A desert in the heart of Canberra..

The city of Canberra is by no means a desert, however, at the National Botanic gardens, the stunning Sturt Desert Pea is flowering..

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I’m visiting the National Botanic gardens on a very hot day in February, to look at the amazing Red Centre garden, and then stroll down to the Fern Gully…to cool off..

IMG_0531 (1024x698)The Red Centre garden is designed to showcase the dramatic landscapes, sand dunes and rocky escarpments of central Australia, known as The Red Centre. The soil in the Red Centre is rich with iron oxide which gives it this distinctive colour.

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Central Meeting Place features Indigenous artist Teresa Pula McKeeman’s artwork and evokes Northern Territory women’s ceremonial dancing.

Canberra often has frosty, temperamental weather, so to design and plant a desert garden is, ”a well considered experiment” according to David Taylor, curator of the Botanic Gardens Living Collections.

Desert plants can be seen here that belong in the desert….many thousand kilometres away from Canberra in Central Australia. An area of research in the Gardens is using micrografting techniques to help plants survive in a different climate….. for example the Sturt Desert Pea uses New Zealand’s Clianthus Puniceus as stock….as a result it can survive the Canberra winter.

IMG_0692 (1024x627)David says ”this garden is as much about the landscape and the colours, the textures and the forms of Central Australia as it is about the plants.’

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On this hot day I am very drawn to this beautiful desert pea, what a symbol of life and hope for desert people and travellers.

This flower is named after the explorer Captain Charles Sturt and he is quoted as saying”one of the greatest ornaments of the desert regions of the interior of Australia.”

All flowers are something of a miracle in this desert country

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desert hibiscus
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Gossypium sturtianum Malvaceae


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A model of a Thorny Devil (Moloch horridus)

Here is a very life-like desert dragon on the children’s trail… (I can’t help thinking many of my younger students would surely have been terrified of this guy..)

However, this lizard, found in the desert, is perfectly designed to survive the harsh conditions. A system of tiny grooves between its scales channels water from all over its body to the mouth of the lizard. It can drink by just standing in the rain or from dew that settles on its body overnight.

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A water dragon

Here is a much more low-key real life water dragon, very well camouflaged on the rock.

I’m leaving the Red Centre as the temperature climbs to 35 C and going where it is wonderfully green and cool. The fern gully is one of the most popular places in the National Botanic  Gardens on a hot day, and I can see why…this fern gully is rich with stories for another time…

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25 Replies to “A desert in the heart of Canberra..”

  1. The desert pea is quite extraordinary. And an unusual technique to graft it to keep it alive. But then I suppose when I think about it, many other plants are cultivated onto a rootstock of an entirely different origin.

    1. I thought that was an interesting way of giving the plant new life in a completely different environment…they do have a plant research centre in the Gardens…all very interesting.

  2. I love this botanic garden. The desert pea and desert hibiscus are amazing – such bright color.And i also love the lizards, both animate and inanimate.

    1. Thanks Jason, the colours of the desert flowers are amazing. The water lizard is a bit startling when it runs across the path…but how well those lizards in the desert have adapted to their environment…

    1. I just looked up the Sutherlandia flower, very similar, and the Namibian gecko is amazing. The lizards have adapted so well to their environment it is incredible.

    1. Wow, thanks for the link to the Namaqua National Park…those flowers are incredible. My brother and sister-in-law drove along the coast up to Namibia, and the scenery was amazing, but that wasn’t in spring.

    1. Thanks Carol, I can imagine some parts of the US would be similar, some friends of our did a tour through a few of the US National Parks, what an incredible country of contrasts!

  3. What a wonderful dessert environment. I must visit your botanical gardens next time I’m in Canberra. I came across the Sturt Dessert Pea last week whilst in Perth. They are extraordinary. Lovely photos.

    1. Thanks Ruth…the Botanic Gardens in Canberra has lots to offer, it is really worth a visit. We’d love to visit Western Australia in the spring and see the wild flowers, my brother says they are wonderful….unfortunately a long way to go!

  4. I have never seen a sweet pea like that before, it looks amazing! The desert area looks huge, it sounds such a good idea to bring this landscape closer to everyone. It must have been lovely to move into a cooler shader area. Sarah x

    1. I have about five more photos of the Sturt desert pea, just couldn’t stop taking photos of it! We have had some hot weather lately and I love getting into a cool spot!

  5. I was here just two weeks before you; we ‘needed’ to visit Canberra one last time before flying overseas. I hadn’t seen the red centre since it’s early construction days and it was nice to see it starting to fill out. I did find it extremely hard to photograph though, I guess because it is still very much filling out. Love your shots; they really bring it to life. I’m not sure mine achieved that.

    1. I’m glad you liked the Red Centre, I too, found it hard to photograph, so thanks for the comment on the photos. Actually, I think the whole red centre looks better in winter. I enjoyed your post on Jardin Marjorelle…wonderful to see these exotic places…. and good luck with the frosty garden!

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