The secret may be well and truly out about this hidden garden, but it really is heartwarming story and a space worth sharing. When Wendy Whiteley lost her husband, Australian artist Brett Whiteley, in 1992, she funnelled her love and grief into transforming a disused, derelict train yard space.
Wendy’s Secret Garden – which is at the foothill of her private home in Lavender Bay – has been nurtured by Whiteley and two gardeners over the past 25 years. They’ve planted natives, exotics, plants and herbs and landscaped the space with winding paths supported by raw bush timber balustrades, benches to sit on, cobbled stairs and retaining walls and paths.
Alongside the natural beauty of curling ferns, flowering lilies and towering shady figs, you’ll also find bronze busts, engraved stone tablets, wooden carvings and other sculptures dotted around the garden. These artworks serve as a point of inspiration for Whiteley and the community alike, with many being donated by local artists.
The garden also reveals majestic views of the sparkling harbour foreshore, framing the Harbour Bridge and the fringes of North Sydney and the CBD. The garden’s long-term future was in a precarious balance up until recently in 2015, when the NSW State Government granted North Sydney Council a 30-year lease on the garden to secure its future. This should hopefully retain public access to the garden after Wendy's home is sold as part of an extraordinary $100 million bequest she is leaving as a cultural gift to the people NSW.
Tucked away in the shadow of office towers, Wendy's Secret Garden is both public land and private paean to love, loss and renewal. The garden also no doubt would have been a source of comfort for Wendy when she and Brett's daughter, Arkie Whiteley, died in 2001 aged just 37.
The Garden is always open and entry is free, however bookings are required via North Sydney Council for all events at the garden regardless of group size.
Thanks to Sydney Living Museums, you can visit the garden virtually, courtesy of a YouTube video filmed in 2019. Check it out below.