My Carnivorous Garden

`Here in the cold shackles of February I’ve turned my thoughts toward spring and my own ideas about gardening. Yesterday the afternoon was warm and breezy, and so I wandered outdoors for a little yard work.

Of course, much of the work I did was in my head. Gardening always starts out that way for me. Being an academic, I like to reflect on my manual labor before I do it. I like to give my sweating a social and cultural context.

With this in mind I surveyed my neglected natural garden preserve and noted two things of importance: I’ve finally lost the battle with grass in our gravel walks on the sunny south-facing side of the house, and what we’ve called “the wildflower meadow” for five years has officially become a small field of weeds I will now simply keep mowed unless I want to plow and plant annuals there every year.

After a brief period of reflection on these developments I actually did a little work. I even have a blister to prove it. I pruned the gardenias and raked leaves away from the overwintering herbs. Then I wandered to the front north-facing side of the house to admire and tend my most successful gardening experiment: the bog.

As a gardener it seems I do much better on the cooler, moister side of the house. I can control what happens there much better. I like the growth rates of ferns. All that flowering plant exuberance out back in the sun gives me fits. I don’t have the temperament for profusion, and my bog is best of all: a shade-tolerant, low-growth installation that I’ve enjoyed deeply.

Five year ago when I constructed my carnivorous garden I didn’t expect it to become my favorite part of the yard. I’d seen the idea in SOUTHERN LIVING-dig a pit, put in a pond liner, sand, and peat. Then add pitcher plants and Venus flytraps for a garden right out of LITTLE SHOP OF HORRORS.

Before I planted the bog I filled the pit with water and let the peat soak it up. My six-year-old nephew Walker was visiting, and on a tour of the garden he mistook the black peat for solid ground and ended up face down in the muck. He’ll never forget that peat baptism, and his surprise has now become a story I always tell during my tours of the yard.

The other story I always tell about the bog is how I deposit a summer’s worth of ticks in the pitcher plants and flytraps and enjoy quite deeply the idea of ticks becoming carnivorous plants in our front yard.

So yesterday I pulled out the hose and completed my main bog maintenance for February: make sure the peat is moist and the pit is full to the brim. When the days warm for good, I’ll clip off the old growth on the pitcher plants and flytraps, and maybe buy a few more. But mostly with the bog, it’s just a matter of keeping the pit filled and admiring species of plants that capture and dissolve insects in their long sticky leaves.

As February lengthens into March, I’ll get bogged down and stand out front and admire this space where I can both dream and work with my hands. A bog is a perfect place for a poet to project his imagination-a plot half earth and half water.

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