Wendy’s Secret Garden at Lavender Bay is a true Sydney hidden gem, a delightful place to lose yourself and the family for a few hours.
Wendy’s Secret Garden, Lavender Bay
“& we shall walk & talk in gardens all misty & wet with rain
& we shall never never grow so old again”
(inscription on a garden sculpture – lyrics by Van Morrison)
By Helen Dawes
Sometimes Sydney’s frantic pace can make you want to find a secret oasis to escape to, and many avid gardeners, like myself, know all so well the healing and calming qualities a garden can provide.
One such hidden gem, only a stone’s throw from the hustle and bustle of North Sydney, is Wendy’s Secret Garden in Lavender Bay.
On a warm autumn day my four year-old son and I enjoyed a fabulous morning’s adventure exploring the lush tropical undergrowth beneath a shady canopy of towering moreton bay figs, palms, jacarandas, angel’s trumpets, frangipanis and even a banana tree.
Wendy’s artistic streak is certainly evident, the garden is more of an abstract painting that has evolved naturally than a formally planned garden and there are lots of quirky collections of old garden implements, curios and also some magnificent sculptures.
As well there are plenty of hidden shady nooks with tables and chairs set up for a picnic, or perhaps bring a picnic rug and enjoy the grassy areas nearer the top of the garden with their sensational views looking towards the Harbour Bridge.
My boy and I loved rambling through the garden, choosing at each fork in the path whether we would go left or right, up or down.
However I could also easily imagine returning and spending a lazy afternoon here reading a good book… but alas perhaps not with the ever-roaming four year old in tow!
I would mention to parents of younger ones that this tranquil oasis is on a steeply sloping site so it does have an awful lot of narrow pathways, terraces and stairs (many without guardrails).
I would probably not recommend it for small kids under two years, unless you are willing to do some heavy lifting, and prams would be very tricky to negotiate.
About Wendy Whiteley’s Secret Garden
The garden itself has an amazing history. Wendy and her renowned artist husband, the late Brett Whiteley, set up their family home here at Lavendar Bay and lived together for two decades. Brett painted many of his iconic Sydney Harbour pictures in the large white house that overlooks the garden.
In the weeks that followed Brett’s death in 1992, Wendy’s grief-stricken need to regain some control in her life found her obsessively attacking the piles of overgrown rubbish on the unused railway land at the foot of her house.
Wendy hurled herself into the site, hacking away at lantana, blackberry vines and privet, clearing up dumped bottles, rusty refrigerators, rotting mattresses, labouring till she was too exhausted to think or feel, then collapsing into sleep each night.
Wendy never asked any authorities for permission, and no one told her to stop, so she kept going.
Since then Wendy has been planting out the site, all paid for by herself, and the plants are now well established and happily inhabiting some very prime real estate and enjoying the glorious harbour views.
Now too large for Wendy to manage on her own, the gardens are tenderly cared for by a few staff and a small army of volunteers, who all share Wendy’s passion to keep this little guerrilla garden evolving and thriving and available to the public to enjoy for free.
There are numerous ways to approach the garden.
For us, after catching the train to North Sydney, we headed down Blues Point Road then along Lavender Street and turned into Lavender Crescent.
A pathway will take you through Lavender Bay Parklands and Watt Park, itself a beautiful little secluded park with a kids’ playground and several mature specimen trees.
We spent about half an hour at Watt Park, all by ourselves apart from one office worker at the bench seat on his laptop, no doubt enjoying getting some work done in such a lovely little park far away from the madding crowd.
We then went under the railway bridge along Lavender Bay’s shore and up the stairs, the Wendy Whiteley Garden is on the right.
The Wendy Whiteley Garden Lavender Bay can also be accessed from the other (Eastern) end via Clark Park on Harbourview Crescent. From here it is also a short walk to Milson’s Point Station.
If coming from other parts of the city, another quite lovely option would be to catch a ferry to Milson’s Point Ferry Wharf walk along the Harbour foreshore (along past Luna Park, although this option may lead to a lot of badgering to go on the rides as you walk past).
By bus, Sydney Buses run daily services to the area with the closest bus stops located on Alfred Street, Milsons Point; Lavender Street, Lavender Bay; Blues Point Road, McMahons Point and North Sydney train station.
If you choose to drive please be aware that parking is all metered and very limited in this area.
Toilets: No, not on site, the closest are at Quibaree Park, located at the bottom of the stairs leading from Lavender Street down to Lavender Bay
Food: BYO picnic, or (like we did) have lunch at the Kirribilli RSL which overlooks the gardens on your way back to the station (a variety of kids meal options are available).
Playground: At nearby Watt Park is an excellent (though unfenced) small playground with slide, merry-go-round, climbing frame, row boat.
Further information from the official website here:
Wendy’s Secret Garden