Tag Archives: bog garden

safely in pots

Pitcher plants going crazy in the bog garden
Pitcher plants going crazy in the bog garden

The bog gardens have been looking really good this spring. Plants that I got as single-growth divisions are establishing themselves, and smaller seedlings are starting to approach their awkward but exciting teen years.

Magic Gopher Hole
Magic Gopher Hole
Compared to the rest of the garden–which this year has had the worst plague of gophers in recent memory–the bogs have grown up safe in their little green zones, insulated from the subterranean horrors of the garden by four inches of concrete. Apparently gophers aren’t great at chewing through four inches of concrete. Who’d have thought.

Rather than drag you down the rabbit gopher hole, let me show you some of this year’s successes in the bogs.

The bog by the upper waterfall pond
The bog by the upper waterfall pond
The planting above the pond features mostly taller, green-tubed forms of carnivorous species like Sarracenia alata and flava. There’s isn’t easy access to this garden, so the tall, green plants read nicely from a distance against the dark leaves behind them. This used to be a pond that leaked, but now filled with dirt and then plastic tubs buried up to their necks in the dirt and planted with the bog plants. The plants seem pretty happy.

The upper bog, closer up
The upper bog, closer up

Lower bog
Lower bog

Another failed pond morphed into this other bog, using the same planting techniques as the upper pond bog. These plants share the same tub of growing medium as five or six other plants. This bog you can walk right up to, so it features smaller growing plants are almost eye level. This is where many of the small all-green plants go, along with species or hybrids that really need to be viewed up close to appreciate them.

Two clones of Sarracenia (courtii x Green Monster), Robert Co hybrids
Two clones of Sarracenia (courtii x Green Monster), Robert Co hybrids

The bog bench
The bog bench
And then there’s this, the main growing zone, a long seating area that I built with an integrated wet bog. Basically the bog is a long rectangle, built up with eight inch sides, and waterproofed with pond lining. The plants each get their own pots and stand in a thumbnail’s depth of water.

This is where a lot of the big, splashy numbers go. These are plants that look good from across the garden or bear inspection from close-up while seated on the bench.

Up close and personal with Sarracenia flava var. ornata, Prince George County and Sarracenia excellens
Up close and personal with Sarracenia flava var. ornata, Prince George County and Sarracenia excellens

Yah, it’s been a tough year, with life sending us nettles and then gophers. But at least the plants in containers are thriving.

what’s eating you

No garden project seems to ever be complete, but we did put the finish on the bog bench we’ve spent a lot of time working on.

We used this stuff, Superdeck. It took already good-looking wood and turned it into something almost like a nice finish on furniture. Over the last few years we’ve tried various ways to finish ipe used outdoors and this stuff seems to give it the most durable and attractive finish. They haven’t paid me a cent to say this. I like the stuff.

Twenty feet from the bog bench Stapelia gettleffii has opened its first flowers of the season. I’ve mentioned before how this plant is one of an informal group of carrion-scented plants that are pollinated by flies.

Back at the bog bench this Sarracenia alata, veinless form, is having a hard time hiding the fact that it’s had a lot of bugs–most of them flies–as meals this season. Just look at how the pitchers suddenly turn dark as you go down the tube. Dead bugs inside. Lots of them.

Midsummer’s edible highlight is the ripening of the figs, and this one is about thirty, forty feet from the bog bench..

One of the annoying nemeses of fig growers is this shiny little guy below, the fig beetle. It has the unpleasant habit of breaking the fig’s skin and then feeding off the succulence inside. I can’t say that I blame them, but I want the figs all to myself.

For some reason they seem captivated with this one plant in the bog, the “green” form of Sarracenia leucophylla, a form that lacks the ability to make the reddish anthocyanin pigments. I’ve noticed that the pitchers of this plant have a distinct damask-rose aroma. Maybe the scent reminds the beetles of the floral notes of figs?

Whatever the case, at least one of the beetles got a little too interested in this pitcher and fell in. It was gruesome to watch as it tried to fight its way back out of the pitcher, struggling so hard it kicked a big hole in the side of this tube. It took at least three days to die.

There’s a certain streak in many carnivorous plant aficionados that seems to delight in the bug killing aspect of these plants. I’m not one of them. My father spent much of his life as a Buddhist, and I’m sure some of its tenets of non-violence against the universe rubbed off on me. I found it unsettling to walk by the pitcher and watch this happening. A slow death by starvation and dehydration, head-down into a pile of dead bugs–not the way I want to leave this earth.

So I put on my rosy goggles of denial and look at the plants in the bog. This is one of the more spectacular ones right now, named ‘W.C.,’ it’s a polygamous hybrid involving S. leucophylla, S. rubra and S. psittacina.

Still, I’m reminded of the oblivious pet-owner’s line: “He’s a cute puppy isn’t he? Why, no, it doesn’t bite.”

Yah right. Pretty, evil things…

the big project

It’s done at last, the project from Hades.

The ugly backside of the outdoor fireplace, a week into the demolition

What started out as this ugly outdoor fireplace with attached bench…

The finished bench, from the end.

…has now morphed effortlessly (yah right) into this new garden feature: part bench, part deck, part raised bog/planter. It’s about four by sixteen feet in size.

For the last two years my bog plants were hogging up the sunny spot in the middle of the patio. Totally in the way. The new bench needed to have a raised bog/planter detail, returning some of the hardscape to garden.

With a general plan in place we got going.


Some scenes from the project:

This act of creation began with an act of destruction. The decrepit and not earthquake-safe chimney came down a brick at a time over several weekends. We saved 350 bricks that came off in pretty good condition and hand-chiseled the mortar off of most of them. Inside the fireplace was the reason the whole thing hadn’t collapsed already: 200 pounds of reinforcing steel. At current metal recycling rates we got almost 30 dollars for the scrap metal.

The rustic Japanese tiles that I loved 15 years ago and still appreciate now

I had some moments of nostalgia and renewed appreciation for the little Japanese tiles that I picked out fifteen years ago to try to ornament what at the time was already a marginally attractive garden feature. The didn’t come off the fireplace easily, and the shards and even the good bits were dispatched to the dump. As much as we tried to recycle, this project is not going to get a Platinum LEED rating.

The super-story bricks removed, we were left with a long concrete bench. I like plain concrete as a material, but this bench had been formed around a wood fence that had rotted away a decade ago. We shimmed over the ugliness and covered it all with wood.

A shimmed corner with support for the decking about to be installed
The whole bench with shims in place


The bench with black paint to keep the white from showing through between the slats
Before adding suppot battens for the planter we checked to see how it would look with them outside. Ugh. Way too rustic, too Country Home, too NASCAR. The battens are now hidden inside.


With the fireplace gone, it opens up the patio to the rest of the back yard.I liked how the zones were distinct before, but the bench still serves as a gentle separator between garden zones.


The bench was poured with this Greco-Roman column for support. Were they pining for some lost ancestors? Or were they postmodern ten years before the movement caught on with architects? Whatever the case, we decided to paint it black to de-emphasize it. No way were we going to take on taking it out!
The planter nearly complete, ready for the pond liner
Pond liner being put into place. This is to protect the wood and allow the bog plants to sit in water. This could also be repurposed in the future as a raised pond, or--after punching some drain holes--a normal planter box.
...and here it is with the bog plants in place.

A final “after” picture:

We’re going to relax some before starting the next garden project, maybe in these two old butterfly chairs John got second-hand 30 years ago, with our feet up on the new bench…

bog chronicles

Several ponds and a waterfall came with the house when we moved in a couple decades ago. They looked cool and the waterfall continues to provide a nice gurgling noise that helps mask the usual din of a residential neighborhood. Unfortunately, as the years passed, the ponds began to fail or show their shortcomings.

One of them was so tiny it was good for breeding mosquitos and not much else. It got turned into a planter pretty quickly.

The mid-sized pond turned out to be a critter magnet. Rummaging possums and raccoons ate all the fish and regularly upturned any water plants. Two years back it became my first bog garden, and is today filled with carnivorous sundews and pitcher plants. I was concerned about how much water a bog garden would require, but last year I figured it out that it required only about as much water as an equivalent patch of grass.

Maybe five years ago it became apparent that we had a growing leak on the largest pair of ponds and linking waterfall. The concrete that made up the ponds was fine, but plant roots were prying up the decorative rocks that had been mortared on top to make the ponds look like a volcanic grotto. I divided the upper pond in two, leaving the front half to cascade the water into the lower pond. The back half became yet another planter. Nothing seemed to do well there, though, so I decided to try turning it into another bog for my growing pitcher plant collection.

I started by removing several hundred pounds of dirt. Taking away the dirt exposed the reason why nothing seemed to thrive in the bed. The surround plants had sent their roots into the planter and sucked up whatever irrigation I provided to the plants I wanted to thrive there. I did a brutal pruning on all the adventuring roots, but figured that they’d be back when offered moist soil to wander into.

To keep roots out of the bog I decided to containerized the bog plants in plastic storage tubs from Target. I could water the plants in the tubs and leave the surrounding soil dry, reducing the attraction for marauding roots. I used two sixteen by twenty-two inch containers that were a foot deep plus a smaller one on the end.

The super-secret ingredients that went into my bog mix: sand and peatmoss. You need to be sure the peatmoss doesn't have added fertilizer, which could make the bog plants fail.

I packed dirt around the tubs to stabilize them, then filled them up with a 60/40 blend of sphagnum peat moss and washed plaster sand, the sort of acid, low-nutrition soil that most carnivores prefer to grow in. Finally, after several hours of hard labor of the sort the sort that I think my doctor is about to tell me I can’t do anymore, I got to install the plants.

The bog, ready for plants.
One of the Sarracenia alata rhizomes that went into the bog.

I selected several species of taller-growing pitcher plants to form the main planting, Sarracenia flava, S. alata and S. oreophila. From my research I figured out that these often grow naturally farther from water sources or in areas where the bogs dry out for part of the year. As far as pitcher plants go, these all should prove to be fairly drought tolerant. Still “drought tolerant” is a relative term, and they’ll need to be kept at least damp year-round.

Ta-da! The finished bog.

To finish off the planting, and to partially assuage my guilt at not using native plants, I surrounded one of the tubs with divisions of one of my native rushes, Juncus patens, a riparian plant that doesn’t seem to resent drying out. Another bonus of this species is that it looks good throughout the year, something that can’t be said for these pitcher plants, which counter their several months of looking severely cool and amazing with several months of looking dying and pathetic.

I’ll post progress photos as the young new bog plants begin to fill and and show their potential. I’m hoping this won’t turn into another failed pond.

my carnivores in december

December carnivore trimmings

As winter approaches many of the plants in the bog garden are starting to retreat into dormancy. Sunday I filled part of a bucket with the trimmings from the bog and two trays of potted carnivorous plants.

I have mostly American pitcher plants, sarracenia, and I’ve been starting to learn the rhythms of the different species and hybrids. Many put out their main flush of growth in the spring and look progressively scrappier and scrappier as spring turns into summer, and summer into fall. Many of these are now tidied up in the bottom of this bucket.

Sarracenia leucophylla Titan in December

Sarracenia leucophylla Tarnok in December

Others sync up with hurricane season, presenting their most spectacular pitchers in late summer and fall when heavy rains can be expected in the American Southeast. The white-topped pitcher, Sarracenia leucophylla, is the most charismatic of these. At least two clones have been tissue-cultured and are commonly available, ‘Tarnok’ (to the left) and ‘Titan’ (to the right). In spring, a mature Tarnok will produce big red double pompoms of sterile flowers that will persist long into the year. The flowers being sterile, this could be considered a cultigen, a plant incapable of reproducing itself except by seducing members of the human species to keep it alive via division or cloning. ‘Titan’ is supposed to have the unusual ability to produce pitchers over three feet tall, though in my too-dry, less than ideal conditions, it’s not as good a grower and clumper as Tarnok.

Sarracenia Judith Hindle in December2

‘Judith Hindle’ is another tissue-cultured, commonly available plant. I called this Sarracenia Trader Joe’s for a year because that’s where I bought this no-label plant. But I’ve decided it’s Judith Hindle because there was a whole big display of plants that looked just like this one, and I’m fairly certain that it’s the only hybrid that’s been tissue-cultured that looks and behaves like this. Like its leucophylla grandparent, it gives up its best pitchers in the fall.

Sarracenia alata Red Lid in December

Another plant that’s still got a few nice pitchers this late in the year is this red-lidded versions of the species S. alata.

Sarracenia Super Green Giant in December

And this hybrid, ‘Super Green Giant,’ seems to be doing well late in the season, though I’ve only had it since August and can’t vouch for what it’ll look like the rest of the year. Also, it’s lived a coddled life in a pot standing in water, not one loosed in the outdoor bog with these other plants.

Drosera capensis Red Form in December

Not everything is pitcher plants. This is the very easy-to-grow (some would say “weedy”) Drosera capensis, red form, a sundew from wet spots in South Africa. If you let it flower it will set seed. And if it sets seed, it can spread throughout your collection. I’m trying to figure out which of the bog plants can get by with less than boggy conditions. So far this is one of them.

Potted carnivores in December

In addition to the bog garden, I have two tubs of water with other plants. A very few are still looking presentable this late in the year. Three hybrids in this tub combine to make a lively red-and-green display: ‘Mardi Gras,’ ‘W.C.’ and a primary hybrid, x mitchelliana, made by Jerry Addington of Courting Frogs Nursery and retailed by Karen Oudean of Oudean’s Willow Creek Nursery. All of these hybrids are one half or at least one quarter leucophylla, so they retain some of its abilities to look nice in the fall. They also involve other species that tend to have a stronger year-round presence instead of retreating to a rhizome for the winter.

Tub of bog plants after the rain

These trays of plants have moved from the unheated greenhouse, hopefully to trigger the dormancy that most of these plants needs to thrive. Another hope is that they’ll get a taste of rain and not yet another drenching of reverse-osmosis water. After many weeks with nothing, they finally got treated to our first big storm of the season. When I came home last night the trays had almost three inches of water in them. Real water. Free water from the sky. At last!


I’m back from my trip, and I’ll post some of the trip pictures here soon.

Two weeks away during prime growing season can guarantee that you’ll come back to surprises. I knew tomatoes grew quickly, but, dang, what was I thinking when I put that one indeterminate monster in the flower bed? I don’t usually prune my tomato plants, but that’s what I was doing within fifteen minutes of pulling up in the driveway. A few baby tomatoes of the first crop went with the stems that went into the greens recycle bin, but there will be more where those came from.

Sarracenia alata pitcherThe nicest surprise to come back to was probably the opening of the first pitcher on the Sarracenia alata in the new bog garden. I’d been watching the new leaves making their way up from the rhizomes for the last couple of months, and this first pitcher was perfect: elegant, streamlined, and gently striped.

I usually don’t buy piles of souvenirs on my trips. This time I came home with three. One was a little soap in the shape of a cute grizzly bear. (The soap smelled like cheap cologne.) Another was a wild huckleberry-filled chocolate bar for John. (Even though he likes chocolate as much as I do, he agreed that the souvenir bar tasted like bad Hershey’s with a little bit of berry jam spread on it. At least the wrapper was festive.)

And the last souvenir I brought home was for the carnivorous plants in the bog garden. Common wisdom is that carnivores like pure water, with total dissolved solids less than 50 parts per million. The local San Diego water bottoms out at around 180ppm tds and goes up from there, so it’s not ideal–and actually lethal over the long term–for carnivores. At the Norris Campground in Yellowstone on my way out I emptied my 5-gallon emergency water container which I’d filled with disgusting San Diego tap water at the start of the trip. Then I went to the spigot and filled it with five fresh gallons of pure mountain snowmelt.

Cape sundewNot long after I got home I took the mountain water to the bog plants and opened the spigot on the jug and let it dribble into the assorted pitcher plants and sundews. After sniffing the disgusting souvenir soap and sampling the unfortunate chocolate, I know the bog plants got the best souvenir of all from my trip. Nothing is too good for some of my current favorite plants…

A happy Cape sundew (Drosera capensis, broad leaf form) in the bog garden.

how to scare adults and small children

A box showed up last week. Inside was a plant I’d bid on on eBay, Darlingtonia californica, the cobra lily, a plant for the new bog garden. It was a nice little division, packed in sphagnum and still wet from the bog garden it had just left. I showed it to John.

“It’s enought to give me nightmares,” he said, shuddering a little.

Darlingtonia californica

I have this scare of snakes, a fear instilled in me by a nanny who took me to the Rangoon zoo and pointed out the the banded kraits. “See that one? It can kill you with one little bite. And that one,” she said, pointing out the Burmese python. Well, she didn’t need to say anything. Multi-feet long, and as fat as I was, there was no question I wouldn’t want to feel its loving embrace.

Some people want gardens that are pretty and make them feel good. But somehow I end up getting this plant that has more than a passing resemblance to my childhood fears. Maybe it’s about time I faced them head-on. And as scary as this plant is, I think it’s also fairly amazing-looking. And for the first time, I have this compulsion to give this plant a nickname, something like…Audrey