Growing a killer garden
Local carnivorous plants enthusiasts share their passion
When most people think of carnivorous plants, Venus flytraps (à la Little Shop of Horrors) first come to mind. While those are arguably the most recognized of the insect-eating flora, expert carnivorous plant growers have hundreds of other varieties in their gardens and collections: pitcher plants with traps the size of liter soda bottles, sundews that trap their prey with sticky nectar, and bladderworts whose traps grow underneath the ground.
It takes years of experience to master the craft of growing the famished flora. The plants require specialized growing conditions in order to thrive, which means that acquiring an established collection can take years of constant care and individualized attention. Two local carnivorous plant green thumbs share their experiences with growing their killer gardens and share tips for introducing these beauties into your home.
Larry and Lili Nau, Owners of Bergen Water Gardens and Nursery, Churchville
Churchville native Larry Nau has owned and operated his nursery, Bergen Water Gardens, since 2000. At that time there were no specialized nurseries in the area for pond and aquatics supplies, and Nau was the perfect candidate to open such a niche business given his experience in the category. Nau served on the board of directors and as the executive director of the International Waterlily and Water Gardening Society and his was recently certified by the IWGS as the first lotus Collection of Excellence in the world.
Together with his wife Lili, whom he married in 2016, Nau grows and cares for a large variety of carnivorous plants over Bergen Water Garden’s sixteen acres and multiple greenhouses. “We have several thousand plants,” Nau states. “I am working hard at developing a nice collection of Venus fly traps. A few of our American pitcher plants can grow up to three feet tall! In the next several years, our carnivorous plant collection will be much like our lotus collection.”
Nau has lots of valuable tips to offer a novice carnivorous plant grower. “The number one killer of carnivorous plants is tap water,” he advises. “We use collected rain water, and reverse osmosis water is great. Be careful of distilled water, as some brands add minerals back in. Do not fertilize; you can kill the plant quickly. Avoid feeding your plants manually—they are good at what they do.”
Michael DiCaprio, Independent Grower, Fairport, NY
Venus flytraps first sparked Michael DiCaprio’s interest when he was a kid, but unfortunately, the successes of his first carnivorous plants were short lived. “I didn’t know how to keep them alive when I was younger. It wasn’t until I found the book The Savage Garden by Peter D’Amato that I learned how to properly care for them.”
After graduating from college and moving to New York City to start his career in advertising, DiCaprio rekindled his interest with the predatory plants with asmall collection that he cared for on his Brooklyn apartment windowsill. “I didn’t have a lot of space in Brooklyn, but I made do with what I had.”
DiCaprio moved to Rochester, in 2011, which allowed him to grow his carnivorous plant hobby exponentially. He now has more than 300 plants in his collection and has recreated their national growing habits in homemade grow tents, terrariums, and bogs. DiCaprio presented on his hobby at the Memorial Art Gallery’s Hidden Passions lecture series in 2015 and is invited to several school science fairs each year to display his collection and share his knowledge.
“A lot of the plants have very specific temperature and humidity requirements in order to thrive,” he advises. “Part of the fun has been figuring out how to build grow spaces to meet their needs.”
To find out more information about Bergen Water Gardens, visit bergenwatergardens.com
To find out more about Michael DiCaprio, visit him on Iinstagram at @mediummessage.
A low-maintenance gal with high-maintenance hair, Laura DiCaprio is a freelance writer in Fairport.