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Friday, December 19, 2014

Getting back into gear–the 2014 Mt Tomah CP sale

Its been a long while since I posted anything, for good reason – a few months ago I broke my foot and this is my first week sans crutches or moon boots. The CP season is in full swing, and now I’m off on holidays, its time to get back into the blog. To get things started off, here are some pics from the Australasian Carnivorous Plant Society’s sale day at Mount Tomah in the Blue Mountains West of Sydney.

View from Mount Tomah botanic gardens.

The drive to Mount Tomah not something I look forward to – the road is rather awkward with the dogleg through Richmond, the Sydney traffic (terrible by Canberra standards) and multiple speed changes in quick succession as you go up the Blue Mountains themselves. Once you get to Bilpin its smooth sailing – all 10 minutes of it! But it is worth it for the plants, the food (I had a magnificent steak and mushroom pot pie for lunch!) and the view. The day I was there had a wet and stormy afternoon.

Sarracenia on sale at the Australasian CP Society Sale Day

I didn’t make it to the sale until nearly lunchtime, by which time there were some sizeable holes in the offerings. Lyn Hanna took the above photo of the sale table before people were let loose on it. As you can see, Sarracenia were dominating the scene.

Sarracenia on sale at the Australasian CP Society Sale Day

There were a few Nepenthes though, including some magnificent N. ampullaria that went very quickly. I ended up leaving with a number of S. flava clones (what else!) and the famous pink clone of S. leucophylla that originated from a single seedling germinated by the English family near Wollongong in the late 1970s. By the time I left, over half of these plants (and all bar a handfull of Nepenthes) had sold! These photos were taken by Lyn Hanna, and she and her husband Gordon allowed me to post them here. I always enjoy catching up with both Gordon and Lyn, especially since I hadn’t seen them in several years.

Waterfall at Mt Tomah Botanic Gardens

What I also love about going to the sale days at Mt Tomah is the chance to wander through the alpine gardens. They are beautiful, especially if you are like me and enjoy alpine and cool climate plants and landscapes. The waterfall adds a special ambience to the gardens, and feeds their stunning bog garden.

Panorama of the bog garden, Mt Tomah Botanic Gardens

The bog garden at Mt Tomah is beautifully landscaped and a pleasure to spend time at.

Panorama of the Mt Tomah Bog Garden

The substrate is coco peat and live Sphagnum moss, which grows in billowy carpets. Apparently, the gardens are soon to be re-planted.

Here are some close-ups of the bog and its inhabitants:

Pygmy drosera

Apparently, when the bog was set up, great care was taken to ensure all soil was removed from the plants to prevent non-indigenous Drosera and Utricularia making it into the garden. Well, some gemmae and seeds must have hung on pretty hard, as Interspersed through the Sphagnum are thousands of tiny pygmy Drosera, which I was once told were a hybrid, plus Utricularia subalata, U. praelonga and the infamous Drosera capensis.

Drosera and Dionaea

Dionaea (flytraps) are always crowd pleasers, except they are apparently very often stolen. Note the yellow Utricularia praelonga flowers and both normal and form alba of Drosera capensis.

Sarracenia flava in the Mt Tomah Bog Garden

This Sarracenia flava var. flava is a plant I have dubbed the NSW clone. I need to re-gain this plant for my collection… read about my bog garden woes which are coming up soon. In the background are some alata x psittacina and giant form S. minor.

Sphagnum cristatum and inhabitants

Drosera rotundifolia also grows prolifically in the garden. I suspect a dense covering of low, spreading herbs helps keep the Sphagnum protected during hot weather. The herb with heavily divided leaves are a type of native Geranium. We had a rather large and lanky species in the south of Canberra that became a garden weed.

Utricularia dichotoma

Here is a flower of our native Utrricularia dichotoma. My plants have done very well since going into the new bog gardens.

Ply Sarracenia figurine

To raise awareness of the CP sale, there were some figurines of Sarracenia placed through the garden, including this S. minor look-a-like.

Overhead pano of the Mount Tomah botanic gardens bog

And to close, an overhead view of the bog garden.

And speaking of bog gardens, I have been patiently waiting to provide an update of my bog gardens. Stay tuned, as I have some suggestions on how to (and how not to) build bog gardens for carnivorous plants.

Until then, happy growing!

Sunday, May 4, 2014

How to make a bog garden, part 3. The planting.

So, here was where we were up to in the last post – ponds filled with peat and sand.

Today was the big day – starting the planting.

Before you plant, it is a very good idea to do a dry run with potted plants to sort out the arrangement. This may be a bit of extra effort, but it makes sense in the long run as digging up a bog garden is a lot of work (been there done that – twice!). So take the time and do it right!

Here is the bog for the non-red Sarracenia flava laid out in preparation for planting. This may look random, but it has been carefully arranged believe me! I will be putting maybe three or four divisions of several growing points each plant in the bog, not all the plants in each pot!

Here is a suggested planting layout for Sarracenia bog gardens. In the southern hemisphere, the sun is always to the north, so the tallest plants are planted on the southern end of the bog. This will stop them shading the shorter plants out. This is reversed in the northern hemisphere, where the sun is always to the south, meaning the tallest plants go to the north. In the photo of the laid out bog, the tallest plant I have – a S. flava var. flava I call “Helmut’s Giant” (after Australian Pinguicula expert Helmut Kibelis) – is on the southern extreme, with S. oreophila and some of the shorter S. flava at the front.

By this stage, the collection trays have some serious holes in them!

The first plants that went into the bog were the shortest – VFTs and some sundews, namely Drosera filiformis spp. filiformis, D. binata T-form, D. binata var. multifida (Blue Mountains clone), D. pulchella, D. pygmaea, D. x tokaiensis, D. nidiformis and of course, D. capensis. Here is the layout of the VFTs, with B52 at left and assorted red clones.

And here they are planted up. These plants are fairly straightforwards to plant, as their roots are chunky but thread like. A tent peg to poke holes in the bog was all that was needed. The method I use needs a plastic pipe or some other rigid pole that can be poked into the bog and will remain upright on its own.

Sarracenia, on the other hand, have very extensive root systems, and grow from a rhizome that branches across the soil surface. They need to be carefully planted and arranged.

Poke the pole into the bog where you want to plant your Sarracenia. Remember, they will be in the bog for longer than they would be in pots for, so allow for growth forwards for maybe four seasons when you position your pole (as a rough guide, my rhizomes grow maybe 20 mm in a season). Then dig out a channel or trench about 10cm wide in an arc around the pole, facing the direction of the sun (north in the southern hemisphere, and vice versa). It should extend all the way down to the gravel layer. Shape the peat and sand into a mound around the pole with nearly vertical sides, as shown.

Place no more than three or four divisions so the end of the rhizome buts against the pole, with their roots splayed out across the mound. Point each division so that its growth points will not converge on other plants. The mound should support the rhizome base and the roots, keeping the plants more or less in place. Keeping each rhizome level with the soil surface, scrape the soil back into the trench, gently burying the roots and packing soil under the rhizome. Most Sarracenia will bury themselves to varying degrees. I always keep the rhizome on the surface, but use the following method to re-establish the growth point correctly:

The pigmented areas of the growth points have been exposed to light, whereas the white areas have not. To re-plant your rhizome at the depth it was growing at, bury the growing point so that the white areas are underground, and the pigmented areas are above ground. Regardless of how you position the growth point, try and keep as much of the rhizome exposed as possible, as it promotes division and allows you to check on rhizome health without disturbing the plant.

The above techniques also work for pots. Fill the pot by a third, position the pipe maybe 1-2 inches behind the centre of the pot and build your mound out from the back of the pot to the pipe and building it to the top of the pot. Then position your rhizomes and fill the pot as above. 3-4 rhizomes per pot (maximum 8!) make a fine display, and the plants really do like being grown in clumps.

Here is where I had got to using the above methods by sunset – four clones of Sarracenia flava var. atropurpurea (FRT 1-1, FRT 1-1 x flava var. rubricorpora “Gotcha! Giant”, and two seedlings ex seed, Blackwater State Forest, Florida), two of S. flava var. rubricorpora (Gotcha! Giant, Reytter’s Clone) and one S. flava var. cuprea (Helmut’s rosy red), plus the VFTs and sundews.

Saturday, May 3, 2014

Making the bog garden–part 2

So here is where we were up to with the bog garden construction in the last post. The pond shells were levelled on gravel, fitted with ag pipe fillers and a level indicator, and half filled with washed, blue metal.

Yesterday I got to work on filling the bogs up with peat and sand mix. I always use a ratio of 1:1 peat: sand. Do not use perlite in bog gardens, as my experience with pots is that the perlite eventually floats up through the peat and then blows everywhere. Washed river sand that has been checked for presence of alkalines using an acid test (sprinkle sand into a weak acid like vinegar) works the best. I used TEEM Canadian sphagnum peat moss, which is a longtime staple of CP growers worldwide. It is sold in white, plastic wrapped bales in compressed form, which makes it a little painful to work with. Here is what it looks like as it comes out of the bale:

These chunks need to be broken down into a fine tilth. I break hand-sized chunks off and roll them between my hands, which soon reduces them to the required consistency. The peat also needs to be re-wetted before it is safe to plant into.

At first, I started off pre-mixing the peat with sand in a separate container, but soon realised it was much easier to mix in the bog. Using a hose, I added water until it was several inches deep over the gravel, then dumped equal parts peat and sand into the bog garden and mixed thoroughly by hand. You can use a rake to help smooth it out, but I don’t suggest doing this in a pond with a plastic film liner. Make sure you get the ag pipe filler tube vertical so it is easy to see the fill indicator. Until the peat has saturated and settled, you won’t be able to see the filler for a layer of floaties.

<photo coming>

Once you have filled the bogs to the top, water thoroughly with a gentle spray or rose nozzle to saturate the peat. It will take a few days for the peat to absorb its full capacity of water, so fill it to within a inch of the top of the bog. This may sound like excess (especially if it is winter), but dehydrated peat will absorb a lot of water and require successive top-ups. The amount of free water in the bog will fluctuate wildly as a result. You can plant the bog up at this stage, but the water variations are not optimal for your plants. If you can, wait until you have got the water level stable.

And voila, here are the filled bogs.

Next step – designing the planting layout and planting the bog! As it is raining here Saturday, Sunday looks like it will be BG-Day!

Monday, April 28, 2014

Converting the collection to a bog garden, or How to make a Bog Garden for Sarracenia (Part 1)

That’s right! I am turning my collection into a bog garden! Please note this post is a work in progress, so for longevity, I will be adding a lot more photos as the build progresses.


So, here was where we were at the other week. I had brought some ponds and was thinking of setting up my potted Sarracenia collection in them as a hybrid potted-bog garden-pond-with-fish arrangement.

Last weekend, I set about measuring up the new ponds for how many pots they could take, how to arrange the pots for optimum light exposure, and looking at what fish would be best for mosquito control. A problem kept on coming up – in order to maintain a half decent collection of plants, the distance between the pots would be too small to allow me to keep fish in there. The downside – the ponds would provide a perfect breeding spot for mosquitoes. In the end, it was obvious that doing away with pots completely and using the ponds to make a bog garden was the solution.

I used to grow Sarracenia in bog gardens in Queensland and, despite breaking three key rules at different times (eg. concrete pond, unwittingly using sedge peat – which is alkaline, and too shady a spot) the plants thrived and were a feature of the garden that people always marvelled at. There are numerous examples of successful bog gardens on the web, with Carl Mazur’s blog my favourite (and an ongoing source of inspiration).

So, here are my experiences in setting up a bog garden, and photos of how it actually looks.

Container choice is important. I used reinforced plastic ponds 110 cm wide (44” or 3.66 feet) and 34 cm deep (nearly 14”), but you can also use pond liner (excellent unless you have trees with invasive roots or grasses like couch). There are lots of tips for laying pond liner or installing ponds into the ground on the web, so I won’t repeat that side of things here. But make sure you keep the size manageable – try to keep the width less than twice your arm length for ease of access. I would suggest allowing no more than three plants deep, with a generous allowance between each plant to allow light penetration. As you can see in the above photo, three deep Sarracenia block out a lot of light! The bog may look open at first, but it will grow in, especially if you add plants like Drosera and VFTs (which you should – they enhance the appearance greatly). Sarracenia, if planted well, will form clumps that will get much bigger than you would expect – if you are patient of course! You will eventually have to divide and thin out the clumps, but the longer between disturbances the better you plants will be for it. Of course, you will have to be more diligent in checking for rhizome problems too.

As they say in real estate, position is everything. Bog gardens are hard to move once set up (done this twice in my life with family help – not fun!), so make sure you position it so it will get full sun from early Spring onwards, at least 6-8 hours per day. I have got away with a lot less (my last bog was relegated to a relatively poor position underneath a huge Acacia tree and got about 4 hours!), but you will notice the difference if you give it the extra light. Carnivores forgo photosynthesis efficiency through using their leaves as traps, so they need as much light as they can get.

Substrate choice and design is important, and a lot more complex than you may think. A critical aspect of bog design is providing a reservoir of water that is accessible to the plants. The larger you make the reservoir, the more stable your bog will be, and the better your plants will grow. Make sure you allocate about half the volume of the pond as a reservoir. The volume and size of such a reservoir means it is very hard for the peat layer to dry out. I have found using a layer of gravel to be ideal for this purpose, with a perforated ag-pipe laid in the bottom so it forms a spiral to ensure even water distribution through this layer. The gravel also allows Sarracenia roots to grow through into the reservoir level, drought proofing your plants for as long as possible. I made the gravel layer about half the total height of the pond – 15 cm. This provides a reservoir of 140 Litres with 190 Litres of growing substrate on top. It will take a lot to dry this up entirely, giving you more than enough opportunity to correct any oversights. I also plan to insert a mesh basket of 200 mm (8”) diameter into the centre, allowing the peat moss to have continual contact with the reservoir.

As my ponds are 34 cm (just under 14”) deep, a 15 cm deep gavel layer leaves 20 cm for peat. Incidentally, 20 cm is about the right depth for Sarracenia roots; others have found through trial and error that anything taller is inefficient use of peat, especially in a tray system. Besides, the gravel will allow Sarracenia roots to penetrate if they do get much bigger.


As for the ag pipe, one end is oriented so it is vertical and is open to the surface, allowing water to be added via a hose. I sacrificed a plant label so that its stem pokes through the perforations at a height about 30-40 mm (nearly two inches) above the gravel, which is the ideal water level. As the label is white, it can be seen easily if you look down the tube and serves as a fill marker. If the label stem is exposed, water is needed.

When choosing the gravel, you need to use a proverbial acid test to make sure you get the right type. If you use something alkaline, such as crushed brick and concrete, or limestone, it will buffer or resist pH changes. In practical terms, an alkaline gravel will destroy the acidity of the substrate you use, potentially burning the roots of your Sarracenia as nutrients normally tied up by the acid is released. The acid test is simple – take a glass jar and some vinegar or another dilute acid to the landscaping yard. I used an acid-based tile cleaner, which smelled like acetic acid. Pour some into the glass jar (being careful not to get the acid on you – gloves are recommended) and drop in samples of each gravel. If bubbles fizz off the gravel, it is alkaline and unsuitable for use. I ended up getting blue metal gravel, which is crushed granite. It has worked well for me before.

So here is everything set up before the gravel went in. I used a trailer to get my gravel from the landscaping yard – $15 total. Before shovelling it into the bog, I washed it off thoroughly to get rid of as much contaminating dust as possible.

Here is the first few shovels of gravel going in to garden # 2. While seting up the first garden, I found it convenient to use the first shovel loads to secure the ag-pipe in the middle of the pond, and then used further shovel-loads to ensure the pipe is reasonably evenly distributed. I had the technique down pat for the second try.

And here the bog is with the gravel layer filled and smoothed. Note the ruler for depth and the ag pipe extending to the surface.

And that’s where the project finished on Sunday night. As the Stark family says, Winter is Coming (at least it is here in Australia), and as it is getting very cold in the evenings, I will have to down tools until next weekend. I will keep you posted on progress with as many photos as possible.

Sunday, April 27, 2014


In addition to the Sarracenia, we love succulents! In particular, succulents that mimic rocks and stones – aka the Aiozaceae. Lithops, a genus of succulents from South Africa, are the epitome of biological mimicry because the mimic pebbles so perfectly. We have a small collection of them, most of which are unidentified except for a L. optica var. rubra that I was very kindly gifted by someone in the AUSCPS in Sydney (they are due a very fine Sarracenia flava in exchange very shortly!).

Other succulents we like are Haworthia, Faucaria (succulents that look like VFTs), Gasteria (crazy that they are Xanthorreaceae – the same family as grass trees in Australia) and Pleiospilos (although we don’t have any at the moment). I also tried Titanopsis calcaria once, but lost it due to ignorance of how to grow them. Maybe next time…

On the CP front –  major change in my CP growing strategy coming up tomorrow! Stay tuned…