On Christmas Day 2015, after sharing lunch with my friend from Switzerland, we made our way to Lavender Bay to visit this unassuming peaceful Secret Garden. There are no signs announcing the Garden but we found it with ease. In sunshine and under blue skies we drank in the peacefulness of this place as we leisurely wandered the little winding pathways. There are benches and small tables and chairs along with rather interesting artistic sculptures, some from recycled materials. This was, for us, a rather unusual intimate look at the life of one who has chosen to channel her grief and rehabilitation from drug addiction to a serene place for all to share and enjoy.

These words from Wendy Whiteley appear beneath a photograph displayed on a board in the garden – “This is me, right at the beginning, in the mid 1990’s, clearing the hill in the rain. I’d keep working unless it was absolutely pouring. I’m pulling out lantana, blackberry and other invasive weeds, reducing the site to a skeleton, section by section. We planted elephants’ ears to stabilise the soil. When I look at this now I remember how exciting it was. It was hard work, but there was a real point to it. We were creating something from nothing. Any transformative work is very satisfying. It is fantastic to be able to look back and see what you’ve done.”

The following information is also displayed –  “For over 20 years, Wendy Whiteley has worked to create a glorious public garden here at the foot of her harbourside home in Lavender Bay. Hers is an extraordinary story of how a fiercely determined, passionate and deeply creative woman slowly transformed an overgrown wasteland into a beautiful sanctuary for everyone to enjoy. Wendy Whiteley was artist Brett Whiteley’s wife, muse and model. An artist herself, with a finely honed aesthetic sense, she also created the interiors in Brett’s iconic paintings of their Lavender Bay home. After Brett’s death in 1992, Wendy and their daughter Arkie worked on the Brett Whiteley Retrospective held at the Art Gallery of New South Wales in 1995, and the 1995 opening of the Brett Whiteley Studio in Surry Hills. Wendy also channelled her grief and creativity into making an enchanting hidden oasis on derelict railways-owned land at Lavender Bay, which had never been used. It became known as Wendy’s Secret Garden. When Arkie died in 2001, Wendy worked on the garden with even more devotion.

Wendy knew nothing about horticulture. As a highly visual person, her knowledge of colour, shape, texture, design and balance led her to create the garden like a painting. Over 20 years, the garden has grown into a giant living work of art, with Wendy structuring, planting, layering, pruning, adding sculptures and quirky mounted objects, and, of course, letting nature work its own magic. Wendy has paid for the entire garden and its upkeep by her dedicated team of gardeners. She is very concerned about the Secret Garden’s future, as it is only on a temporary beatification lease from N.S.W. RailCorp, making it very vulnerable. She hopes the N.S.W. Government will take steps to declare the land The Secret Garden occupies, as a permanent public park, to be enjoyed forever more.”

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In a huge win for Sydney residents and visitors, on 9th October 2015, the NSW State Government granted the North Sydney Council a 30-year lease for the garden (with an option of a second 30-year period). A result that I am sure would make Wendy happy.  “It will become collaboration now instead of having a slightly worrying feeling that somebody could arrive with a bulldozer someday or a chainsaw or something and it could all be gone overnight,” Ms. Whiteley said.

Her comment is “Everyone needs a secret garden in their life”.




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