The Secret Garden of Wendy Whiteley.

Moreton Bay Fig trees: Majestic Boabs:
Patterns of light flit through palms:
Bird’s nest ferns: Statues: Seats:
Flowers edge upon winding:
Walkways: An OASIS:
It is called. ~Ally.


The  spectacular view from the Secret Garden: Lavender Bay spanning from Luna Park to the Sydney Harbour Bridge and the city skyline. The garden extending all the way down to the railway siding.

And we shall walk and talk in gardens: All misty and wet with rain. ~Van Morrison.

Wendy Whiteley’s Secret Garden.

About a year ago a friend invited me to have lunch with her at Wendy Whiteley’s Secret Garden in Lavender Bay, Sydney.

It was a week day as we sat on a seat, quietly, in a protective grove of bamboo absorbing the atmosphere: Joyful: Peaceful: Nurturing: Healing. Watching couples leisurely strolling through the garden, mothers with their boisterous pre-school children and the occasional business attired person, escaping from the bustle of North Sydney.

Top Entrance to The Secret Garden.

The garden is terraced on an extremely challenging steep site, with many of the trees and plants, sculptures and other objects of interest holding a personal meaning for its creator, Wendy Whitely.

All the plants used are ideal for the Sydney climate and combined to provide harmony and contrast of colour, shape and texture. Dramatic bold leaves contrast with lacy foliage and brightly coloured flowers with various tones of green.

Moreton Bay and Port Jackson figs, jacarandas and boabs, palms and bamboo, ferns and flowers come together in artistic harmony.

Visitors can also sample edible plants as they meander up, down and along the pathways following the line of the escarpment. No harmful chemicals are used in this garden.

The view from the top entrance of the Secret Garden, leading down to an enchanted open space from where pathways wind up the steep incline in all different directions.

And we shall never never grow so old again. ~Wendy Whiteley.

Wendy Whiteley.

Wendy Whiteley was wife, muse and model to Australian artist, Brett Whiteley. When Brett died, followed by the death of their daughter Arkie nine years later, Wendy threw her grief and creativity into making an enchanting hidden oasis out of derelict land owned by the New South Wales Government. ~Janet Hawley.

Brief History of the land. 

The Secret Garden was once a picturesque harbour beach surrounded by sandstone cliffs but then in 1890 the inlet was buried in landfill, to enable the railway line to travel across the mouth of Lavender Bay.

The resulting ‘rubble valley’ became an unusable wasteland for the next century, overgrown with weeds and lantana: Until in 1992, Wendy Whiteley awakened its new incarnation when she began making her Secret Garden.

Aesthetically combined trees and plants ~ Many of them indigenous to Sydney/Australia ~ Have now attracted a wide variety of birdlife that was previously unknown to the area. If you love kookaburras and magpies this is the special place to be, early in the morning.

Loss is something all people end up dealing with one way or another. Sometimes loss can seem too much to bear, but we must allow ourselves time to get through the stages of grieving. I’ve never owned it (the garden) but I do feel as if I am its mother. ~Wendy Whiteley.

Future of the Secret Garden.

The reclaiming of the land for public use is a tribute to Wendy’s creativity, passion and tenacity, the delightful working relationship she has with her four gardeners and the volunteers who have continuously supported her project.

At considerable personal expense, Wendy initially reclaimed the derelict land, strewn with items such as discarded old train carriages, abandoned refrigerators and children’s toys ~ A tricycle was converted into a featured piece of garden sculpture.

The artist was then able to treat the garden as if it were a giant painting ~ Structuring, planting, pruning, moving things around, and letting nature do its work.

But until recently, the future of the garden had been extremely precarious, as Wendy initially created the garden without acquiring ‘permission’ to do so ~ On what is now regarded as ‘prime real estate.’

Thankfully in 2015 the Secret Garden was granted a 30-year lease by the New South Wales Government, with a 30-year renewal option.

Pathways converge ~ Handrails of twirling timbers ~ Railway sleepers border pathways. MAGIC lives in this garden. Let yourself be guided on the pathway you will take.

I’ve loved making this garden. It’s been a great gift to my life. It let me find myself again, and it’s my gift to share with everyone. ~Wendy Whitely.

My own Secret Garden.

The garden I have created in my own backyard over the past 8 years, pales in significance to Wendy’s Secret Garden ~ Although there are similarities in our stories.

In a future article I’ll illustrate the transformation of what was a pile of rubble (including discarded furniture and screen doors) covered with wandering jew, bordering a council storm water drain, into a thriving mini-rainforest oasis. I will also describe the nature of healing that working barefoot ~ Once all the glass and rusty wire had been removed ~ In a beautiful garden can bring.


Wendy Whiteley and the Secret Garden by Janet Hawley:

New battle over Secret Garden by Nicole Hasham:

The Healing Power of a Magical Garden: William Yeoman:

This article was originally posted at my Steemit website and titled: The Secret Garden of Wendy Whiteley.

All photographs: ©Alison Lee Cousland.