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19 November 2019 / leggypeggy

Showcasing plants that thrive in difficult locations

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 the 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.

Another article says that Australia may have lost up to 90% of its waterbirds.

Sundew, sculpture by Warren Pickering, Port Augusta

Sundew, sculpture by Warren Pickering

Groundcover of Sturt's Desert Pea

Groundcover of Sturt’s Desert Pea


Leave a Comment
  1. Eliza Ayres / Nov 19 2019 12:14 am

    Reblogged this on Blue Dragon Journal and commented:
    This is a wonderful sharing. Yes, it is vital for people to become aware of what plants (flora) thrive in a particular climate zone and even micro-climate. Traditional Western gardens with huge lawns and thristy shrubs are not suitable for desert or mountain climes. Lovely photos!

    Liked by 2 people

    • leggypeggy / Nov 19 2019 8:04 am

      Thanks so much. About 20 years ago, we replaced all of our lawn with hardier plants. We are thrilled that we don’t have to mow.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Eliza Ayres / Nov 19 2019 8:45 am

        Great planning. When you work with your environment, it works with you.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. fragglerocking / Nov 19 2019 12:43 am

    Some lovely plants and flowers, I suspect in the coming years we will all need Aridsmart plants!

    Liked by 1 person

    • leggypeggy / Nov 19 2019 8:06 am

      About 20 years ago, we switched over to more AridSmart plants. That said, I still grow a few fruit trees, herbs and tomatoes.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Lynette d'Arty-Cross / Nov 19 2019 1:29 am

    A very interesting post, Peggy. I read the linked post about the water basin – what a mess! We have done so much damage (and continue to damage at an extraordinary rate).

    Liked by 1 person

  4. derrickjknight / Nov 19 2019 1:41 am

    A fascinating enterprise. I agree the desert pea is quite a stunner.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. beetleypete / Nov 19 2019 1:58 am

    Some stunners there, Peggy. I suppose our Beetley weather couldn’t be more different, as it is so rarely dry. I could probably grow water lilies on our lawn. 🙂
    Best wishes, Pete.

    Liked by 1 person

    • leggypeggy / Nov 19 2019 8:27 am

      The UK has had so much rain this last month. Wish we could transport some of it.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. Almost Iowa / Nov 19 2019 2:30 am


    Liked by 1 person

  7. dfolstad58 / Nov 19 2019 3:37 am

    Such an educational and informative post, and lovely photos with the scientific names. You put so much effort into each post. Wow. I live in a dry climate and your post made me think about how much water goes into lawns. The times are a-changing though, more and more lawns, especially front lawns are converted every year by owners into low water usage, with rocks and desert plants. We do get rain here but water conservation is becoming a higher priority.
    I think Arizona has developed also some grass seeds that result in a lawn that after two years has much deeper roots than average and therefore no watering.
    In Canada we are blessed with lakes, and rivers and have been wasteful in the past, and still are, but we are improving.

    Liked by 1 person

    • leggypeggy / Nov 19 2019 8:32 am

      Thanks. I’m often surprised by how long some posts take to come together.
      Water conservation is top of the list for us. We removed all our lawn about 20 years ago. I water the herbs and tomatoes with a bucket. The fruit trees get what falls from the sky.

      Liked by 1 person

  8. Christie / Nov 19 2019 5:09 am

    I have heard disconcerting news lately from Australia, I do pray the fires are under control, and the nature will recover soon!

    Liked by 1 person

    • leggypeggy / Nov 19 2019 8:34 am

      The existing fires will burn for weeks to come. There are great concerns for Thursday when temperatures sky rocket and the winds pick up. No rain predicted. 😦

      Liked by 1 person

      • Christie / Nov 20 2019 6:46 am

        Oh noo, I’m sorry to hear that. Hope a miracle will happen and they will stop soon.
        Best wishes!

        Liked by 1 person

      • leggypeggy / Nov 20 2019 7:54 am

        Thanks. Our firefighters are doing everything they can to prepare.


  9. lexklein / Nov 19 2019 5:23 am

    Fun reading for someone who is still learning about all the native plants that can grow here in Texas. On the hot side, new-to-me cacti do well here. On the humid side, so do a number of tropical plants I also never encountered in my last home of Chicago! I’m all about water-appropriate plants and enjoyed reading about your difficult environments in Australia.

    Liked by 1 person

    • leggypeggy / Nov 19 2019 8:41 am

      Nice to know that some of Texas can support tropical plants. That never occurred to me.

      Liked by 1 person

  10. mistermuse / Nov 19 2019 6:26 am

    The Western Myall sounds a lot less sociable than the Southern Youall, don’t Y’all think so?

    Liked by 1 person

  11. Brian Lageose / Nov 19 2019 7:55 am

    All of these are lovely, but I’m also fond of the “Sundew” sculpture…

    Liked by 1 person

  12. Chris Riley / Nov 19 2019 9:41 am

    Sturt Desert Pea never ceases to amaze me. There’s usually quite a lot flowering in the north when we’re up there and their colour is so vivid even against the red dirt that they almost look to be painted. We have the Spiny Daisy growing near us. I volunteer to do the flowers at a local facility and often put sprigs of the silver from the Spiny Daisy in with roses, which looks quite pretty together. I never knew what it was called.

    Liked by 1 person

    • leggypeggy / Nov 19 2019 12:04 pm

      Oh Chris, I’m delighted to have identified a plant for you. And to think that it’s rare!

      Liked by 1 person

  13. Curt Mekemsonurt / Nov 19 2019 10:59 am

    Good post, Peggy. As you know, we wander in desert country a fair amount. We have also been suffering and on-again/off-again drought these past few years. That was the reason we had to have 40 trees cut down on our property. A plant we have found that is excellent (we grow a lot of it) is lavender. It is drought resistant, fire resistant and deer resistant! Perfect for our house. Plus is attracts hundreds of bees and butterflies. I’ve been reading about your fires. Scary. Ours are bad enough. –Curt

    Liked by 1 person

    • leggypeggy / Nov 19 2019 12:07 pm

      Lavender is a great option in Australia. Most of the natives we’ve planted in our garden were chosen because they attract bees, birds and butterflies. Hope your fires are under control soon.


  14. janowrite / Nov 19 2019 12:17 pm

    Another great post and these photos are gorgeous!! 💕

    Liked by 1 person

    • leggypeggy / Nov 19 2019 12:49 pm

      Thanks so much. So glad we could visit. I hadn’t known about the gardens until we got there.

      Liked by 1 person

  15. tony / Nov 19 2019 12:33 pm

    Great article Peggy and as usual beautiful photographs! As with Maree Man and Mutonia Sculpture Park, I’d never heard of the Australian Arid Lands Botanic Garden. Wow, new places to see! Especially in the arid zone.

    Thank you also for linking to my Murray-Darling Basin Catastrophe. It is something that all Australians need to know, especially those of us who live in and exist on the Murray-Darling Basin. We’ve all been inattentive and we need to get angry.

    All the best.

    Liked by 1 person

    • leggypeggy / Nov 19 2019 12:51 pm

      Delighted to add the link. I want to link to your piece every time I write a post that features water. You’re right, we need to get angry about the treatment of our Murray–Darling Basin.


  16. gerard oosterman / Nov 19 2019 1:54 pm

    The state of our rivers are a catastrophe, the weather forecasts predict climate change catastrophes, fires everywhere, our aged care is catastrophic with over 8000 assault cases reported to The Royal Commissioner. We will be lucky to get out of it.
    Thank goodness for your lovely photographs, Peggy, and well researched article. I loved it.

    Liked by 1 person

  17. Emma Cownie / Nov 19 2019 7:52 pm

    Very interesting post, Peggy. Thank you. With climate change, the extremes will become the new normal.

    Liked by 1 person

    • leggypeggy / Nov 19 2019 11:19 pm

      Certainly not looking forward to this new normal.


  18. Vicki / Nov 20 2019 12:53 am

    I’ve only just become acquainted with the Samphires and there are actually quite a lot in my area due to the large volume of water, almost lake-like that runs parallel to my river.

    I wouldn’t be in the least surprised that we’ve lost so many waterbird species. I’ve been looking through my Sunday walk images trying to find something interesting to talk about and/or upload and my first reaction is… incredibly dry the fields are for this time of year. I hardly saw any birds compared to 3 years ago when I moved to the area.

    Liked by 1 person

    • leggypeggy / Nov 20 2019 7:57 am

      Samphire is definitely under-appreciated. Maybe it will become popular like kale. The loss of waterbirds is very disturbing. You are such a keen observer so would be very aware of changes in the landscape and wildlife.

      Liked by 1 person

  19. Alison and Don / Nov 20 2019 3:48 am

    What a fabulous place. Sturt’s is a fave of mine too. At least this place exists so people can get to see what’s possible, and what’s *needed*.
    I am crying for Oz these days. So much stupidity, callousness, self-righteousness, and greed at the helm.
    And for those affected by the fires 😦

    Liked by 1 person

    • leggypeggy / Nov 20 2019 7:58 am

      I’m crying too and you summed it up perfectly with ‘So much stupidity, callousness, self-righteousness, and greed at the helm.’

      Liked by 1 person

  20. Leif Price / Nov 21 2019 3:20 pm

    I showed the native fuchsia to my wife. She loved it. You got a collection of beautiful photos.

    Liked by 1 person

  21. afterthelasttime / Nov 22 2019 7:51 am

    Gorgeous! Thank you for all your terrific photos and information.

    Liked by 1 person

  22. kunstkitchen / Nov 23 2019 9:29 am

    I love seeing gardens! Thanks for sharing this info on Australian ecosystems.

    Liked by 1 person

  23. chattykerry / Nov 24 2019 2:52 am

    The desert pea is lovely! We have an odd ecosystem here too and indigenous plants thrive best here. Our township has been giving out milkweed to help the declining numbers of Monarch butterflies.

    Liked by 2 people

    • leggypeggy / Nov 24 2019 7:14 am

      I’ve heard about the terrible loss of Monarch butterflies in the USA. Glad your township is trying to do something about it. A friend in Florida is breeding them in her backyard.

      Liked by 1 person

  24. jeanleesworld / Nov 24 2019 1:59 pm

    Ah, such beautiful plants. You inspire me to see if I can swing a trip to the botanical gardens in Madison….

    Liked by 1 person

  25. Ankur Mithal / Nov 26 2019 2:57 am

    Engaging write-up. Mostly human effort has been to conquer nature, or anything else that stands in front. I think we are gradually learning to respect it and work with it.

    Liked by 2 people

    • leggypeggy / Nov 26 2019 9:19 am

      Yes, we are learning to work with Mother Nature rather than against her.


  26. barkinginthedark / Nov 26 2019 5:45 am

    “there is a rose in Spanish Harlem….” continue…

    Liked by 1 person

  27. CarolCooks2 / Nov 28 2019 9:56 pm

    A lovely post, Peggy and it is great to learn that plants are being used to suit the climate and soil.. We should be more in tune with nature. I read about the Murray Darling Basin it is horrific… it saddened me to read about all the mismanagement by government agencies…. and the loss of birds on that scale is so sad… Words fail me… Such a beautiful country…

    Liked by 2 people

    • leggypeggy / Nov 28 2019 11:33 pm

      Words fail me too. All so infuriating. As an aside, I tidied up the two words on your post.

      Liked by 1 person

    • Sy S. / Dec 6 2019 1:27 pm

      So interesting to see all types of plants and flowers that survive difficult environments. How about when forest fires burn the landscape and yet seeds rise to start life again. Read the article about
      Murray Darling Basin…. humans are destroying so many areas of the world, with miss management
      and destroying the ECO System. And I read about the 90% of waterbirds lost! Two tragedies. SAD!

      Liked by 1 person

      • CarolCooks2 / Dec 6 2019 1:30 pm

        I read that and it is such a tragedy.. More than SAD.. Terrible..

        Liked by 1 person

      • leggypeggy / Dec 6 2019 2:03 pm

        Our current government has a lot to answer for. They claim not to be climate change and science deniers, but their actions don’t support that. And the fires we are having now. Just heartbreaking. And our nitwit Prime Minister has the gall to say ‘now is not the time to talk about climate change’. Well when is?


  28. Jonathan Caswell / Dec 5 2019 6:49 am

    Reblogged this on By the Mighty Mumford and commented:

    Liked by 1 person

  29. Sharon Bonin-Pratt / Dec 12 2019 7:45 am

    Peggy, thank you for showcasing an incredibly beautiful garden. I love landscapes that feature native plants rather than trying to be something exotic. Strangers in the land we don’t need, they sap the earth’s energy. The delicate flowers and dramatic silhouettes of these plants honor the land and complement local resources. Grant Henderson did an admirable job; kudos to the garden’s staff.

    Liked by 2 people

    • leggypeggy / Dec 12 2019 7:13 pm

      I loved this garden. In addition to staff, there are many dedicated volunteers. What would we do without volunteers?

      Liked by 1 person

  30. lexi@thelifebus / Dec 16 2019 3:37 am

    I absolutely love these photos and this story!! Why can’t we do this in Arizona? instead of watering golf courses, etc. It’s amazing the beauty that comes out of such harsh surroundings. I especially love that Spiny Daisy and the fact that it is not extinct!! Thanks for the info and photos.

    Liked by 1 person

    • leggypeggy / Dec 16 2019 9:25 am

      When I still lived in Nebraska (more than 40 years ago) lots of people moved to Arizona for the warmer weather and to get away from Midwest allergies. Then they made the desert grow, and the allergies returned. Go figure. Thanks for stopping by. I’m also glad the Spiny Daisy survives.

      Liked by 1 person

  31. paige scapades / Jan 23 2020 6:10 pm

    Beautiful ❤️

    Liked by 1 person

  32. sharonmastel66 / Feb 18 2020 11:39 am

    wow! Thanks for sharing

    Liked by 1 person

    • leggypeggy / Feb 18 2020 7:16 pm

      You are most welcome. Thanks for stopping by and for commenting.


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