I’ve been fascinated by carnivorous plants since I was seven or eight, when I saw pictures of Venus flytraps in a Look And Learn book. One day, I saw an advert for the Dracula Plant in my mum’s catalogue, and sent off for it straight away. It was dead when it arrived – not a good start.
I’ve since learned that these plants are very tough, but there are lots of dos and don’ts (you can’t give them fertiliser or tap water). My first attempts to raise them in my bedroom were a disaster.
When I was 12, I found out that Dudley Watts, secretary of the Carnivorous Plant Society, lived near my grandparents. I’d visit his greenhouse whenever possible. Back then – three decades ago – the society had about 25 members; now there are hundreds. He was an inspiration.
I moved into this house in Bournemouth with its little garden 14 years ago, to be with my partner Nikki and her daughter, Rachel. I arrived with a fish tank containing three or four plants, and today my collection is vast and has been visited by botanists from all over the world. I often get sent seeds and curious specimens, but I also go on expeditions to find rare species. I earn my living as a signwriter, but spend three or four weeks a year travelling in search of new plants. I love it. I’ve been to Venezuela, the Philippines, Singapore, Australia and Tasmania. It can be challenging: I’ve been practically eaten alive by leeches, held at gunpoint by boy soldiers in the Philippines and been to the lost-world plateau of Roraima in South America – it’s 2,440m above sea level and has plants that grow nowhere else on Earth.
My greenhouse measures only 8ft x 10ft, but contains around 800 plants, many of them very rare. Most are nepenthes – carnivorous pitcher plants – though I also collect sarracenias, exotic ferns and orchids. The trick is to be incredibly organised. These plants have such complex structures – there are entire micro-ecosystems within any single pitcher. Most nepenthes are designed to trap bugs – they dissolve them and extract the nutrients – but some of the bigger ones can devour rodents. I’m particularly proud that I have the world’s two largest specimens of Nepenthes attenboroughii, discovered in the Philippines in 2007 by my friend Stewart McPherson and named after David Attenborough.
My favourite spot
Sitting in my greenhouse at the end of a working day with a cup of coffee, just staring at my plants.
Interview: Jeremy Miles.
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