I recently watched a story on ABCs Australian Story on Wendy Whiteley, which prompted me to dig into my archives and pull out my own memories of the time I met Wendy in her secret garden some 5 years ago.
On Sydney’s North Shore in the suburb of Lavender Bay, squeezed between Clark Park and the North Shore Railway line lays a little patch of land that resembles somewhat of a Monet canvas. Wendy’s Secret Garden is the creative work of Wendy Whiteley, best known as the wife and muse of Sydney artist Brett Whiteley.
Owned by the NSW Rail Corporation the derelict bushland site opposite the Whiteley’s home had become a dumping ground for rubbish, household appliances and train carriages and was also home to a handful of the homeless.
For the past 20 years Wendy, an artist in her own right, has moulded this landscape into a creative masterpiece. Getting her inspiration from the throngs of daily lunch goers at Clark Park soaking up the sun and the view, she took it upon herself to clean up the mess.
“I thought what a waste, all this land here, that all these people could be enjoying,” says Wendy.
Steeped into the hillside are a cluster of walkways laden with blooming fragrant flowers, ferns, palms, shrubs and Australian natives. It’s a feast for the senses.
Wendy confesses she’s not very good with the names of the plants, but it’s what it looks like that’s important to her. “I’m a visual person and go by what looks good. I didn’t have a plan for what I was going to do it just happened,” she said.
Dotted amongst the garden are several secluded nooks and crannies with tables and chairs or grassy mounds. They are so inviting you can’t help but steal a few moments to escape reality. Or pull up a pew under the great Moreton Bay Fig and enjoy the sweeping views across Lavender Bay to the Sydney Harbour Bridge.
Local resident Joanne is a regular to the garden and says that sometimes it feels like you have it all to yourself. “I think what Wendy has done here is amazing, it’s so peaceful and never overcrowded”.
Not only admired by the locals as a place of tranquillity but by tourists, students and families alike.
Peter and Jill are from out of town but have known about the garden for a while and make frequent visits to meet with friends at the nearby Kirribilli RSL. “We come here first and enjoy a little peace and quiet before we meet friends, it’s such a magical place”.
Wendy herself maintains the gardens with a little help from a few gardeners she’s employed. “I just love being in the garden, I’d do this all day everyday, especially when the weather is this good”, she says bathed in sunlight sitting in a garden bed. “I’m glad I’ve been able to create something that everyone can enjoy”
She looks so happy and content it inspires me to want to create your own garden, and that’s saying something since I can’t even keep a pot plant alive!