Gay Gardens: Easy Patio Plants, Carnivorous Beauties

If You're a Fan of "Little Shop of Horrors" these buds are for you!

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By Dan Lynch

I recognize that not everyone reading this column has a garden to plant in, but that doesn’t mean you can’t grow awesome plants. The next two columns will be about great patio plants you can grow that don’t require a green thumb, because they don’t require a lot of care!

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Um, Adam, this column might not be for you.  There is nothing vegan in today’s column.

Carnivorous plants sound exotic, tropical and frankly daunting (and to be fair, many are), but many actually thrive quite happily here outdoors in the Pacific Northwest and a few are even native. They have slightly odd needs, but like any friend with dietary restrictions, needs which are actually pretty easy to fulfill if you know what they are.

This is relatively rare. Definitely fewer than five or six times a year.

Pitcher Plants are stunning patio plants

I didn’t start growing these for the flowers, but these bracts will last for months

Sarracenia (North American Pitcher Plants) are a genus of plants native to the Gulf Coast, eastern seaboard and parts of the Great Lakes.  You won’t see them in many neighbor’s yards, but they’ve been cultivated by specialists for long enough that a huge range of cultivars are available. They are native to bogs and wetlands, meaning you absolutely can’t plant them in your yard and have them live, but they’re perfect for a sunny patio, if you provide them with a few odd but relatively easy requirements.

Sorry, JuJubee, Sarracenia like it fresh and they like it raw.

Pitcher plants get their nutrients by attracting flying insects to their colorfully colored pitchers, luring them to check them out, and then drowning the damn things by using downward pointing hairs in the necks of the pitchers to make it impossible for anything to climb out once in. The same things that make these plants attractive lures for fly homicide make them attractive specimen plants on your patio.

 

A successful Sarracenia patio setup.

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Sarracenia thrive in wetland conditions like they have in the wild, which almost certainly means “not in the ground.”  But you can replicate what they need on your patio fairly easily. They need full sun, wet feet and lousy soil. Full sun means exactly that—pitcher plants will not survive the summer inside, and won’t like a shady spot either.

 

Sarracenia leucophylla. Gorgeous. Also, eats flies.

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I keep mine wet in aquaculture pots I got at Portland Nursery, but any clean, non-porous container without drainage holes will work.  Nurseries use shallow plastic tubs and I switch to cheap, short plastic plant saucers in the winter so I don’t lose these ceramic bowls to a hard freeze.  These aquaculture bowls make it easy for me to ensure that the pots are always sitting in water (but never submerged beneath it) and even in midsummer only need filled once every 2-3 weeks.   Note the bottoms of these pots are glazed—unglazed ceramics will accumulate salt and other minerals and eventually kill your plants!

 

Sarracenia oreophila (Green pitcher plant). As lovely as she is carnivorous.

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Soil is important—don’t just dig up garden soil.  I’ve bought my soil from the same specialists I buy my plants from, but a mix of 50% peat and 50% pearlite will do the trick.  Under NO circumstances should you use compost or fertilizer with these plants. They prefer to get all their nutrients from cold-blooded murder, thank you very much.

 

This two year old Sarracenia 'Bug Bat' is already quite full.

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Other carnivores that thrive in Oregon

I’ve had such luck with my Sarracenia that I’ve been experimenting with other outdoor carnvirores.  The growth requirements for these other plants are similar, but the plants in question don’t get quite as large as the bigger Sarracenias. I also haven’t had experience overwintering these, so I can’t promise mine will still be thriving next year.

 

#hortlandia haul. Darlingtonia californica.

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Darlingtonia (Cobra Lilies) are a single species genus (Darlingtonia californica), native to Oregon and California. A close cousin of the pitcher plant, save that their “pitchers” balloon over the top with a translucent hood.  There’s an obvious reason these are commonly called Cobra Lilies. These plants can put up with more shade than pitcher plants, and grow to about 18”.

Mine aren’t pretty enough to photograph yet, but a number of Drosera (sundew) species and all Dionaea (Venus Fly Trap) varieties are also winter hardy in Oregon, and worth a try.

Where to buy

 

#hortlandia haul. Sarracenia 'Scarlette Belle'

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Carnivorous plants aren’t particularly common, but they’re easy to find if you know where to go.  Carni Flora PDX and Sarracenia Northwest are both local specialist wholesale nurseries that usually have consumer sales at bigger local plant shows, but Carni Flora PDX also wholesales to a number of local retailers, including Cornell Farms, Garden Fever, Paxton Gate (Portland location) and thicket (all of which are awesome nurseries for other stuff, too).

Something you’d like to know more about, or the right snarky gif to insert in a future column?  Let me know. Find me at Instagram as GayGardensPDX, for all your gay gardening needs.