Winter Wanderings and Wildflowers in the Flinder’s Ranges and Southern South Australia
Winter may not be your `normal’ time for a holiday but if, like me, you love your garden too much in spring to miss a moment, and summer is way, way too hot (except in the mountains of Tasmania, but how many times do you want to see (the admittedly stunning views at), say, Cradle Mountain?), and you just can’t wait until autumn, then maybe it’s time for another trip somewhere in this vast country choc-full of different habitats – in winter.
J and I love nature (and camping in wilderness off the beaten track) and we (I) have a great time on our holidays photographing wildflowers and trying to identify them. I’m not a botanist – just a horticulturist and garden designer – but we call this past time, to ourselves, `botanising’.
It’s so much easier these days with digital cameras on which you can zoom into a flower picture and assess its inner features, combined with plentiful native plant books both light and hefty. (My little camera has digital zoom – great for flowers – and I use high resolution (4 meg) so that photos can be blown up or used in one of my garden talks.) Sitting in the shade on a sunny afternoon, perusing books and photos from the day, I can happily spend an hour or 2 each day, remote camping, with only bird calls for company (while J has a ramble).
Then when we get home, I might find a plant list my botanist mother made years earlier from that area, with only black-and-white drawings, listed botanic features, and no digital photography to help her.
WA is known for its wildflowers which we’ve seen a couple of times in August (Kalbarri area) and (further south) in September.
South Australia is less known for flowers (and would have had more a month later, in August) but seemed a good place for meeting and holidaying recently. J had walked part of the Larapinta trail in the red centre, again, and I flew to meet him afterwards, half-way, in Adelaide.
We were very fortunate: we saw red earth, wonderful landscapes, ancient gum trees, kangaroos and emus, and yes, wildflowers. Our little, light tent has travelled many an airline and takes about 2 minutes to set up.
From Adelaide we drove to Port Augusta, then west to the Eyre Peninsula (staying at Venus Bay; rain at first) and Gawler Ranges (sunny), then east to the Flinders Ranges (sunny) before our return to Adelaide.
Semi-desert landscapes contained pearl bluebrush; old, old fence posts from farms long-gone; petrified `organ pipes’ in the Gawler Ranges and, in the Flinders Ranges, abandoned stone houses north of the 1865 Goyder’s Line. (As eastern Australia grapples with terrible drought, many of us wonder whether NSW (and probably Victoria and Queensland) need a modern `Goyder’s Line’, a boundary beyond which the annual rainfall is usually too low (250mm or less) to support cropping, with the land being only suitable for grazing (if that).)
July may be early for many wildflowers but we still saw plenty: masses of royal-purple, prickly Solanum over red earth; buttery, bushy Sida; Silvertails (Ptilotus obovatus, a member of that lovely genus we seem to see every time we camp anywhere in desert or semi-desert); Senna (probably Senna artemisioides); even Dodonea seed capsules. The large, lilac flowers of Alogyne, that native hibiscus, were stunning. (Plants from such a dry zone may be cultivated in the garden with care; try sandy soil and the driest, most well-drained position you have – in full sun.)
We saw wattlebirds in flower-rich gums, pink galahs, and emus seemingly surfing on waves of pearl bluebrush (Maireana sp.), one – Dad – with a bevy of striped chicks.
Driving at dusk – not the best idea (when wildlife come out and may be found on the roads) – we reached the Flinders Ranges and were rewarded with multiple sights of the rare Yellow Footed Rock Wallaby – lucky us. Kangaroos were a little shy while sleepy lizards crept away on sunny roads a little earlier in the day.
Here we set up camp utterly alone, with boulders as tables; at dawn the surrounding hills gleamed orange-red.
So we explored another patch of Australia. We found new plants, rugged landscapes, huge old trees, and abandoned old houses in ruins.
Where to next, I wonder?
Jill Weatherhead, October 2018
Read about Jill’s garden on her blog: http://thegardenatpossumcreek.blogspot.com.au/
Jill Weatherhead is horticulturist, writer, garden designer and principal at Jill Weatherhead Garden Design who lives in the Dandenong Ranges east of Melbourne, and works throughout Victoria. (www.jillweatherheaddesign.com.au)