Marty's Gardening Journal, July 1st, 2011

This spring I noticed stores carrying carnivorous plants; you know those that eat insects. They weren’t just the usual Venus flytraps (Dionaea muscipula) but also a variety of pitcher plants, large and small, and sun dew. The various carnivorous plants have different methods to get their prey and you can categorize these plants based on the way they trap their food.  Pitcher plants (Sarracenia) have a vase shaped leaf with some “hair” pointing inward at the top, which allows an insect to go in, but not come out. It is a pitfall trap. In the bottom of the pitcher there is some liquid. Once the insect is trapped inside, it gets slowly digested in this liquid. Sundew (Drosera filiformis) acts more like flypaper. Its small leaves have filaments which secrete a sticky liquid. The insects are attracted to this liquid, land on the plant and get stuck. Then it is just a matter of digestion. The Venus fly trap is a snap trap; the insect lands on the leaf, which triggers a response from the plant and the leaf closes; trapping the insect and slowly digesting it. The venus fly trap is native to North and South Carolina. All of these plants like boggy conditions; poor soil, wet feet and high humidity.

At my favorite farmer’s co-op a whole shelf was filled with carnivorous beauties and I bought one of each variety to supplement my collection of "meat"-eating plants. Two pitcher plants, purchased last year, made it through the winter just fine and were potted up in spaghnum moss. All the other plants, including the Venus flytraps and the sundew, were also repotted in similar containers in spaghnum moss. When needed I water these plants with regular tap water which is left out for a day or so to reduce additives such as chlorine. Sitting outside on my table since early May and making a living tableau, their colors have deepened from sunlight. There are great big green pitchers with red veins on one plant, slender red pitchers with some green veins on others. The sundew is starting to bloom with tiny pink flowers while the liquid on its filaments glisten in the sun. Meanwhile the hairs on the Venus flytraps look positively barbaric. A tropical pitcher plant (Nepenthes), purchased in late winter at one of the flower shows was repotted in a hanging basket and dangles off a limb of the Japanese maple.


tropical carnivorous plant

Its pitchers reach up to 8 inches in length and I wouldn’t be surprised if it could digest a small bird or frog. Each new leaf produces a pitcher which dangles from this new leaf. Older pitchers eventually dry up and die, although the leaf itself (so far) remains a reddish green. All my carneverous plants will stay outdoors for summer and through early fall. Then, as temperatures fall, they will be brought inside to make it through the winter. One pitcher plant, hardy to our region, remains outside at the edge of the pond. Each year it comes back regardless whether the winter was mild or frigid, but I am not taking any chances with any of the rest.

A few weeks ago, on a trip to Longwood Gardens in Kenneth Square, Pennsylvania, I came upon a smaller corner garden with some containers. In each container there was a variety of carnivorous plants, some like mine, some unknown to me. It seems the gardeners at Longwood have known about the lure of carnoverous plants long before the rest of us caught on to this gardening trend. carnivorous plants Longwood Gardens 2011

 While my trip to Longwood Gardens was long overdue, it is one trip I will make more often in the future. Of course, having adequate funds to indulge every horticultural whim helps, but this garden exceeded all my expectations. No matter which part of the garden you went to, everywhere you turned there was something special to see. There was the spectaculair; fountains and ponds to rival those of imperial gardens. There was the one of a kind; the Chimes Tower and waterfall. The tower houses a 62 bell carillon, made of all places in the Netherlands. I can only imagine how the sound of the carillon being played will travel across the grounds, but it must be magical. And then there are all the other gardens, such as the flower garden walk, the vegetable garden, the idea garden, the hillside garden, not to mention all the nooks and crannies filled to perfection. A dry desert-like garden tucked away in a corner, potted plants, secluded seating areas; wherever you look you find something to like. But as icing on the cake there is the conservatory, one of largest in the world covering nearly four acres. The soaring roof make you forgot you are indoors. You walk around, going from garden room to garden room. There is a desert with cacti and succulents, the Palm house, the mediteranian garden, the orangery, the exhibition hall with its sunken floor covered with a few inches of water. There is “the garden path”, originally designed as a spring walk; now plant combinations create an eye catching design in all seasons. And there is more, much more, but to top it all off there is the children’s garden, a whimsical place with plants and sculptures and water designed to catch your attention at every turn.

Longwood Gardens children's garden

Of all the places in the garden, this gem scored highest on my list of favorites. The day spent exploring this garden, Spouse in tow, was a magical day and one that provided ideas for designs and plant combinations not thought of before. If you haven’t yet had the pleasure to visit this garden, put it on your list of things to do this year. You will not regret it.