The Buffed Garden - [Flex Your Garden]
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Within the melody of my garden is the unique sound created by some uncanny “instruments”. There are golden trumpets rising from the swamp, laced with seductive and deadly intoxicating elixir. The venus flytraps add to this wild untamed garden with their sharp staccatos. The glisten of the sundews add a deadly sticky brightness to this savage garden. Contained in this crescendo of fatal colors and intoxicating nectars, lies an extraordinary phenomenon that literally holds a captive audience.

One of the first things that really got me into gardening was this fascination of plants that eat bugs. I can remember watching a “Mr. Wizards World” special segment on carnivorous plants and that just has stuck with me since. This segment talked about the Venus flytraps, the sundews and pitcher plants. It was so fascinating. I was obsessed. Plants that ate bugs! I also remember watching this one “Nature” episode on PBS about them. I was yet in elementary school at the time and I would go to my school library and try to find any and all books that contained any information on CP (which stands for: Carnivorous Plants). 

There was this one green book I used to check out all the time but it didn’t have any photos but just general rough sketches of other carnivorous plants. I would also search Natural Geographic magazine articles, and any resources that had anything to do on CP. There was no internet back then at the school, so I relied on ancient magazines and outdated books. There just wasn’t too much info back in the day. I remember checking out that one little green book so many times that it felt like I must of owned it over the course of the school year. While others were out playing dodge-ball, I was busy looking for information on CP.

Sarracenia Flava "Red Tube"
Once I asked my grandparents to take me to the local hardware store to see if they had any venus flytraps… and there were. Being the wonderful grandparents that they were -- they bought me one. I remember feeling so happy and excited that I finally had one! I had a terrarium I made for my new VFT (Venus Fly Trap – gotta love acronyms here.) It was a large jar that consisted of rocks at the bottom for drainage, then, a layer of charcoal, then a layer of sand, and then the “dirt” which was composed of peat moss and some leaf mold. (That’s what the book said to do). I remember reading one article saying that they needed up to 4 hours of filtered light a day, high humidity, cool temperatures of 60-65, and it needed to kept in a terrarium. Then - the directions that came with the Venus flytrap said it was OK to feed them hamburger meat, so that’s what I did. I followed directions exactly -- and my VFT died. Bummer. I was so sad and heartbroken over my loss. I didn’t know what I did wrong. I followed those directions exactly. I had gone thru quite a few venus flytraps as a child due to the wrong information. Sad. I also remember endless trips to McLellan (where they specialized in orchids) but were selling carnivores as well, and also this one special trip to California Carnivores (a nursery that
specializes in CP) when I was about 11 or 12. Of course, I had this concept that they were delicate plants that needed high humidity and to be kept out of direct sunlight. So I put the plants in the greenhouse, but in the shade (for my fear of killing them with direct sun) so – all of the plants didn’t last the next season. In looking back at it all now – I did not have the right information on growing CP, and that put this concept in my head that “CP was hard to grow”. I always thought they had to be stuck in a terrarium with super high humidity to thrive. I was afraid of growing them in direct sunlight for fear of the leaves burning. So, as years passed, I put the CP growing on hold.

I just re-started growing CP about 3 years ago. I started off with a Nepenthes (tropical pitcher) that did grow successfully indoors. I believe it was from Home Depot, and it was on sale so I figure that “ ah, what the heck, might as well try again”. I grew this indoors for about a year and was successful at it. So I figure… “Hmmm, If I could grow this, then I can probably grow others!” (Dangerous and ambitious concept, for I am applying this to any and every plant I get my hands on.) The “Hard-to-grow-CP” concept needed to be shattered. This time around in growing CP, I was more careful. Lets put it this way: I resolved to correct my mistakes from the past. All of my failures in growing these plants had made me determined to grow them successfully. I now had access to the CORRECT growing instructions, and reliable resources. I now had this “http-thang” available, which put me in contact with growers such as Jacob Farin at Sarracenia Northwest in Oregon, Karen Oudean of Oudean’s Willow Creek Nursery in Washington, and Peter D’amato and Marilee at California Carnivores. (Thanks guys!) The information that I received from these reliable sources thoroughly contradicted that of what I had read in the outdated magazines and the 70’s books in my elementary school library.

When my wife and I were returning from a vacation in Mendocino, we (well… I) decided to make another trip to California Carnivores since it was just along the way back home. I bought a Red Dragon VFT and a Cape Sundew. I listened to Peter D’amato and grew them outdoors, and to this day, all plants are still alive and have already been propagated a few times over!

Drosera Adelae

I slowly began building my collection of CP from local hardware stores, garden shows, trips to specialty CP nurseries, and buying from online retailers. I found that growing CP is actually quite easy. I have actually lost track of how many I have. What I was doing as a child was killing them with kindness (or ignorance) due to the lack of the right info. I would house them in terrariums to protect them from the big bad world out there, when in actuality, one could – and should grow CP outdoors. (Again, depending on the species of course, other tropical types of CP do best indoors, but – more on this later.) I found the key is to duplicate the natural habitat of the plant. For example – North American pitcher plants are found in bogs and swamps, therefore they need wet and nutrient deficient soil with full sun. In fall they will start to go into dormancy so it appears they are dying out, but what they are doing is just resting up for the next growing season. (Taking a winter nap, sorta) Then the cycle starts all over again.

Anyway, I hope that I’ve shed some light on the mystery of CP, and that you’ve been encouraged to grow these unique and beautiful plants. I think a lot of people don’t grow them since they can seem intimidating, or that they think CP is too hard to grow. After all, it’s an organism that works backwards up the food chain. I’ve been growing CP for 3 successful seasons and have propagated many plants. Each year it just keeps getting better and better. Shoot – a few years from now I may just even open up my own CP nursery!! (Or just have one really really large private collection.)


RESOURCES: "Where can I get CP?" you may ask yourself.
Below I've listed some websites that I find as trustworthy sources in obtaining CP. Not only can they supply you with CP, but they will help you in all of your CP growing endeavors.

Sarracenia Northwest
(Jacob Farin and Jeff Dallas)
Sarracenia Northwest is one of the best all around online CP suppliers out there. I really enjoy these guys because of their AWESOME personal customer service, quality plants, fast shipping, and their plants are well packaged for safe arrival. They also have a CP E-book which is a truly excellent guide to growing these botanical beauties. ( ... and, some of my photos are in it as well, so at least for that reason you should buy it.) Another resource of theirs I truly enjoy is their CP blog -- ask the growers!. I appreciate that they take time to package their plants well, and I have never had a problem with plants arriving damaged. Sign up for their CP growing tips and you will be updated in your email with their "CP Secrets". Sign up once a month for their free CP give away too, who knows you may just be a lucky winner! Honestly, when I re-started growing CP, it was these guys who inspired me to do so once again. (THANKS GUYS!)

California Carnivores
(Peter D’amato)
I haven't ordered online from these guys, but Peter D'amato is D'a-MAN when it comes to carnivores. I live rather close so I would just stop by the nursery to purchase plants. Really awesome place they have over there, friendly customer service. You also MUST have Peter D'amato's book "The Savage Garden" - winner of the prestigious American Horticultural Society's Book Award as well as the GardenWriters Association of America's Book Award. A great resource and a must have. If you are in the area, stop by California Carnivores and pick up an autographed copy from D'a-MAN himself.

Oudean's Willow Creek Nursery
(Karen Oudean)
Upon my visit to Seattle, Washington i found out that there was a CP nursery not too far located in Snohomish. I decided to visit and lo and behold - this place is a thing of beauty. I would suggest a trip to her nursery so you can really see all that her place has to offer.The customer service is both friendly and knowledgeable, and she is very helpful at answering any questions you may have about CP. My collection of CP would not be what it is without Karen. Anyway, I can go on and on, but take a look at some photos from my trip there, as well as read about it!

Cook's Carnivorus Plants
What I really enjoy about these guys is their selection of CP they have for sale. They have a wide variety of plants that you would otherwise have a hard time finding. If you are looking for some cool CP hybrids, or ones that are harder to come by, I suggest to take a look here.

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