes in one-of-a-kind things and is “always afraid somebody is going to ask me to do a hundred of these.”

Rob Mendrop’s creations, however, are like him — one of a kind.

Ode to Bamboo

‘A man can sit in a bamboo house under a bamboo roof, on a bamboo chair at a bamboo table, with a bamboo hat on his head and bamboo sandals on his feet. He can at the same time hold in one hand a bamboo bowl, in the other hand bamboo chopsticks and eat bamboo sprouts. When through with his meal, which has been cooked over a bamboo fire, the table may be washed with a bamboo cloth, and he can fan himself with a bamboo fan, take a siesta on a bamboo bed, lying on a bamboo mat with his head resting on a bamboo pillow. His child might be lying in a bamboo cradle, playing with a bamboo toy. On rising the man would smoke a bamboo pipe and taking a bamboo pen, write on bamboo paper, or carry his articles in bamboo baskets suspended from a bamboo pole, with a bamboo umbrella over his head. He might then take a walk over a bamboo suspension bridge, drink water from a bamboo ladle, and wipe his face with a bamboo handkerchief.’ – Author unknown

If you go

To teach people how to use bamboo, Rob Mendrop will lead a workshop Dec. 6 in Edwards. It will be an introduction to bamboo, or Bamboo 101, during which students will learn the basics, including how to cure bamboo with fire and how to make a trellis. Cost is $45 per person. For more information, write Mendrop at 307 Jackson St., Edwards, MS 39066; call him at 601-985-91480; or e-mail him at

Gordon Cotton is an author and historian who lives in Vicksburg.