No wonder bamboo is known as "a plant of wonder." It's used worldwide in many ways, whether for chopsticks or new homes. In the garden, canes make flexible, strong stakes and trellises, and when used responsibly, the plants are dramatic.

If you're interested in planting bamboo, the American Bamboo Society (http://www.americanbamboo.org) suggests you do your homework and, before buying online or heading to the garden center, figure out exactly what you want. Are you looking for an ornamental plant or a privacy screen? How tall and wide can your bamboo be? And what's your space -- field, garden bed or ceramic pot?

There are about 2,000 kinds of bamboo, and tags on the plant don't always tell the story. Make sure to buy the right plant for your space. And if you choose a running bamboo for a relatively small space, do not leave that garden center without a rhizome barrier and a plan for installing it.

There's no need to baby bamboo, beyond watering a lot in the beginning. Always leave fallen leaves on the ground. It's the perfect mulch.

Phil Schumacher has a pretty Fargesia robusta by his front door in the Philadelphia suburb of Wallingford that's headed for 16 feet. It's one of the largest of the clumping bamboos, and a panda favorite. He also has a striking runner in the back yard called Hibanobambusa tranquillans Shiroshima. It has thin, pointed green- and-yellow-striped leaves, and he's planted it in dry shade, surrounded by hemlock roots, to inhibit growth.

Allan Summers, a garden designer and horticulturist with Rodney Robinson Landscape Architects in Wilmington, Del., likes the clumpers Fargesia murielae and Fargesia nitida. They're vase-shaped bamboos that are fairly modest in size and act a lot like the Miscanthus ornamental grasses. And they don't mind the cold.

Summers had no qualms about using a runner called Pleioblastus viridistriatus in an island in the parking lot of the new Furness Free Library in Wallingford. It's a vivid chartreuse ground cover that should top out at 2 1/2 feet. And, surrounded by asphalt, it has nowhere to spread.

A perfect choice for a patio container, here it's planted with spirea, boxwoods, pachysandra and sugar maples.

"It's a nice complement to the other things, and there's no place for it to escape," Summers said. "We're very cautious about that."