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Sunday, May 1, 2016

Way back when…

My first proper greenhouse - June 2009

When I got back into carnivorous plants after growing them as a kid, I was relying on my experience growing them in southern Queensland, where the climate is a lot gentler than here in Canberra. This meant I underestimated just how tough plants like Sarracenia actually are. So, when we brought our first house, I was hell-bent on buying a greenhouse to grow my plants in – I wanted them to be the best and thought a greenhouse was grow better plants – it worked for people in the UK after all. In retrospect, this was a very foolish thing to do – I should have trialled them outside for a year and then made a decision based on how they grew. But when you are young you make lots of mistakes and learn from the experience – as I did with greenhouses.

My first proper greenhouse - June 2009

I quickly brought a greenhouse from Bunnings that was utter garbage – a powder coated frame held together with plastic fittings and a non-UV stable canopy. Needless to say, it did not last six months. A colleague at work (who very sadly died in 2012) then offered me a galvanised frame hothouse with a UV stabilised – but old – solarweave cover. I soon brought it and spent a weekend installing it. It took two days solo effort and boy was I proud with the result. It was rough and ready and amateurish but still my first solo landscaping effort. The pic above is the product after the cover was on and the plants in – we later had a beautiful native plant garden along the fence at the back and a beautiful rose garden plus two veggie patches at this house.

My first proper greenhouse - June 2009

As you can see, my collection was a lot smaller than what it is now – a handful of Sarracenia flava and leucophylla with a few purpurea for measure. This was also in the bad old days when you could buy live Sphagnum from Tasmania (harvested from land about to be clear-felled for timber). I had intended to use 20 cm mesh baskets used for growing waterlillies willed with Sphagnum. Trouble was, it was expensive – the two bags of sphag needed to fill one basket cost $15 on its own! So I went to 1:1:1 peat:sand:perlite and a year after these photos were taken, and eventually 1:1 peat:sand.

My first proper greenhouse - June 2009

The solarweave skin of this house was totally useless for insulation – it admitted light (maybe 60% shade equivalent due to its age) but bled heat, so it would freeze inside very fast. It was basically good only for keeping the wind off the plants, which was a good thing given the howling westerlies that were either hot and dry or freezing cold depending on season. The siting of the greenhouse was also poor – I put it north-east of the garden shed which meant the shed blocked the sun after 3 PM. This meant plants on the wall backing the shed got etiolated (the plants on the north wall blocked too much light). The Nepenthes is N. ‘goblin’ brought at the 2008 ICPS in Sydney. Surprisingly, it actually survived the winter (minimums to –8*C!). I took pity on it and gave it to a friend who had a heated greenhouse of identical construction (he pays something like $2000 a year in electricity accordingly!). His heater died last year on another –8*C night and the poor goblin got through being tortured again – it burned back to its roots and regrew!

A year or so later, I moved this greenhouse uphill by 3 meters so it got more sun, and it went on to do me very well for Sarracenia from 2009 to 2012 when we moved house. It went on to grow every species and subspecies of Sarracenia named at the time plus Darlingtonia. By 2011, I had too many divisions and had to put the excess outside – only for them to do as well as or better than the plants inside! This proved that the greenhouse – great thought it was – was totally unnecessary. I loved spending time inside it – it was my own private getaway after all – but it still proved to be a waste of money at a time when it could have been better spent. Had I instead brought a couple of bathtubs for $20 each from the recycling yard and a couple of bags of peat and sand, I could have made two bog gardens for much less than half the money I spent on the greenhouse. I ultimately sold this greenhouse for half what I brought it for to another colleague and I moved to bog gardening. But it brings back a flood of memories – both good and bad – looking at these photos.

But we all have to start somewhere…

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Collector Pumpkin (and carnivorous plant!) festival, 1 May 2016 (Collector, NSW)

Last I blogged, it was about the magnificent plants grown by Owen at Goulburn, NSW. He is a master grower – see for yourself:

Sarracenia leucophylla, Owen O'Neil's collection

Some of Owen’s awesome Sarracenia leucophylla! 

Venus's flytraps, Dionea muscipula

For scale, this monster sized fangster is being grown in a 90 mm pot.

Owen tells me he will be selling plants (Sarracenia, flytraps and sundews) at the Collector Pumpkin Festival, which is being held on 1 May 2016 at the town of Collector, about 30 minutes north of Canberra. It is held at the town of Collector, about half an hour north of Canberra and two hours south of Sydney. In addition to Owen’s plants, there are plenty of home made cakes, preserves and other goodies, plus music, arts and crafts. It should make for a good day out for everyone. My advice would be to arrive as early as possible, as parking is very soon at a premium!

Click here for general information on the event itself and here for the event webpage. Its pretty easy to get to – from Canberra, head north on the Federal Highway and turn left at Collector. From Sydney, head south on the Hume Highway, passing Goulburn and making sure your veer left onto the Federal Highway about 10 minutes after you pass the Goulburn McDonalds turnoff. Continue on the Federal Highway until just past the end of the point-to-point speed cameras, taking the turn to the right to enter Collector from the north.

Monday, April 11, 2016

Owen O’Neil’s Sarracenia and flytrap collection–pure awesomeness!!!!

Sarracenia leucophylla, Owen O'Neil's collection

Just one or two Sarracenia leucophylla!

Owen O’Neil is a good friend and fellow CP collector who lives in Goulburn, NSW. He is a great guy with a formidable collection of Sarracenia and grows Venus’ flytraps better than anyone I know. I was very fortunate to be able to spend the day with Owen and walk in wonder amongst his plants. Here is an attempt to do justice to what he has achieved with his collection.

Owen O'Neil's Sarracenia

Owen’s success has a lot to do with where his collection is located – at around 800 meters altitude, grown in a clearing in subalpine Eucalypt forest and fed with rainwater harvested from clay-based dams that make the water very soft. The winters here are very cold with heavy frost and often snow. This means his plants are growing very close to how they would in the wild. As with many things, getting the setup right to begin with is over half the battle...

Owen O'Neil's Sarracenia

I think Owen has two specialties – one of which is Sarracenia leucophylla (we Australians tend to abbreviate leucophylla to “leuco” or “luke” for singular and “leucos” or “lukes” for plural). At the moment, he is focusing on getting his collection into order and has been grouping like with like. The tray above is his leuco tray, and they look absolutely amazing. Here are some more shots of his lukes:

Sarracenia leucophylla, Owen O'Neil's collection

Red veined clones

Sarracenia leucophylla, Owen O'Neil's collection

More towards the whiter end of the spectrum…

Sarracenia leucophylla, Owen O'Neil's collection

A motley mix of clones…

Sarracenia leucophylla, Owen O'Neil's collection

Some more red veined plants…

Sarracenia leucophylla, Owen O'Neil's collection

Lots of diversity here…

Sarracenia leucophylla, Owen O'Neil's collection

And some leucophylla var. alba stand head and shoulders above the competition.

Sarracenia leucophylla var. alba

Speaking of leucophylla var. alba – Owen has a magnificent clone that he is (hopefully) going to name. Here are some closer shots of it…

Sarracenia leucophylla var. alba  Sarracenia leucophylla var. alba  

As you can see, it has very few veins on the hood – note the shot at right showing the contrast with another plant that is relatively more white than, say, his red-veined clones.

Sarracenia leucophylla, Owen O'Neil's collection

An advantage of growing plants outdoors – and in numbers – is that they will catch loads of their own food. In this area, there are plenty of Tachinid flies – large, metallic coloured ones with bodies longer than 20 mm and bigger wingspans. His leucos were brim full of them.

Meadow Argus butterfly on a white topped pitcher plant

Butterflies and day flying moths seem to be strongly attracted to leucophylla, and there were plenty flying around Owen’s plants. Above is a Meadow Argus, Junonia villida calybe.

Wood white feeding at white-topped pitcher plants

One species I was surprised to see partaking on leucophylla nectar was the Wood white, Delias aganippe.

Wood white feeding at white-topped pitcher plants

While this particular individual lived to fly another day, I found another in a leucophylla pitcher that had been nommed long ago.

Wood white butterfly trapped by Sarracenia leucophylla

Note the wing scales coating the inside of the pitcher from the butterfly trying to escape. As mentioned above, it was long dead when I found it, or else I would have released it.

Venus's flytraps, Dionea muscipula Venus's flytraps, Dionea muscipula Venus's flytraps, Dionea muscipula

Venus's flytraps, Dionea muscipula Venus's flytraps, Dionea muscipula Venus's flytraps, Dionea muscipula

Owen’s other specialty has to be the humble Venus’ flytrap. His plants are the relatively common clones – Burbank’s Best and Low Giant are above – but they are HUGE! For scale, those pots are 90 mm diameter. Many of the traps are 40 mm across. I gave Owen some pieces of the giant clone B52 last year and can’t wait to see how big he manages to grow it!

Venus's flytraps, Dionea muscipula

He has just a few VFTs…

Owen O'Neil's Sarracenia

Like, 30 meters worth (here is one half-row, there is another further on that I didn’t photograph well)!

Here’s a look at Owen’s collection, row after row of plants, bottom to top:

Owen O'Neil's Sarracenia

Bottom row has a number of hybrids, S. alabamensis and S. flava.

Owen O'Neil's Sarracenia

Next is the leucophylla row, with some hybrids thrown in for measure. I suspect that the hybrids will be bumped given the number of leucophylla he has!

Owen O'Neil's Sarracenia  Owen O'Neil's Sarracenia

The next two rows are the sale plants – these are what Owen takes to markets and are divisions off the stock plants in the collection. Provided he has a good number of pots, Owen will put in all sorts of goodies into his sales plants!

Owen O'Neil's Sarracenia

Owen’s purpurea, psittacina and minor are at the other end of the second sale row.

We’ll skip the VFT half-row, which I showed above.

Owen O'Neil's Sarracenia  Owen O'Neil's Sarracenia

Then there are what Owen has dubbed his “shame plants” – they have been left to grow beautifully for years and now need to be divided, with many overgrowing their pots and running their rhizomes through their neighbour’s pots (Owen calls Sarracenia rubra “bed-jumping little rats”!).

Owen O'Neil's Sarracenia  Owen O'Neil's Sarracenia

And finally, there are some plants Owen grew in bog gardens constructed from trenches lined with black plastic and filled with peat. They have been in these beds for many, many years and look superb!

Mega thanks are due to Owen – I had a really wonderful day – great company and great plants (including some spectacular lukes that accompanied me home – thanks so much again Owen!!!!!).

Its also rather amusing to be enjoying Owen’s Sarracenia here in Australia finish up – to come home to read how fellow CP blogger Nepenthes blogi is watching the Sarracenia collections at Meadowview in the USA break dormancy!

If you are in the Canberra area and want to buy carnivorous plants, Owen is the person I would buy from. He sells his plants every year at the Collector Pumpkin Festival at the town of Collector, NSW, about 2 hours south of Sydney. The festival is a pleasant day out (parking can be manic though) and Owen will have a great selection of Sarracenia, Drosera and flytraps on sale. I will do a post a week out of the festival as a reminder.

Until then, good growing.


Saturday, March 5, 2016

Two new Nepenthes ampullaria for the terrarium–so its time to give the Nepenthes hookeriana a haircut!

The terrarium has really powered along since I set it up again last year. Recently, I saw some Nepenthes ampullaria clones ex tissue culture being offered on the web. So a few clicks of the mouse later, I had ordered two plants. They arrived late last week. I love Nepenthes ampullaria (affectionately called amp or amps).

Today I potted the new plants up and did some tidying. Here is everything in the terrarium laid out (left to right, top to bottom): Nepenthes ampullaria green form, N. ampullaria “harlequin”, Drosera adelae, Sphagnum moss from the bog garden planted into a waterlilly basket, N. x hookeriana, Triffid Park clone.

Terrarium ready for re-organisation

The sphagnum in the pots has been layered over 1 cm of washed gravel to keep it out of the water bath I have in the base to regulate temperature. The water bath contains two heaters – one set to 32 degrees Celsius that turns on and off with the light, and a second that is always on and set to 24 degrees Celsius – this give the plants a night-time temperature drop. Nepenthes hate wet root systems so the gravel is necessary to drain the sphagnum out and avoid the plants getting root rot. Note also the difference between the terrarium grown moss (right) and moss collected from under a canopy of Sarracenia (left). The terrarium moss grown under the 20W COB (hip-on-board) LED floodlight I use for the terrarium is a lot more straggly and somewhat etiolated, so it is a lot less strong than what the moss under a very dense canopy of Sarracenia pitchers get…

Nepenthes x hookeriana, Triffid Park Clone

Stupidly, I forgot to take a photo of the tank before planting. But the photo above nonetheless shows that the Nepenthes x hookeriana I had planted in there has grown very well, producing some large pitchers.

Nepenthes x hookeriana, Triffid Park Clone - pitcher  Nepenthes x hookeriana, Triffid Park Clone - pitcher

The idea to use a LED floodlight to light up the tank was inspired by someone on the CPUK forum who also uses a COB LED downlight for amps with great success. The idea is, the intense light source keeps the plant compact and gives it good colour. If the pitchers are produced a little too close to the light (such as the pitcher at right), the leaf distorts and the pitcher is about half the height of pitchers produced further away. The arrival of the amps was a great excuse to also give the hookeriana a trim; I got waaaay to big a plant than I needed at the time, and it needed to be tidied up to ensure its longevity in the terrarium.

Nepenthes ampullaria "harlequin"

Here’s one of the amps, the harlequin form. Both plants had great root systems and had been well grown. The seller was and I would highly recommend them. They even sent me smaller plants than were advertised on my request, to accommodate my terrarium. This may sound like I was asking to be cheated, but my experience with Nepenthes and terrariums is to get a smaller plant when possible, so they will grow into the terrarium instead of outgrowing it. I learned this the hard way with the hookeriana

Nepenthes ampullaria freshly planted

And here is the green form amp planted into the tank, with D. adelae in the foreground and a leaf of amp “harlequin” at right. To help reduce shock of messing with everything, I put the ultrasonic fogger on right away and will leave it on until late tonight. I’m tempted to get a multi-disc fogger to really steam the tank up, but the single disc unit is probably fine. The fogger also helps keep everything wet and watered.

Inside the replanted terrarium

And here’s the hookeriana, reduced to a series of cuttings. The original stem of the plant (centre with pitcher) has started to produce basal pitchers; it will hopefully continue to do so. I’ll also have to watch to see if it regrows a new main rosette, as it is very woody. The cuttings will be well on their way again and pitchering in a couple of months. Hopefully they will be a lot more compact than before.

Monday, February 29, 2016

Time for the Autumn pitchers (or: a leap-day post!)

Sarracenia bog gardens, 28 February 2016

Species Sarracenia don’t produce pitchers all season long. Instead, each species produces their main flush of growth at a particular time of year. This is very possibly to exploit different flights of insects, although I’m not sure much work has been done on this. Here in Canberra, the spring pitcher producers (S. flava) clean up on the immense flights of hoverflies we get in November.

Hybrid bog garden

At this time of year, the autumn pitcher producers (S. leucophylla and S. alabamensis plus the hybrids) clean up on the late summer and autumn flghts of muscoid flies (house flies).

Sarracenia leucophylla cv. 'Tarnok'

Before now, I had always written S. leucophylla off as a poor plant for Canberra conditions. That was before I got to see the collection of a nearby grower, Owen, who has a large number of leucophylla obtained with the English family went out of Sarracenia. Here’s a pic of his collection taken last spring:

Owen's Sarracenia

I was so taken with his leucophylla that I didn’t get photos that I consider do them justice. Maybe next time I’m up his way… but anyway, the plan is to swap out the hybrids for leucophylla after everything goes dormant. I’ve already begun to collect some good leucophylla clones and am very partial to the variety alba, which has no red venation in the upper part of the pitcher, giving the plants a very white appearance. So far, I have cv. ‘Schnells Ghost’ and one from Owen that he plans to name as a cultivar in due course, plus a variety of other forms. Re-doing the hybrid bog also means I get to swap out the heavy blue metal gravel in the bottom for the lighter setup I used in last year’s flava bog. I’m sure I’m going to have sulky plants for a while, but it will be worth it for a magnificent leucophylla collection that looks great when the flava finish pitcher production for the year.

In other news, I’m due to receive some Nepenthes ampullaria (amps or amp for singular) for the terrarium in the next few days from While I am suspicious that the “hookeriana” I currently grow may actually be a spotted form amp (the pot I got it in even had an Exotica Plants label reading Nepenthes ampullaria!), it would be great to get some bona fide amps. I am really looking forward to finally getting a red pitchering form, which I have not had the opportunity to grow before, plus a green form that I grew but lost.

‘Til the Neps arrive and the terrarium gets a doing over, good growing!