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My Gardening Journey by Megan

We asked Megan to share with us her journey into gardening and how she became passionate about growing carnivorous plants.

Tell us a little about yourself?

My name is Megan (@carnivorous_plant_girl), I am 23 and specialise in the subject of carnivorous plants. I have been growing these plants for 10 years now and these plants have become a very big part of my life. I have a wide range of different carnivorous plant genus, species, hybrids and cultivars which I mostly grow outside in my 6x8ft unheated greenhouse in Tendering Essex with the exception of a few less hardy genus which I keep inside.

In my spare time, I spread the message about the care, propagation and research of carnivorous plants through the use of social media, articles, blogs and videos in order to conserve the future of these beautiful and unique plants by reaching different audiences and educating them on the ins and outs of the carnivorous plant world.

What was your introduction into gardening?

My very first introduction to the Horticultural world was reading Horticulture magazines whilst round my nan's, the first thing to take my interest was a small section about carnivorous plants and their ability to capture and digest insects. I had never been interested in plants before this but after that I wanted to know more about these strange and interesting plants. This small experience into plants encouraged me to study them further, I then went on to volunteer within big gardens and learn about a range of different plants.

I really enjoyed my volunteering work as it introduced me to so many different areas within a garden from general maintenance to plant care and growing. After a year of volunteering, I decided to study a degree in horticulture. During this time I discovered so much more about plants from their physiology to how they impact mental health. I was given some freedom in my final year to research areas that interested me and of course I focused my dissertation on carnivorous plants. After completing university with a first class degree in horticulture, I knew that a career in horticulture was what I wanted to do.

Who’s your gardening inspiration and why?

I admire many people within horticulture, there are so many areas and I have seen so many people who are experts within their field who have put countless hours into their work and what they achieve. Their work is inspiring just to know how much love and passion has gone into various gardens, displays and collections. I really enjoy meeting people of all different backgrounds within the plant growing community, there is always so much more to discover and learn. There are often so many nice people you meet through gardening that are willing to share their knowledges and experiences too.

Furthermore, there are a few carnivorous plant nurseries within the UK and I admire the work these growers do and the research they have done towards the hobby in order to ensure there is a future for these plants. I am regularly inspired by plant researchers who spend their time questioning and testing different boundaries of the plants we grow. I have always like to explore my own path within the research I do and use other known growers as a guide as what has been done and what hasn’t been tried yet.

What do you enjoy about gardening?

My favourite thing in horticulture is propagation, it has always been the subject that has fascinated me the most, just how you can take a part of a plant and create a whole new one is amazing!

Alpines and succulents are my favourite plants to propagate next to carnivorous plants and I really enjoy taking cuttings and watching them develop into fully grown plants, it is a simple and easy process that anyone can do. This is probably the highlight of growing that I do in summer, with the longer warmer days it also allows me to spend a few hours in the greenhouse after a day of work so I can enjoy my plants some more.

My least favourite job has to be the winter clean and repot, although repotting and organising can be therapeutic in the warmer weather, I don’t enjoy doing it in the cold, wet weather when the days are shorter and there is less time in the day to be outside. Most of my plants are best repotted in the winter so it can be a long exhausting job.

Tell us about your gardening experiences?

Since being introduced into horticulture I have wanted to try all aspects of gardening, I have managed to grow a nice range of different plants in my small corner space and during this time I have found a love for alpines, succulents, dahlias, seasonal containers all alongside growing carnivorous plants. I grow all my plants in pots since deciding to get two large grow tents outside my greenhouse for all my spares and storage but I make use of the space I have.

I have also experimented with growing my own veg in the last couples of years, successfully growing cucumbers, tomatoes and strawberries in my small space.

I think the most challenging thing about getting into the horticulture world was learning, moreover, pronouncing the latin names of plants especially when talking to other growers about plants. Yet the biggest challenge I have found whilst growing is finding space and also limiting what I can grow in that space. I would love to have some big beautiful borders where I can grow large shrubs and perennials but until I am able to get more space for myself I know I have to limit my choices and I sometimes find it challenging growing plants I love in my limited space.

How did you get into carnivorous plants and what makes them so special to you?

My first plant was the typical venus flytrap that most people are drawn to. I purchased it from B&Q after doing a little more reading in gardening magazines which featured carnivorous plants so after seeing one in a shop I had to finally own one. I brought it home and brought several carnivorous plant books so I could care for it successfully. When I look back at it now I still don’t know why I became so fascinated with these plants and why I had such a fixation on growing this particular plant other than the pure beauty I saw in them.

Regardless, I spent a lot of time fussing over this plant which was too much for it and unfortunately killed it in winter after trying to achieve the best dormancy period for it. However, this didn’t deter me at all and I decided I was going to try a different type of carnivorous plant. I stumbled across the Drosera capensis, the cape sundew, and tried that. This plant was so much easier to grow and did so well for me, I quickly tested propagation techniques which quickly became my favourite thing to do, leading me to owning loads of them.

From there I was hooked and quickly brought another venus flytrap followed by various other types which I became really successful in growing. In 2019 I got my greenhouse and quickly filled the space with hundreds of carnivores.

I think what makes these plants so special to me is how unique and overlooked they are. Personally, I have always loved to research, ask questions and then find an answer, these plants are exactly that. There is so much to learn and discover due to being such a niche subject, not one plant species is the same and there is so many different colours, shapes and sizes to collect and grow.

What makes them different and which one would you suggest to someone wanting to try carnivorous plants but unsure of where to start?

These plants are not just visually different compared to your typical plants but they work so differently too. Just a plant which can lure, capture and digest insects for nutritional gain is phenomenal. Carnivorous plants themselves are also so different from each other, each genus is genetically different and all have different trapping mechanisms for their own benefit. They are found worldwide, in every continent, except Antarctica so even their locations and growing conditions are different. This means there is a plant for everyone based on what your growing conditions are.

Sub-tropical sundews are the easiest plants to start with whether you have a heated greenhouse, unheated greenhouse, conservatory or even just a sunny windowsill these plants do well in various places and don’t require a dormancy period (winter rest). Drosera capensis, Drosera spatulata or Drosera aliciae are the hardiest and easiest plants you can start with.

What are your top 5 tips for growing & caring for carnivorous plants?

- Always do your research. Carnivorous plants are easy and super rewarding plants to grow but they have some different requirements compared to other plants, from their growing media to their watering requirements. So always make sure to read up on your plants you are wanting to keep.

- They are not all houseplants. One of my pet peeves is seeing a range of carnivorous plants within garden centres and shops which are sold as short lived novelty items. Unfortunately carnivorous plants have grown a reputation as hard to grow due to the incorrect information spread, although they look exotic they are mostly hardy perennials with only a couple being tropical plants.

- Find the plant that will work in your growing area. Like most plants you want to have a spot that your plants can grow happily in!

- Never give up! When you first get into this hobby you may or may not kill your first plant, we all do it, even me when I first started. But it is important to never give up, trust me once you get the hang of growing them, you won’t be able to stop.

- Finally, just enjoy these plants for what they are!

What impact or benefits do you think gardening has had on your life & why do you feel gardening is important?

Growing plants for me is a massive stress release, having my collection of plants to care for whilst going through university, Covid-19 and even now working full time was and is a massive help. Growing plants, gardening and being around nature is the best way to take some time out of a busy schedule and helps keep you relaxed and become better focused. I use my greenhouse as a place to sit in the summer evenings to enjoy the plants and watch the sun set whilst listening to the birds outside.

How do you try to manage the impact your gardening has on the environment?

I always try to be sustainable when growing, from collecting my own rain water to reusing pots and most recently transitioning to recyclable plastics.

My biggest challenge I have faced being sustainable is becoming peat free. Carnivorous plants typically inhabit peat bogs, fens and swamps in their natural habitats which are low in nutrients hence why they evolved to become carnivorous in order to gain their needed nutrients from insects. In cultivation, the plants are grown in peat based mixes as they cannot be grown in normal potting soil as this will kill them due to the nutrient content.

I have been experimenting with peat free mixes for 3 years now, with everything I potted this year being peat free. It has been a great struggle amongst growers as some plants don’t respond well to peat free. However, it is important to find a solution in order to become peat free and in turn preserve natural peat bogs which also helps to prevent the extinction of carnivorous plant species.

What are your future plans for your garden?

After a harsh winter, some of my pots and containers have faced losses making them scruffy and unsightly. I plan to redo some of the planting by buying replacement plants or propagating the old scruffy plants to create new fresh plants to replace them.

I also have had a big problem with larger pests this years, mainly birds and squirrels which have dug up and destroyed some of my plants in my outside carnivorous bog barrels, so I aim to replace the lost plants and also apply a fine pine bark layer in order to aid with water retention due to the hotter summer drying out that surface of the bogs which causes shallow rooted plants to struggle.

Due to my space being limited, I would like to get some better organisation in the future with my growing space by documenting my existing plants and parting with spares in order to make the most of the space I have.

Thanks to Megan for taking the time to share her journey with us, don't forget to continue to follow Megan's journey on Instagram @carnivorous_plant_girl

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