AN unforgettable sight of inland Australia are Sturt’s Desert Peas.
Their profusion of brilliant red and black flowers are held above grey-green scrambling runners in brilliant ‘cartwheels’ of 6 or 7 blooms.
The explorer William Dampier first gathered specimens of the flowers in 1699.
The common name honours Captain Charles Sturt, who sighted great swathes of these beauties during his 1844 inland expedition.
Packeted seed is available for enthusiastic gardeners and can be grown successfully in deep pots or in the ground.
In nature the peas grow in red sand overlaying a moist and nutrient-rich clay base – perfect conditions for the deep roots.
To grow the plants successfully, it’s important to mimic the natural growing conditions.
Sturt’s Desert Peas do not tolerate their roots being disturbed, so plant the seeds in their permanent position. Prepare a sunny site in early spring. Plan to provide adequate moisture down to at least 30 cm from the surface. Inserting a poly-tube or inverting a plastic 2 litre bottle with the base removed will help with getting water where it is needed.
If planting in a pot, choose a deep one and add moisture-retaining crystals or perlite in a layer at the bottom of the pot.
After scarifying (cracking) the seed coats by immersing in boiling water, plant and cover lightly with soil and keep moist.
Seeds will germinate within a few days. Keep up the moisture, fertilize regularly with an all-round water-soluble fertilizer and protect from snails. Plants should flower from around Christmas. Sturt’s Desert Peas are annuals. They are not frost-tolerant. Mature seeds pods may be kept for planting the following spring.
Protect from chewing grubs and other critters by storing in a zip-top bag in your freezer. Ready-to-flower grafted Desert Peas are also available. The rootstock is the New Zealand Kaka Beak ( Clianthus puniceus).
ADDING MOISTURE: Watering tubes such as the one pictured next to this plant can help ensure adequate moisture reaches the roots. STUNNING: Sturt’s Desert Pea is a dramatic addition to the garden.