As you might guess, the Australian Arid Lands Botanic Garden in Port Augusta, South Australia, is devoted entirely to plants that grow in the driest parts of this continent. To the casual observer, the arid areas might seem dull and lifeless, but there's plenty to see: discovery requires careful observation.
The Botanical garden was established in 1993 to encourage a wider appreciation of the flora that grows in the arid zones. The 250 hectare garden is located in a stunning setting with views over the Upper Spencer Gulf to the Flinders Ranges. The visitor can wander along one (or more) of the walks within the park and enjoy the plants, birds and reptiles that make this area their home.
There are sculptures scattered about the garden, including this one, which is near the entrance, and is reflective of the tortured appearance of some native Australian plants. Or maybe it’s some kind of demented Triffid bent on mischief. Fortunately it’s firmly bolted to its plinth.
Eremophilas, also known as emu bush, native fuchsia or turkey bush, belong to a large group of around 200 named plants and many of them grow in the Botanical Garden. As it is Winter, not all were flowering at their best at the time of our visit, but these two were quite lovely. The garden is home to a large selection of these plants.
There are many species of eucalypts in the garden, some considered rare, perhaps because their habitats have been compromised in some way: logging, aggressive clearing of land for farming or encroachment by human habitation. This Eucalyptus youngiana or Ooldea Mallee had the most amazing gumnuts. New buttons for your cardigan, anyone? Unfortunately it wasn't the right time to see them but its flowers are very large, as you can imagine, and a strawberry jam pink.
Grass trees, or Xanthorrhoea, are unique native plants and are extremely tough, withstanding fire and drought. The brown flower spike has gone to seed now, but birds love them when they are fully in flower and they probably love the seeds too. Just look at the uncompromising position of this grass tree. You would be forgiven for wondering if any plant would survive in that environment.
This Wattle is just beginning to bloom. September 1st is Wattle Day in Australia, but I am sure on any given day; rain, hail, sun, drought, or fire, a wattle will be flowering somewhere in the country. Those jaunty yellow pom-poms are very attractive to bees.
We were lucky to see this. Somewhat out of season, this Swainsona formosa, or Sturt's Desert Pea, the floral emblem of South Australia, was doing its best to bloom, but only putting out a couple of flowers. But what flowers they were! They come in several shades of pink and red, some without the black centre or ‘boss’, and more commonly with an even darker boss than the one above. They can even be white! In their natural habitat, Sturt’s Desert Pea plants spread out in a large mat, and I imagine they would be a wonderful sight to see. They are protected: it’s forbidden to even take a seed from a plant. Seeds can be purchased though, and I am going to try growing some this summer.
Another feature of this botanical garden is the area displaying ideas for the home gardener to try, using native plants instead of more water-hungry exotics.
When we visited, there had been very little rain in this part of South Australia for a long time, and to be truthful, some plants, even though drought hardy, were showing signs of stress. Generally speaking though, it's just amazing how resilient our natives are in this climate.
If you would like to read more about The Australian Arid Lands Botanical Garden, you can find some more information here.
I like the idea of a Botanical Garden catering for a specific climate. Do you know of any gardens like this?