(Featured above – Audrey the VFT in her early days! Not a bonsai, no, but read below to find out why Audrey was so important in cultivating my interest in growing all things green!)
When I’m not writing or reading, I’m tending to the various jungle of plants which are gradually taking over my house.
My love for plants probably stems (haha, no pun intended) from my mother’s green fingers. She gets it from my Bapcia, who would always be proud to show us her gardens and greenhouse every time we went down to visit her. My sister picked this up when she moved in with her SO – but I had suspected for a long time that she, too, had dreams of possessing the ‘green touch’. It was only a matter of time before my ‘plant powers’ emerged (I hoped).
Although my sister had a couple of downfalls with plants in her early university years, she’s now got a thriving garden. She manages (I have no idea how!) to grow garlic, lavender, and an array of various other plants and flowers in her small sun-trap garden at the back of her house. I’m astounded by this – she really must have some kind of intuition for this, because garlic is, I’m told, notoriously difficult to grow. It usually only thrives in warmer climates (i.e. down South). But she managed it.
My own love of plants began when I was younger. I’d seen on a TV program someone creating a ‘rock garden’. It’s a small decorative tray filled with large rocks, coloured sand, and a living plant. For some reason this idea struck a chord in me, and I begged my mum to let me set one up for my bedroom. Sure enough, Christmas rolled round and she’d bought me a blue ceramic square tray, a small bag of sand, some large smooth stones, and two plants. I can’t exactly remember the name of the first one – it would have grown very, very tall if I’d looked after it. It had leaves which wrapped around the stem and fanned outwards – some kind of Dracaena, corn plant, or Yucca. My other plant was a very small, very purple African Violet (I think I might have asked for this because they had them on Sims 1!).
Poor Mrs. A. Violet didn’t fare too well under my care (I must have been around 7-8 at the time), and quickly shrivelled within a few months. I don’t think the cold air on my windowsill helped her either. But my leafy plant grew quite tall, to the point where it was falling over under it’s own weight. Looking back, it probably needed repotting (but tell that to my pre-tween self…).
I didn’t have any plants for a long time after that.
It was several years later before I started getting back into my plants. I’m not quite sure what attracted me to the carnivorous variety. Perhaps I had some remnant of a memory from visiting my junior school science teacher’s house when I was young, and seeing her collection of Venus Fly Traps in her conservatory, watching them snap shut at the tiniest movements. Whatever it was, I visited the local garden centre and bought, with what little spare money I had, one small VFT.
Audrey’s partners in crime.
I christened her Audrey, and I cared for that thing as best I could.
VFT’s are not easy plants to care for, but they’re certainly rewarding. I set her up in the ceramic blue tray I still had and positioned her on my windowsill. She sat happily with her new friends – I’d already previously bought one succulent and a flowering plant. One which ended up rotting away (too much water) and the succulent survived. I’ve still got it happily nestled on my hallway window in a Barbie pink pot (currently unnamed – if you have suggestions I’m willing to consider any and all).
Audrey stayed with me for about 2-3 years. I bought her in late spring/early summer, and by winter, she became dormant. Dormancy was quite scary for me as a lot of her leaves and heads dropped, blackened, and she decreased in size. That was when I discovered I had not one, but two plants in the same pot!
When spring rolled around again, I repotted her and rehomed her. I bought some more stones and lined the bottom of my tray with them, trying to recreate bog conditions. She liked it in there. She liked it so much she began to flower.
This is a close-up of the above image. You can see on the left a stem which begins very red and has a little bud on the bottom. Audrey was really healthy at this point (she’s not very red because there wasn’t enough light for that to occur). So she decided it would be a great idea to begin to flower. Now, that’s pretty cool, I thought, but at first I wondered what the hell is that thing? I looked it up, and yeah – she was flowering! Or attempting to, anyway.
This is a problem. The natural habitat of the VFT is a bog. It’s full of flies and the soil is very poor in nutrition due to the waterlogged ground. So they’ve developed their trap system in order to lure flies and get the nutrients they need from the sky rather than the earth. Pretty neat? (Excuse the horribly abbreviated biology lesson).
So when you’re a VFT and you’re sat in my room and there’s not really that many flies compared to a bog, and you’ve decided to put all your energy into growing a flower… you pretty much end up almost killing yourself. This was Audrey’s Swan Song.
She wanted to flower so much that she budded twice. This was her first attempt – she was healthy, thriving, and I was curious to see what these VFT flowers would look like. She clearly had enough of what she needed, because Audrey ended up budding twice. You can see how bloody huge these things got. They were probably as long as my forearm and hand combined!
I actually couldn’t find any of my photographs of the flowers when they bloomed – they lasted perhaps a day and then began to shrivel. But here’s what they end up looking like –
They’re beautiful, delicate, tiny white things. I feel very lucky to have had a VFT that flowered. But I really should have nipped it in the bud when I first saw that stalk. Because she put so much energy into making a flower, she didn’t grow much for months after that.
Then she tried to send up another bud stalk. I cut this one off. But I think the damage had already been done from the first time – I couldn’t revive Audrey. She descended into slowly dying off. Eventually I put her outside to join the soil.
I didn’t get another VFT until I was walking around B&Q and saw a VFT that definitely looked as though it needed saving. Audrey 2.0 had probably not been looked after very well, because she didn’t grow well. I had her in my first house, amongst a couple of other types of carnivorous plant – I had a marsh pitcher (which are the ones who stand up like trumpets, and often have mottled speckled trunks), a sundew (VERY hard to care for in my experience), and a Sanguinous Nepenthes (monkey cup or tropical pitcher plant – in my case it was a deep, deep vampiric maroon). VFT’s are arguably the easiest out of all four types I’ve tried to care for, but I’m telling you now – do not feed them raw meat.
This is definitely the reason Audrey 2.0 did not survive. Not my decision, but unfortunately there are some people who just can’t resist messing around with VFT’s.
I moved back home with only one of my plants remaining. I’d bought various cacti and succulents while I’d lived away from my mum’s, but none of them returned home with me. The last plant in my care was Audrey’s spikey, unnamed friend (a type of Haworthia).
Over the next year, I acquired two more plants. One was an aloe vera my sister had propagated, and the other is fondly nicknamed “The Alien Plant”.
At my mum’s, I had a brief stint at growing herbs. My sister, in another moment of genius, bought me a herb growing pot for windowsills. It’s self-watering – perfect for someone like me, who either forgets to water the plants or waters them too much! I grew basil (still alive on my mum’s windowsill), dill, thyme and sage. The latter two are quite similar when they’re germinating and I forgot which one was which since I didn’t label my pots. My dill and basil grew rapidly. I kept my basil inside, since it does not like to be overly wet, and it’s doing very well. My sage got put into the greenhouse and grew well for a while before getting too hot over the summer months.
… what happened to my dill and thyme? Al I’ll say is they’re very fragrant, tasty herbs. And there’s a lot of slugs in my mum’s herb border.
During this time I also acquired a ‘grow your own VFT’ kit. I’m not sure the seeds were entirely viable, though, since they never did germinate (shame – I was really looking forward to Audrey 3.0! Rise of the Audrinator).
Moving house in December was a great excuse for me to buy even more plants. Lidl and Aldi tend to have really nice succulents, so I’ve now got a something-or-other on my windowsill (large flat discs, with red edging). My grandmother also moved house and we went to purge her house of ‘things’. I came away with, amongst other things, a Clivia, a Christmas Cactus, and another Leafy Thing.
But by far my best achievement to date has to be my Adenium. Growing this ‘Desert Rose’ is on going, so I’ll save that for another post.
If anyone has any tips or questions about caring for VFT’s (probably the plant I’ve spent most time with), there’s a lot of good information out on the web – I recommend this site here. If anyone knows what any of my rogue, unnamed plants are, get in touch!
Adieu for now and I’m really looking forward to sharing my Adenium Obesum growing journey with you!