Sturt's Desert Pea, Port Augusta, South Australia's floral emblem

Sturt’s Desert Pea

Australian Arid Lands Botanic Garden

Landscape at the Australian Arid Lands Botanic Garden

Our recent road trip to and around South Australia included a mixed bag of sights. The primary attraction was a week-long tour to Lake Eyre and environs (coming soon), but there was a lot more to enjoy such as the Marree Man and Mutonia Sculpture ParkMutonia Sculpture Park.

Another unexpected treat was a visit to the remarkable Australian Arid Lands Botanic Garden. Located in Port Augusta (about a four-hour drive north of Adelaide), the garden is proof that the desert can grow and create beauty.

Pink Mulla Mulla, Port Augusta

Ptilotus exaltatus, pink mulla mulla

Acacia papyrocarpa, western myall,

Acacia papyrocarpa, Western Myall,

Eremophila, Native Fuchsia, Australian Arid Lands Botanic Garden

Eremophila, Native Fuchsia

It’s worth noting that Australia’s arid zone ecosystems are fragile, complex and occur nowhere else on earth. This garden receives an average of 300mm (12 inches) or less of rain each year. Developers put a lot of thought into choosing plants—from Australia and overseas—that would thrive and survive under these circumstances.

One of the garden’s aims is to promote flora that suits the region. To help people choose plants that are waterwise and more suitable for the climate, the garden features six AridSmart Display Gardens. These are the Desert Garden, the Mallee Garden, the Arid Courtyard Garden, the Eremophila Courtyard Garden, the Flinders Ranges Garden, and the Coastal Garden.

Once established, the plants in the Desert and Coastal Gardens require no additional watering. Plants in the other four gardens require between 7,000 and 23,000 litres of water per year, compared to a traditional home garden with lawn that needs about 100,000 litres of water per year. See my note at the bottom about catastrophe of Australia’s main water system.

AridSmart Display Garden, Port August, South Australia

One of the AridSmart Display Gardens

AridSmart plants can be purchased in the garden’s gift shop and are:
• exclusive to the Australian Arid Lands Botanic Garden
• sourced from the country’s most remote arid regions
• selected for beauty, vigour, toughness and reliability
• tolerant of a range of soil types and climatic conditions
• hardened for 2 to 8 months in temperatures up to 47°C (116.5°F)

Spiny daisy (Acanthocladium dockeri), Port August, South Australia

The rare spiny daisy

The garden also has a rare plant collection. I was surprised to learn that Australia has almost 25% of the world’s rare and threatened plant species. One of the rare plants is the spiny daisy (Acanthocladium dockeri). Samples were first collected in 1860 by the Burke and Wills expedition. It was thought extinct until four sites were discovered in mid-north South Australia in 1999–2000.

Rhodanthe chlorocephala ssp. rosea, Port Augusta, Australian Arid Lands Botanic Garden

Rhodanthe chlorocephala ssp. rosea

Two of my favourites
Sturt’s Desert Pea (Swainsona formosa) is my favourite plant in this garden. It’s pictured at the top and bottom of this post. I love its blood-red and drooping flowers. It is South Australia’s official floral emblem and is named after Charles Sturt, an explorer who led three important expeditions into Australia’s arid interior in the 1800s.


Samphire (Halosarcia spp.) is another favourite. I first learned about this chenopod about 10 years ago. Samphire and its relatives are a versatile source of food and medicine. It grows in sand and saline conditions, and is extremely drought tolerant. We should be making more use of it.

Boronia crenulata, Port Augusta, Australian Arid Lands Botanic Garden

Boronia crenulata, Aniseed boronia

A bit of background
The garden was designed by landscape architect, Grant Henderson. It was established in 1993 and officially opened in 1996, but the idea for it dates back to 1981. That’s when local parks and gardens superintendent, John Zwar, proposed a garden to promote and conserve plants that could thrive in the city’s arid conditions. City Council accepted the proposal and set aside the current 250-hectare coastal site.

In 1984, an active ‘friends’ group was formed to promote the garden, seek funds and lobby for its development. In 1988, a management advisory committee was formed. Things really began to take shape in the 1990s with a master plan, major infrastructure development and plantings.

More about Australia’s main water system
Friend and fellow blogger, Tony, has researched and written a comprehensive post on the catastrophe that is taking place in our vital water system—the Murray–Darling Basin. I highly recommend this post. You can find it here.

Sundew, sculpture by Warren Pickering, Port Augusta

Sundew, sculpture by Warren Pickering

Groundcover of Sturt's Desert Pea

Groundcover of Sturt’s Desert Pea

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