my swamp creatures



Here are some of the pitcher plants growing in my guilty pleasure bog garden, a small concrete container in which I have more than a half dozen of these sarracenias and as many sundews. The guilty pleasure part of this comes in when you consider that most of California is now in its third year of drought, and when you realize that none of the plants in the bog garden likes to dry out. And preferably they’d like to have their toes, though not all their roots, in standing water.




The genus Sarracenia is native mostly to wet zones in the Eastern and Southern United States (with one species into Canada). The ones I’ve tried are proving to be pretty easy to grow as long as they get sunlight and good-quality water. (I’ve probably mentioned before how mine get reverse osmosis water from the local water cafe instead of the hyperchlorinated bong water that comes out of most Southern California spigots. So far, providing good water has been the most difficult part of growing these plants.)

These plants, left to right, top to bottom:

  1. Sarracenia rubra
  2. S. leucophylla ‘Tarnok’
  3. S. x Dixie Lace
  4. S. alata
  5. S. minor

There’s also a closely related swamp thing that’s native to Northern California and Oregon. That plant, Darlingtonia californica, however, is as difficult to grow in most locations as it is stunning. If your can’t provide summer night temperatures below 55 degrees, don’t bother with it. You’ll kill it. I killed mine. Not all native plants makes sense to grow if they’re not native to your environment! (If you really must do what I did and not as I say, you could try constructing a special darlingtonia box like they do in Japan to lower temperatures around the plant.)


So what’s the water use? During the hottest months the little bog survives on three to four 5-gallon servings a month of water. That totals around 15-20 gallons for a space that’s about six or seven square feet, or about 2.1 to 3.3 gallons per square foot. I was a little shocked when I compared this number to what one source says it takes to maintain a typical lawn over the summer here in the coastal zone: 2.6-3.6 gallons per square foot.

Like, I can have a tiny little swamp garden for about the same amount of water it takes to support an equivalent spot of average lawn? And when you consider that most lawns are larger than six or seven square feet, I suddenly feel a little less guilty about my little guilty pleasure. And it made me look at lawns differently, that they’re just green swamps full of grass. I think I’d rather have my little bog garden.

(Full disclosure: We still do have a small patch of grass in the backyard which gets greened up for the big Fourth-of-July party and then neglected most of the rest of the year. It helps to have heavy afternoon shade like we do to minimize how much water a lawn requires. But when the guy who keeps it mowed and edged won’t do it any more (you know who you are), the lawn is history…)

11 thoughts on “my swamp creatures”

  1. You should not feel guilty. I bet these plants add so much to the ecosystem that their little bit of water usage is justified. Better to put water in a bog than in a dry lawn. That is a losing battle. I think these are so pretty and have thought of trying them, yet I just have so much already and am afraid to get anything new lately. The closest thing I have to a bog is a concrete planter with acorus in it. That is one fine little plant, pretty adaptive and such a good color and price, free from a plant swap. You take care and enjoy that bog.

  2. So now you’re a bog blog too!

    “hyperchlorinated bong water” is a wonderful term. I got a hearty chuckle out of that.

    Your lawn water estimate sounds about right. In my neck of the chaparral, the Helix Water District estimates 46 gallons per square foot per year (or 3.8 per month).

    As usual, outstanding photos.

  3. What gorgeous alien creatures you have in your miniature swamp! I tried to do the maths in my head to work out how many baths per summer your bog garden equals but maths is is not my best subject – I just have a strong feeling that it’s not many, so in the scheme of things it’s not exactly greedy 🙂

    I hope I wasn’t too scornful of the florist’s flower either, sometimes I worry that I’ve become a horrid old killjoy through my thing for keeping stuff “natural”. I like to think I’m not as puritan as I might come across…

    Oh by the way, I posted those orchids!

  4. Tina, I’d say you did well in that plant swap. I’ve never grown acorus, though the photos of it I’ve seen are cool. The variegated forms look about as spectacular as anything else grass-like.

    George, yah, it was a bog blog posting alright. I’ll leave it to others to do dog blogs or frog blogs or fog blogs or log blogs… Thanks for the comment on the photos. You’re a little farther inland, so the higher water use numbers aren’t surprising.

    Bird, I’m on my way to check out your orchid postings! As far as my bog, I’ve figured that the average water user in town uses as much water in a day as it takes me to keep the bog alive all year–I actually do get assistance from the rain, though not much of it. And as far as your florist flower comments, I’m often right there with you. I have this fuzzy notion of a more natural world in my head and that side of me comes out every now and then. I think a little bit of puritanism doesn’t hurt, especially when it helps us keep our focus on important things like the natural world.

  5. Pitcher plants are great. I’ve never grown one, but I really like them.
    I’m not surprised by the calculations about your swamp versus a lawn. Lawns are bad, and it would be great if the whole state of California traded in all the front yard lawns for small bog gardens.

  6. “lawn is a just a green swamp full of grass” That is why we have NO lawn. 2 “creeks” which are dug out hollows with a growing selection of happy green plants. Another post in the offing. TX James

  7. Another beautiful and thought-provoking posting! As you probably know from my blog, I also have some lawn – though it is ever-shrinking. A bog, or other water-feature is a far cry from a green desert lawn. It provides more diversity, the key ingredient to habitat. And I do agree that it using “native” plants – those from the same state but not local – is really no different than introducing a non-native, so if there aren’t any appropriate natives, go with what works as long as it isn’t invasive, which clearly yours are not. I dream of having an interesting water-feature: pond, bog, vernal pool.

  8. Ryan, every now and then I hear people say that lawns are riparian areas or bogs that you mow…

    Susan, we also have a pond near the bog, and having one gives you access to a whole new world of plants. I doubt your water feature is really “rather dull” but it’s hard to not make something more interesting with the addition of some plants.

    Elephant’s Eye, I’ve seen your postings on storks, and I doubt any self-respecting stork would come to frolic on a lawn.

    Barbara, I’m intrigued by the idea of having a vernal pool as a water feature. I could see lining part of the garden with an impervious membrane, covering it with soil, and planting all sorts of rare and endangered vernal pool plants. It could go dry and wouldn’t be a water feature half of the year, but that’d be what you see in the natural vernal pools that are left.

  9. Until April I worked at Rancho Santa Ana Botanic Garden in Claremont. They have a vernal pool garden with interesting and unusual plants. It is a fairly high maintenance area. If I remember correctly the depressions are lined. The water is allowed to evaporate in summer. Definitely more work than I would take on at home, but something I think about.

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