Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Guest spot

One very mild irritation of being a gardening blogger is the number of companies emailing me asking to allow them to do a 'guest posting' here at Garden Amateur. Invariably all they want to do is advertise their products and so invariably I politely refuse their kind offer. However, a plant which I haven't grown has come into our world this week, and so I thought it could feature in the kind of "guest spot" posting that I can approve of, as it's still written by me!

Pam's responsible for all this. She wants to do a painting of a Sturt's desert pea (Swainsona formosa) and so she asked our excellent local florist, Flowers by Teresa in Illawarra Road, Marrickville, if they could find a potted one for her (wasn't cheap but they did find her a nice one). And so now we have a lovely child of the desert here in humid, rainy, coastal Sydney.

This is the big attraction of the Sturt's Desert
Pea, its large pea flowers.

It's the state floral emblem of South Australia, and its natural
habitat is our dry inland arid zones. Right now it's still in its
black plastic pot, sitting up on pot feet, and I am terrified of
killing it. So, despite my usually chivalrous streak, I have told
my darling girl that it's her baby to look after (but I will try
to find out what to do, of course).

So, how to look after this desert-loving plant?
Well, the fact sheet at Burke's Backyard says
lots of potted desert peas sold are grafted onto
a tougher rootstock (New Zealand glory pea).
The purpose of this grafting is to avoid the root rot
and fungal problems which can plague this dry-country
plant when it is taken to the humid coast to live.
But that doesn't mean it likes rain or anything like
that of course. It still likes it dry, but as our
East Coast air is inherently humid and soggy
that's the main threat to this lovely thing.
And slow-release native plant food is the go,
but plastic pots are not (they're too 'sweaty'), so
at some stage a porous terracotta pot should
become its preferred, free-breathing home.  

It's a low, sprawler of a plant that probably
loves nothing better than growing from the top
of a mound of dusty, dry inland soil and spilling
down its sloping sides.

The flowers are long (75mm, about three
inches) and quite delicate, especially when you
take a peek behind the scenes, like this.

Before they open the flower buds have a certain beaky elegance.

And the small, oval leaves are lightly hairy all over.

So far so good, we've had it here three days and it's looking just a little bit lovelier than when it arrived. I presume that's due to the dry sunshine, being placed near the fellow 'we like dryness' folk who populate Succulent City, and having Pam's serene willpower urging it along. I like it, it's really unusual and beautiful, and even though I haven't grown it and it's really a 'guest plant' here at Amateurland, it's already feeling like one of the family.


Ngeun said...

Amazing! What a plant! I've always been fascinated by the Sturt's desert pea; one of my fav. oz native flowers & one that I look forward to painting too. The black & red is amazing, & the leaves very beautiful too. Even though we don't have cacti or many succulents in our deserts, some of our native desert flora are very special/beautiful indeed. Another fav. of mine is Regal birdflower (Crotalaria cunninghamii). Hope your desert pea grows very well!

Ngeun said...

Thought you & Pam might like to see this:

Also, here's a Flickr group that Pam might like:

patientgardener said...

I am looking forward to seeing Pam's painting. My painting has gone on hold for the timebeing for a variety of reasons but it will really interest me to see how she interprets it

hearts_in_asia said...

I've got two baby peas in a pot, and just put several more in the garden which is more of an experiment. I was fortunate to be able to get them through work as cheap seedlings though! Even in Adelaide we're told to treat them as annuals as they're unlikely to last over the cold winter. They need really good drainage, plenty of water (seems contrary, but in the desert they come up when there's been lots of rain) but never on the leaves if you can avoid it, and add some native-friendly liquid fertilizer from time to time as they seem to yellow a bit quickly (live fast, die young!)

Jamie said...

Thanks Ngeun for those links, very interesting!

And Hearts in Asia, brilliant timing with your tips. Pam and I were standing at the pea plant this morning, watering can in hand, discussing how much water to give it, if any. We got one thing right – we kept the water away from the foliage. But we got one thing wrong – the amount of water. That could just be a life-saving tip! Thanks very much.

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