To start a new garden is one of my biggest joys. Sometimes there is a bit of trepidation as I ask myself, “Do I really need yet another space to manage?” But as I have aged, a key design criterion is to build spaces that are fairly self-sufficient with minimal need for weeding. So with this in mind, a few months ago I decided to take my collection of carnivorous plants and create a bog for them to reside within.
My love of carnivorous plants started somewhat innocently: about 5 years ago we went out to the West Coast for a wedding and happened to stop by California Carnivores, which claims to be the largest carnivorous plant outlet in the United States. As we cruised the aisles, we saw tray upon tray of amazing and weird plants that subsisted on bugs. Sundews, who’s delicate and long green leaves were covered with drops of sweet and sticky nectar just waiting for an unsuspecting bug to take a sip. Pitcher plants with veined multicolored traps offering a resting spot (final) for any visitor passing by needing a break. And Venus fly traps looking so innocent with their appendages presented like so many Allstate logos (you’re in good hands) ready to take of you. And they will. . .once triggered.
I was hooked.
I sent for a few plants, a mix of fly traps, pitcher plants, bladderworts and butterworts, which arrived the day after we returned. They were beautiful. And like all beautiful things they required slightly special care: 1) A nutrient-poor soil mix of peat moss and sand/perlite; 2) Rain or distilled water; 3) Bugs.
And with that care they started to propagate. A few sundews came with the batch for free, growing out of the medium of one of the pitcher plants. The pitcher plants started to crowd out their tiny pots needing to be transplanted and divided. So what started as less than a half dozen plants, became dozens of plants. (And yes, I just had to have the cobra plant, as well as the red leaved Venus fly trap and the butterwort plant, . . .
In a few years my babies grew and took over all the window sills. Trays filled with water lined tables becoming a dominant decorating feature in certain rooms. Juana was beginning to take notice; was my obsession becoming too obvious? Would she put the kibosh on my hungry spawn?
But no as I placed a few sundews in the kitchen. Fruit flies disappeared. Gnats were no more. Even the ubiquitous pantry moths took a leave of absence from our kitchen. The sundews became Addams Family-inspired mini Christmas trees decked with carcasses of bugs descending from its branches like so many ornaments. My plants were a combination bug Hoover and fly paper rolled into one. Once a fruit fly hatched on a spotted banana, the siren scent of Drosera capensis guided it to its doom.
This last year, however, even I had to admit that I was getting to my limit. I needed at least two gallons of water for each watering. In the past, a few cat litter buckets placed below a rainspout could take care of a season; now they were good for a few weeks at most. And the plants needed to be divided again. And again. It was time for a bog.
To ensure that I would always have enough water, I set up a water barrel that would hold 55 gallons of rain water so that if we ever had a protracted drought, I could water my bog. Then in May, when the ground finally thawed out, I then started to dig. Charlotte helped. Key to ensuring that the bog would be self sufficient is to dig a hole at least 18 inches deep so it could hold lots of peat moss and moisture. The ease with which an 18 inch hole can be dug in New England is highly variable due to the surfeit of rocks, boulders, ledge, clay and other substances that shovel blades bounce off of and handles break. Luckily I had picked a spot where only basketball sized stones were residing.
After installing a pond liner and mixing up the peat moss and perlite with rain water, I was ready to plant. Many of the pitcher plants that I had put into old salad mix containers had consumed much of the bog mix and were now roots, ready to be pulled apart like a sticky popcorn ball. It was obvious that either I should have done this a long time ago or given away over half of my plants. I was wondering. “Do I need a bigger bog?” As I emptied all of my planters and divided roots, all of may babies found places to sit. I hoped they would be happy.
I The plants quickly filled all the spaces and now I just had to wait to see how they would do in their new environment. The first few weeks were a bit unnerving as evening visitors dug up a couple of plants leaving their foot prints in the wet boggy mix. Perhaps they found the environment and plants unappealing as they have stopped visiting. I suspect a casing of greens filled with dead bug innards was not quite to their taste. Not a cannoli.
After an initial breaking in period, the pitcher plants started to flower and the fly traps emerged from below the soil. In the next month, the pitchers were sending new shoots up as the older ones filled with bugs. A swamp lily that I planted sent out new leaves and a flower. Everything was happy. I had built the bog on a piece of ground that was as close to flat as possible. After a few heavy rains and spreading of roots, the bog had stabilized so that run off was minimal. My bog was finished.
The nights have been cool this August and sometimes I sit on the stone bench next to the bog swatting bugs toward it. I watch with morbid fascination as some don’t even attempt to use my arm as a landing strip. Rather they swarm in a holding pattern above my bog waiting their turn, diverted and ultimately digested by my newest garden. Bon Appétit.