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Potted: ​Sturt’s desert pea

Photo - Linda Ross


Sturt’s desert pea (Swainsona formosa)

Any trip into the Australian outback will inspire you to grow eye-catching wildflowers with pea-shaped, butterfly flowers. Who could fail to be impressed by square metres of flowering Sturt's Desert Peas?

Dazzling scarlet and black blooms are set against furry silver foliage in this stunner from the desert. Until recently many gardeners who tried to grow this treasure concluded they were better left in the desert. But new varieties, grafted onto a New Zealand native pea (Clianthus puniceus), make them a good deal more garden-friendly. 

Description:  annual plant, trailing habit, with deep red pea-shaped flowers with a glossy black central boss, appearing after rain on long 1-2m stems covered with hairy grey leaves.

Care:  Find a sunny, sheltered spot in a north-facing position and water directly into the pot - avoid the leaves. Cut back stems after flowering and fertilise annually. Drainage is still the key: use a native mix in a pot or hanging basket. Requires full sun but is frost sensitive.

Special comments:  Can also be grown successfully in rockeries, hanging baskets and towers of terracotta pipes filled with gravel. Must have well-drained soil and don't like disturbance once growth has commenced. Snails love the foliage. Grown from seed sown in March or April, or from grafted plants. 

Text: Ally Jackson and Linda Ross


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Author: Ally Jackson and Linda Ross