Peter D’Amato

It is with a heavy heart and deep sadness that I must announce that my lifelong friend, mentor and “The Bog Father” of the California Carnivores tribe, Peter D’Amato has passed away.

 He was as comfortable as can be at home and throughout his fight with cancer has blessedly been in very little pain. The California Carnivores tribe truly is a family and I am proud and grateful to say that we have all really risen to the occasion to make sure that he had our love and support every step of the way even when it was hard. Helping him through all of this has always been and still is our first priority. Even as we moved the nursery and kept it running, we were there for him first.

He was diagnosed with lung cancer a little over a year ago. He was optimistic about his treatment and insistent that we not share the diagnosis with anyone in the carnivorous plant community until he beat it or passed. It may seem strange to some, but those of you who knew him well will probably understand, he just couldn’t handle the outpouring of messages. I can tell you though that he and I have often marveled at the huge and amazing community that has sprouted forth from the seed he planted so long ago. I know that building this hobby and helping to create the wonderful community that formed around it was one of his proudest achievements. He was genuinely amazed and delighted by how much all of us have accomplished as a group.

He founded California Carnivores in 1989 and we were open to the public for over 30 years so he crossed paths with lots and lots of you. Those who were lucky enough to have chatted with him at the nursery know that he was a kind-hearted but sarcastic soul who was always generous with his time and knowledge. He had a strange charisma not unlike the plants we grow that drew you in and from there he would ensnare you with his fantastic story telling skills, quick-witted jokes, inquisitive nature,  and his passion for the natural world. Peter always tried to get to know our customers and he considered many of you friends.

In a world full of people who only want to talk about themselves, Peter was always asking people questions.

He would almost always ask our customers, “Where ya from?”

If their answer was anywhere else than the Bay Area, he would always say, “Oh, how dreadful” and then cackle. It was one of his favorite jokes.

He really did remember where they were from though and he’d go on to almost interview people as he rung them up at the register.

Even as he went through his terrible fight with cancer, he would interview every nurse or Dr in the same way. “How long have you worked here?” he would ask. Most of us would be asking to assess their experience level but Peter always just wanted to connect and get to know them. There was an unmistakable genuineness and openess to his interactions with everyone. It was a huge part of the magic and success of California Carnivores and it is something that we have always consciously strived to carry forward. If you visited California Carnivores, you would leave with a bunch of new carnivorous plants that you now knew you couldn’t live without and you were excited to come back and see your new friend Peter again.

He also co-founded the BACPS way back when it was just Geoff Wong, Judith Finn, and Joe Mazrimas meeting in Chuck Powell’s living room.

In 1998 he wrote the award-winning, best-selling manual on growing carnivorous plants, “The Savage Garden”. It quickly become and has remained THE book on growing these amazing plants. It has been in print for 25 years now which is practically unheard of for any gardening book. It won book of the year from the American Horticultural Society and the Pen and Trowel Award from the Garden Writers of America. Shortly after it was published he went on the Martha Stewart Show. He scolded Martha for triggering the flytraps, taught her how to make a bog garden and shared his plants with a national audience.

He was also a very early member of the ICPS and wrote many, many articles for the CPN.

He taught us how to grow these plants but more than that, how to appreciate them; how to see the beauty in the unconventional and bizarre.

We gave him a well-earned lifetime achievement award in 2018 backed by the ICPS and every other carnivorous plant society in the world. He was totally blown away!

So many of the people he inspired to grow these plants have gone on to inspire so many more. He always called it a “slow-motion explosion” and again he was just so amazed how far it has blown up today.

Even when I was a boy Peter always told me, “Take care of the plants and the plants will take care of you.” I have carried this mantra in my heart for almost my entire life thanks to him. I have carried it like a torch even in dark times and that light is at the very heart of the friend/family we have built here. I can tell you that doing what we have done here hasn’t always been easy and has been more work than most people would have put in. But I personally rode that mantra like a horse to a place where all of my childhood dreams came true. We didn’t do it for money but because we wanted to spend our lives doing what we loved. We wanted to make carnivorous plants more beautiful and more available. We wanted to share them with you so they would bring you joy and connection to the natural world too. We wanted to show you how beautiful they were so maybe we would stop destroying them in the wild. We wanted to save the plants.

And in doing so, we have been blessed with happy lives well spent doing what we love with dear friends…making our dreams come true. I have been so grateful for every minute I spent building this nursery with Peter and of course with all the other people that it takes today. I have been honored to gently take the reins as he retired. I’m so proud that I was able to grow the nursery until it was able to make even more good people’s dreams come true too. I  have seen this mantra work miraculous things in my own life and I truly believe it could be the solution to so many of man’s problems today. It’s a plant world after all and a sustainable world for humanity will be dependent on building cycles that turn like cogs with the natural cycles of plants. We must nurture as much as we harvest. We must give a much as we take.

For me personally, I am losing one of my oldest and best friends, a childhood idol, and someone who was just so integral to making me the person I am today. We met when I was 11 and by 14 I was volunteering at the nursery for plants. Our paths have been joined for so long, I can’t even really imagine what my life might have been if we never met. Formative probably isn’t a big enough word.

 I will miss so many things about him. I will miss our long intellectual talks. I will miss the way he laughed and his mischievous smile when he cracked a joke. I will miss appreciating the plants with him. Although I am surrounded now by folks who love these plants and I cherish those connections too, Peter and I appreciated them in the exact same way. My world is lonelier now to not to be able to marvel with him with child-like wonder at these fantastic plants.

I’m grateful for so much, for all the time we got to spend together and all the sarcastic jokes we shared. I’m grateful for the wonderful livelihood he gave me and for teaching me how to do it so well. I’m grateful for all the interesting books and ideas that he exposed me too; for all the long fascinating talks about evolution, the origins of consciousness, and the aquatic ape theory. He had such rational yet open mind that resonated perfectly with mine so we always had such wonderful talks about so many interesting things.

I’m grateful that he lived to see the nursery become so successful. I’m grateful that he got to see the new location and the beginnings of the great things we are doing here. I’m sad that he won’t see all that comes next.

I know that he’s at peace knowing that his life’s work will thrive and continue.

Worry not, the nursery is in capable hands. Peter quietly retired a few years ago actually and it has been under my careful stewardship for a long time now.  We have the best team in the biz and there will be no interruption in day-to-day operations at CC. We will continue to expertly care for our plants and ship 5 days a week.

There is lots more I want to say, but Peter always accused me of “blathering on” when I write and he specifically warned me against it when writing this.

So for now I’ll leave you with a Ram Das quote that Daniela shared with me early on in this transition.

“We are all just walking each other home.”

Memorial to be announced after we have time to grieve and process our loss.



~Damon Collingsworth