Google map showing the size and impressive canopy cover of Wendy's Secret Garden.

Google map showing the size and impressive canopy cover of Wendy’s Secret Garden.

The Fig tree that I fell in love with - for me the entrance to this garden.

The Fig tree that I fell in love with – for me the entrance to this garden.

The flat part of this garden. There were ripe strawberries growing here.

The flat part of this garden. There were ripe strawberries growing here.

I am so glad the secret is out. I have known of the existence of this garden for many years, but not being familiar with Lavender Bay, had the idea that I would be somehow trespassing on Wendy Whiteley’s garden & that did not appeal to me. Wendy has recently released a book on her garden, called ‘Wendy’s Secret Garden’ of course, & done television appearances, so I lost all doubt about trespassing.

Last weekend, on a bright sunny blue-sky day we went & I am so glad we did. See my post on Clark Park, which is next to Wendy’s Secret Garden here – (or last post as I cannot make the link live).

As you come to the edge of Clark Park heading down toward the water, a green belt of all kinds of plants marks the edge of Wendy’s Secret Garden. There are a number of paths down into this garden from Clark Park, but we decided to enter via the massive veteran Fig tree that appears to have been cloud pruned. Oh my, what a majestic tree!

In front are three statues, which I assume have been placed there by Wendy Whiteley. One is a large white marble sculpture. I do not know who the artist is. Another tall pillar says the following, “We shall walk & talk in gardens all misty & wet with rain & we shall never grow old again,” which is a slight change in the lyrics of the lovely song, ‘Sweet Thing’ by Van Morrison.  Next to this is a 1970 sculpture called, “Head” created by Australian Artist Joel Elenberg.  These coupled with the fantastic Fig tree were an auspicious start to touring this garden for me. There were more sculptures scattered throughout the garden, as well as seemingly found things arranged just so…little artworks in themselves.

So down one tier to another small lawn in front of the same massive fig tree & a couple of bench seats where people were sitting taking in the view. We then walked down a path & into the garden.  Stairs & paths are all through this garden, taking people up both sides of the gully & also along the middle level of the garden. Many of these paths are bordered with homemade handrails crafted from tree branches. My mind is ticking “yes” again. I love naturalness like this.

How to describe this garden? It’s not easy. It is a gully with both sides terraced by little sandstone rocks or by wooden beams. It doesn’t take long before one realises just how much work went into building the space, even before any planting was done. It appears that much had to be reclaimed, terraced & filed with soil for plants & trees to grow. I did read once that the space was once full of junk & overgrown with weeds like Lantana before Wendy started work on it.

Work is an understatement. I think this garden has been made from blood, sweat, toil & love since she started clearing the land in 1992.

There are many trees – old Fig trees, Coral trees, a clump of Alexander palms, banana trees, Grevilleas, Banksias, Frangipanis, Mulberry trees (people were picking ripe mulberries straight off the tree like the good old days), a Wollemi pine & others I cannot remember. Some of the trees were veterans & what I would classify ‘significant trees.’

Plants included clivias, agapanthus, datura, native grasses, germaniums, salvia, ferns, bird’s nest ferns, tree ferns, bromeliads, spider plants, nasturtiums, agave, ginger, elephant ears, strawberries, bird of paradise, bamboo, native violets & many, many more. It looked like plants were sourced from friends or cuttings & divided & replanted in a new space when big enough. This is only my assumption though. It showed how guerilla gardening can be extremely effective & beautiful.

I was amazed to see butterflies flitting all over & through this garden. I see butterflies occasionally, but I have never seen them in such large numbers in the one place. This is obviously a perfect garden for butterflies, which means plants are not sprayed with pesticides & caterpillars are allowed to survive. The reward for a few eaten leaves is much beauty in butterflies.

There were lots of people visiting & two groups had grabbed picnic table settings set on two different levels. Wendy has set up seats – single seats, benches, benches with picnic tables all through the garden. Most are placed where you can feel separated from others. You can see people, but unlike the style in many public parks, these are not placed in lines right next to each other.

There were many ideas that I wish local councils would take into their work beautifying public spaces –

  • The use of flowers.
  • Mixing plants, both native & exotic & planting for bees & butterflies.
  • As little mono-planting as possible.
  • Not relying on mulch for landscaping.
  • Creating a thick under-storey,
  • Placing seats in areas where people can take in the view or find a pocket of peace or sit in the shade at anytime of the day,
  • Messy areas for insects & other small wildlife,
  • Nesting boxes as a norm,
  • Signs asking people not to litter,
  • Water for birds,
  • Public art,
  • No concrete,
  • Allowing leaves to act as mulch.

What I do know is that Wendy Whiteley is a superb guerilla gardener, as are her two male helpers. Together they have done an amazing job creating a beautiful oasis “far from the madding crowd” that is a very precious gift for the people of Sydney. I applaud their work.

To finish with very good news, in October 2015 the NSW Government agreed to lease the land, which belonged to NSW State Railways, to North Sydney Council on a 30-year renewable lease.  This should keep this garden safe well into the future & this is a very good thing.  We need public places like this.

Birdbaths were everywhere.  Some were big like this one.  Others were small, a steel  lid.

Birdbaths were everywhere. Some were big like this one. Others were small, like a steel lid.

Everywhere presented a different view.

Everywhere presented a different view.

Red follage provided highlights throughout the garden.

Red folliage provided highlights throughout the garden.

Another burst of red and showing the wonderful handrails.

Another burst of red and showing the wonderful handrails.