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Gardenzia carnivorus.

I recently got back into horticulture after a bad moment of burnout, and wouldn't ya know it, I'm back at it with carnivorous plants! Despite tweeting about it endlessly, I haven't actually explained how or why this started.

Back in middle school, I helped my science teacher set up a carnivorous plant display. Nothing elaborate, mind you; a terrarium with a bunch of sphagnum moss and some pitcher plants, a sundew or two, maybe a Venus flytrap? Didn't leave much of an impression, except maybe that they died and that sucked. shrug.

A couple years later, I was in a bog near my grandmother's lake house, when things changed forever. I was in the back end of the canoe, and as my dad pulled the front end out of the water, I glanced to my right and spied, on a stump with some moss, sundews (Drosera rotundifolia, to be precise).

Drosera rotundifolia, the round-leaved sundew, among sphagnum moss
Drosera rotundifolia.
Of course I recognized therm instantly—they're hard to mistake, with those the sparkling tentacles and all. I gathered 3 or so of them (I know now that's a no-no, but I was young and ignorant!), and took them home. They failed to thrive or, for that matter, live... For the life of me, I couldn't figure out why.

So like any good nerd, I went to the library and book store. I ended up with a few books, including Peter D'Amato's Savage Garden (also available on Amazon, I guess...). I still have that same copy of it—still with my copious scrawl and sticky notes and exclamation points. Within weeks, I knew all the genus names, all the rules for cultivation; I could tell you where they were from and how the caught their prey and what made each one cool.

I read that book forward and backward and round robin and over and over. It's amazing. It's well written. It's populated with phenomenal photos and endless information that all tantalized my young, curious, eager mind. I even met the author, visited his nursery, bought some plants. I've kept it on my shelf through all these many moves up and down the East Coast for a reason, even if I can't recall the last time I actually cracked it open.

All this enthusiasm lead to a somewhat broader (if never quite completely actualized) interest in horticulture. I'd spied my future high school's greenhouse during a tour in 8th grade, so I knew where to house these things. I joined the horticulture club; for a while, I was the horticulture club before recruiting many of my friends. I learned a good bit about noncarnivorous plants and their tending, too. I even wrote a column in my school newspaper (nerd).

But I didn't have it together then; I didn't keep my carnivores living. For example, I could never sort out the water situation for the plants I had: Carnivorous plants, as with most bog plants, are famously susceptible to dissolved minerals and alkaline water, so only distilled or rain water can be used. However, I didn't have either a car or the memory to get the gallons of water from the store to my house then to the school, and when we tried rain water, leaves and other junk kept falling in it... I'm sure there were other mistakes, but regardless, they died. And that sucked.

At some point, I moved on. Various housing situations, such as going off to college, and other stuff got in the way, sure, but honestly? My interest had waned as failure and time attenuated this enthusiasm of youth. Sometimes, it's just tough sustaining that kinda thing when you're young, or it turned out that way for me at least. It did lurk somewhere, though; I did think about those wild plants from time to time...

About 2 months ago, I got hit with burnout. Too much work, too little me time, and not enough spoons left. That night, I gave life the finger by posting a pic on social media of me in a Venus flytrap shirt that read "BITE ME." An online friend hit me up, saying he grew VFTs and other carnivores for fun and had extras and asking—did I want some?

Fuck yeah I did.

I got bit by the bug for bug-eating plants pretty hard this time around, and it hasn't hurt the craving that I now have the means to collect and sustain them. I've already collected over 15 plants—variously sundews (Drosera) and butterworts (Pinguicula) and American pitcher plants (Sarracenia) and Venus flytraps (Dionaea)...

But it's funny: I was looking at my elaborate and fabulously organized spreadsheet (because of course there's a spreadsheet...), and I didn't feel like anything on it leapt out as "needed." There are, of course, things I'd gladly take on if offered; there are things that still excite me as well, no doubt. But I've reached a sort of happy "limit"; I've begun shifting from "acquisition" to "cultivation." I want to tend to and curate and play with what I have rather than feel some need to take on more.

Like, I've been devising a mini bog garden; picking plants, carnivorous and otherwise, to create something interesting and fun. I've got about 3 or 4 experiments, including nurturing some stowaway seedlings I rescued from another pot and a possible major propagation attempt on a cultivar I've "discovered" (and hopefully won't kill...).

And it's nice, really. It's fun. Will it fix my burnout, prevent the exhaustion and collapse brought on two jobs and no life? I can't say for sure yet, but I certainly hope so because I'm enjoying this.


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