Florence Markets

I have turned Canberra’s Green Spaces into Italy’s Green Spaces for a month or so to show some of the wonderful green spaces we found in Italy.

(I mentioned Villa Giulia in my last post, and I do intend writing about this park in Palermo later)

Parks are always a welcome sight for me in new city, and Paul and I also share a love of markets….the food that people eat and grow and the produce for sale is so much part of the flavour of a country.

Here we are in Florence, even on a dull day, who could resist such a beautiful city?

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We have organised to join a food tour of the markets in Florence. We did this tour, and many others through The Walking Tours of Italy, and they were all good.

Anna, our vivacious guide told us that tripe is a special, much loved, dish in Florence, and indeed when we arrived at this stall Italians were stopping off for a dish of Lampredotto (spiced tripe), in the same way we would stop off for a coffee.

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Anna said in her charming Italian way that, usually, men were much more prepared to try this dish because it was the manly thing to do to try dishes that may not appeal immediately. That was me off the hook, I have to confess, I love food, but I’m not very adventurous. All the guys on the tour tried it…how could they not try??

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I don’t think Paul was that thrilled, but he finished most of it. This was a great start to the tour because everyone began to talk about their favourite dishes back home.

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Here we are at our next stop, an Enoteca (wine shop). The shopkeeper had some Bruschetta with tomato and basil, bread with olive paste, some with fish paste, and some with extra virgin olive oil.

Anna explained that Italians traditionally have a drink at this time of day (about 11.00 am)

We had noticed this tradition in Venice, in fact I had seen a woman strongly resembling my Mum with a shopping bag stopping off for a Prosecco one morning.

I wondered about the wisdom of having something like this to drink at the beginning of tour, but Tuscan Chianti and the Sicilian wine were very light, and most enjoyable.

IMG_3144 (1024x927)I always love the colour and movement in markets. There were more varieties of tomatoes than I had ever seen here…

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Zucchini flowers are very popular and stuffed with vegetables and/or meat mixtures, often seen in restaurants.

 

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There were plastic tops on these plants, and I have no idea what their purpose is.

IMG_3173 (1024x768)The choice of cheeses and meats was amazing. The sellers pride themselves in all their produce, and love describing the cooking and curing of these cheeses and meats.

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Many of the butchers, fishmongers, cheese sellers in Italy belonged to families who had been doing this for three or more generations. There is real pride in their product.

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We ended the tour at a gelato shop. The gelato was wonderful, but I was too busy eating and talking to even think of taking a photo at that point.

However, we did visit another fantastic gelato shop before we left Florence,and I was attracted to it because it appeared to have chocolate streaming down the walls.. …what can you say….

reader…I ate more gelato!

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Have a happy week of gardening, growing and eating!

 

 

 

 

 

 

Palermo’s English garden

 Paul and I have been in Italy  for a month, and we have enjoyed many wonderful Italian green spaces, so I’m turning Canberra’s Green Spaces into Italy’s Green Spaces for a month or so.

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this stunning Cathedral in Palermo was built in 1184 and has been transformed and re-built many times over the centuries.

Two years ago Paul retired to begin a PHD, and eighteen months later he was accepted to give a paper at an International Conference in Palermo, the capital city of Sicily. He is a good example of how retirement can bring a new and rewarding chapter to your life…and I’m very much enjoying being his support team and blogging about green spaces at the same time!

Palermo is a teeming colourful city with a grand history reflected in its buildings. It was once known as ”the garden city” because of its parks. These parks are centered around the city and are well used, and much needed with a population of city dwellers.

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Whenever we travel, I look for the parks to restore my energy….no more so than in  Palermo. This beautiful and well kept park is named The English Garden (Giardino Inglese) after a style of landscape that emerged in England in the 18th Century and spread across Europe.

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This style, typically, presented an idealised view of nature, and usually included, a lake or water feature, and gently rolling lawns set amongst groves of trees.

In the background of the photo below, a gardener is hand watering the lawn. Palermo has very hot summers and water must be precious.

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In the 18th Century parks were a sign of power and wealth, and were designed to compete and impress. Plants from all over the world were imported to create an exotic environment.

The banana trees do look exotic in this park, and fig trees are wonderfully sheltering and cool on a hot summer’s day.

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This English garden has many sculptures and a temple designed by Ernesto Basile, inspired by Arab-Norman architecture.

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Unfortunately, not all the fountains were active the day we were there, but what a peaceful cool place to sit..

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There is an impressive statue of Guiseppe Garibaldi  on the opposite side of the Viale della Liberta sculpted by Vincenzo Ragusa in 1891.

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I often notice people reading in parks, and this fig tree is giving wonderful shade and protection to its readers.

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In cities teeming with millions of people, where living conditions are often cramped, parks are such a vital part of the city. Here in Palermo  they are used all day long …

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And here we have a group of young school children, being brought to the park by a wonderful young teacher and her assistant…as the children held onto a rope, the teacher sang a song all the way across four lanes of crazy traffic….what a class act!

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We visited many parks in Palermo, not all as well kept as this one, but all being used and enjoyed, probably more today than at any other time.

Copyright Geraldine  Mackey. All rights reserved.

 

I hope you can join me again soon to look at Villa Giulia in Palermo…this park had many plants very similar to the ones of my childhood home in Zambia (Central Africa) Nothing like plants to bring back memories!

 

An autumn walk around Old Parliament House in Canberra

This building, affectionately known as ”The Wedding Cake” is Old Parliament House, first opened in 1927.  It is now home to the Museum of Australian Democracy.

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Paul worked in this elegant old building when we first came to Canberra, in 1983. The building, and surrounding gardens hold many memories for Paul and our family…especially the children’s party held in the gardens every Christmas.

Today we are taking advantage of the beautiful autumn weather to walk around the building and then down to Lake Burley Griffin for coffee.

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The Oak trees on the right of the building are just turning into autumn splendour and,

….where there is an acorn, not far away are the cockatoos.

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This is a common sight on the lawns around the Parliamentary buildings

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This monument celebrates the important role of the 13th Century English Magna Carta.

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The monument is sited close to Parliament House and the High Court because the Magna Carta established the framework for the Australian legal system, Constitution and Parliament.

We walked around the building and came to the statue of two Prime Ministers who were also good friends. John Curtin (PM from 1941-1945) on the left, and Ben Chifley (PM from 1945-1949) on the right.

IMG_1894 (995x1024)I have read that Ben Chifley, in the early days of his campaigning, did so on a shoe string. He travelled by train whenever he could, and when he couldn’t, he drove himself. His wife Liz always packed him a lunchbox and he also took his billy to make some tea along the way. He loved stopping by the wayside, gathering a few twigs, and boiling his billy at any time of the day.

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During Parliamentary sitting times the two men lodged in a small hotel nearby, called the Kurrajong, not far from Parliament House, and often walked this path together.

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When Ben Chifley died there was a wonderful quote attributed to Oliver Hogue:

”He understood the human heart, the ideals, the ambitions, the follies, the passion of men and women. Chifley put tolerance amongst the highest virtues, and had it in large measure himself.”

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Walking along the paths of the Parliamentary Triangle on such a fine day, it is particularly special to see the variety of trees…the Eucalypts look very striking amongst the contrasting colours of other species.

The galahs are having an autumn feast amongst the leaves.

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Further down the path towards Lake Burley Griffin are the beautiful Claret Ash trees….and Black Mountain Tower in the distance.

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The autumn days are warm and sunny and there is usually no wind, most people are out and about as much as possible. (and yes, I know, winter cometh…)

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The Manchurian Pear trees along the edge of Lake Burley Griffin are a much loved sight in autumn.

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About a month ago we took a boat ride around the lake, unfortunately the weather was hazy and cloudy that day. However, Paul took this great photo,  of the National Library…this is undoubtedly my favourite building..

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and looking back on it, we were surprised to see that the Claret Ashes were turning red, even in mid March.

As it is time to head homeward, we walk back to the car..

…well hello, you are never alone near an Oak tree…

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I wonder if he is searching for something to eat, or, merely breaking off a few branches… just for fun….?

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Happy weekend everyone!

Autumn.. and I’ve got the empty bird bath blues

As soon as spring arrives, our garden becomes a playground for families of birds.IMG_8097 (1024x650)On this cold spring day the Cockatoos have perhaps given up on flying lessons for this big family……far too cold ….

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But on a brighter day, the babies are growing up…….. parents of all persuasions  are a pretty tolerant bunch.

This sweet looking Crimson Rosella, no doubt a parent, is watching on from the Japanese Maple, while the young ones enjoy the birdbath, and even better……..

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………a sprinkler shower as well!

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This little one is a Juvenile Crimson Rosella, and she is moulting and changing from green to red. At the moment she has nice red pantaloons, but is looking a bit awkward…just as most teenagers feel at times..

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This one is also changing colour, but she is a real water baby and spends all her time happily in the birdbath..

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The young Wattlebird is as hyperactive as her parents, and the mere thought of the water is sending her into a spin!

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Kookaburras are not that common in our area, but this young one has, perhaps, come down from Mt Taylor in search of water.

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She turned her head to give me her best side as if to say……”‘you’ll catch me soon @kooka.burra’

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Galahs are always found in family groups, but this little one has found his way here to our Bottlebrush bush on a very hot day…but waiting politely for his turn in the birdbath..

These young Eastern Rosellas are blending in nicely to the Japanese Maple

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Lovely to see these colours on a hot day..

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But the regulars in our garden are the Magpies, and this year a pair arrived with these three babies. Very soon it is obvious there are two fast learners…..

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and one High Maintenance Baby

 

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It was a long spring and summer with HM following Mum around plaintively calling for food, every morning and every evening. Mum seems young and anxious, and she gives in every time…

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One day, just for a little break, the whole family left HM up on the carport roof (plenty of grubs and fruit up there)

”I know you are down there!” she is calling

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Mum is just enjoying some peace and quiet in the veggie patch

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Dad’s having a bath…he’s had enough, he wants this baby off the payroll..

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As we drive away for our summer break, I wonder if HM is going to make it…she has to learn to feed herself…as Garrison Keiller says about difficult kids ”Just send money and pray”

 

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When we return from our summer holiday, the Magpies have gone…..in fact all the young birds have grown up and flown away…it’s very quiet here …I realise I’ve got the empty bird bath blues..

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Then, just as I write this, the three young Magpies come back for a visit….they poke around the lawn looking  for some worms, have a drink in the birdbath, and stay a while as we do some gardening..

HM Baby is turning her head to show she is listening for beetles, worms and grubs in the ground…she can feed herself!

IMG_1556 (1024x882)Just look at them!  So confident, these city slickers in their sharp Armani suits…all grown up and ready to go….when did that happen?

 

May they have a happy autumn and winter before their hectic turn at parenting begins..

Copyright Geraldine  Mackey. All rights reserved.

 

 

 

 

Wollemi Pine, eucalypts.. and green spaces in the city

Canberra, as with many young cities, is growing rapidly, and sometimes the rush to build overtakes the need to plan long term….so thank goodness the National Botanic Gardens were planned and planted in the 1960s and it is now in the heart of the city.

 

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During summer I joined a walking group to re-discover some of the joys of the National Botanic Gardens. I have written a few posts on some of the diverse parts of the gardens, The Red Centre Garden, and the Rainforest Gully.

The walks are coming to an end this week, so here is a last snapshot of some of the plants and places we have passed by.. …

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This is the Wollemi Pine, one of the world’s rarest and most ancient tree species.

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The Wollemi Pine belongs to the 200 million year old Araucariaceae family. It was, until 1994,  believed to be extinct. David Noble, a National Parks and Wildlife Officer was bushwalking and abseiling in 1994, and came across an unusual plant in a National Park close to Sydney.

Scientists and Horticulturalists were amazed, as is the general public…because the Wollemi Pine comes from the age of dinosaurs…there are very few left in the wild..

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Palaeontologists say it is likely that the dinosaur crossed paths with the Wollemi Pine and may have eaten Wollemi leaves….amazing!

There are a small amount of Wollemi Pines still in the wild, and they are protected, both from human intervention and from fire, to ensure their survival.

However, people can now buy and grow a Wollemi Pine (if you have a very large garden!) and become part of one of the most dramatic comebacks in natural history.

www.WollemiPine.com

The trees that do dominate the landscape of the Gardens are the Eucalypts.

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In summer visitors enjoy concerts under the trees, children come for ”Eucalyptus by Gum” educational adventure, couples get married, groups meet to have picnics.

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There are more than one hundred species to be seen if you wander across the Eucalypt lawn.

As we’ve walked around the gardens we were amazed at the colour and texture of bark on the Eucalypt trees……

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The tree below is called a Smooth-barked Apple…it is eye catching and smooth as silk to feel..

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It was one of the earliest Eucalypts collected by Europeans, Joseph Banks and Daniel Solander who travelled with Captain Cook in 1770. It is quite easy to see why they wanted to take a sample home.

The Gardens are also the perfect place for photography enthusiasts …..

…where else would you see King Parrots looking so beguiling….

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This shy New Holland Honey Eater is darting between the banksias….hard to catch..

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 And here is another well known Aussie, a Galah, perched on top of the highest point of the highest tree… oh to be a bird…..

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Autumn is a wonderful season in Canberra, and I hope to write a few more posts about my home town before winter begins!

Copyright Geraldine  Mackey. All rights reserved.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In the gentle dawn, happy birthday Canberra.

Canberra is 103 years old in March 2016 ….a young city just finding its place in the world.

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There are many birthday celebrations through the month of March, and one of the biggest events is ”Balloons Afloat”

Here we are at dawn waiting for the giant balloons to fill with air and be fired up into the sky..

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Some balloons are taking off without any trouble, but there is not much wind this morning…

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….and some of the cuter ones are having trouble floating off.

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and some stayed up just long enough to give the kids a thrill…

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Looking at all the families around enjoying this early morning start to Canberra day I can’t help thinking of all the turmoil in the world at the moment, and yet, how much ordinary people all over the world really just want to be able to live peacefully with their families and communities.

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The dawn on the lake is very gentle this morning, as the poet Mary Oliver says ” softest of mornings, hello.”

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We are off to our favourite little café in the city for breakfast. This café has a healthy herb garden and even a pumpkin vine heading out and over to the road. You can’t trust a pumpkin to behave well in a garden bed, never mind a city bed!

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I think the Chicago planners, Walter Burley Griffin and Marion Mahony would have been happy to see a garden in the city, that was part of their dream.

What great good fortune to live in a peaceful city.

Happy birthday Canberra!

 

 

 

 

From a rainforest gully …to some Yellow-tailed Black Cockatoos..

I’ve come back to the National Botanic gardens of Canberra on a beautiful summer morning, and all the more sparkling because we’ve had some steady rain last night for the first time in a month.

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The Rainforest fern gully was created in 1960 from a naturally occurring dry gully with a few eucalypts, shrubs and grasses….and as I step into the cool shaded area today it is hard to believe it was ever dry..

IMG_0365 (1024x727)The lower end of the gully begins with Tasmanian cool temperate rainforest plants..and gradually changes to the warm temperate rainforest of northern NSW and south eastern Queensland

…as I follow this path I’m effectively walking the entire east coast rainforest of Australia in ten minutes!

IMG_0776 (1024x932)To create this gully, fast growing wattles and eucalypts were grown, and 2000 fine mist sprays installed to keep the humidity high…

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the understory has small trees, fallen branches and ferns..

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Macrozamia miquelii

Now a canopy of tall plants, like an enormous umbrella protects the ferns below from the direct sun, heavy rain, drying winds and frost…all of which can happen in Canberra.

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Blackwood tree Acacia Melanoxylon

I expected to find some birds in the gully, but the rain and soft sunshine has sent them out to the Banksia and Grevillea bushes….a little bird flew into the ground cover and stayed there, forever it seemed, I guess a whole small world of activity is going on in there…

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Hakea minyma Proteaceae

Here is a New Holland Honeyeater having breakfast at the Banksia café..

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As good luck would have it, just as I headed for the car park, some noisy Yellow-tailed Black Cockatoos arrived..

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Unperterbed by cars and people nearby, one of them began burrowing into the tree, possibly looking for grubs to eat..

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In no time at all he has almost disappeared into that hole….

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… so his mate is coming over to see what it is all about

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While the ”Boss Cocky” watches on…

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..A lovely way to spend the morning…

 

A desert in the heart of Canberra..

The city of Canberra is by no means a desert, however, at the National Botanic gardens, the stunning Sturt Desert Pea is flowering..

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I’m visiting the National Botanic gardens on a very hot day in February, to look at the amazing Red Centre garden, and then stroll down to the Fern Gully…to cool off..

IMG_0531 (1024x698)The Red Centre garden is designed to showcase the dramatic landscapes, sand dunes and rocky escarpments of central Australia, known as The Red Centre. The soil in the Red Centre is rich with iron oxide which gives it this distinctive colour.

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Central Meeting Place features Indigenous artist Teresa Pula McKeeman’s artwork and evokes Northern Territory women’s ceremonial dancing.

Canberra often has frosty, temperamental weather, so to design and plant a desert garden is, ”a well considered experiment” according to David Taylor, curator of the Botanic Gardens Living Collections.

Desert plants can be seen here that belong in the desert….many thousand kilometres away from Canberra in Central Australia. An area of research in the Gardens is using micrografting techniques to help plants survive in a different climate….. for example the Sturt Desert Pea uses New Zealand’s Clianthus Puniceus as stock….as a result it can survive the Canberra winter.

IMG_0692 (1024x627)David says ”this garden is as much about the landscape and the colours, the textures and the forms of Central Australia as it is about the plants.’

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On this hot day I am very drawn to this beautiful desert pea, what a symbol of life and hope for desert people and travellers.

This flower is named after the explorer Captain Charles Sturt and he is quoted as saying”one of the greatest ornaments of the desert regions of the interior of Australia.”

All flowers are something of a miracle in this desert country

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desert hibiscus
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Gossypium sturtianum Malvaceae

 

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A model of a Thorny Devil (Moloch horridus)

Here is a very life-like desert dragon on the children’s trail… (I can’t help thinking many of my younger students would surely have been terrified of this guy..)

However, this lizard, found in the desert, is perfectly designed to survive the harsh conditions. A system of tiny grooves between its scales channels water from all over its body to the mouth of the lizard. It can drink by just standing in the rain or from dew that settles on its body overnight.

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A water dragon

Here is a much more low-key real life water dragon, very well camouflaged on the rock.

I’m leaving the Red Centre as the temperature climbs to 35 C and going where it is wonderfully green and cool. The fern gully is one of the most popular places in the National Botanic  Gardens on a hot day, and I can see why…this fern gully is rich with stories for another time…

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A grand site for a city…

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In 1913 Walter Burley Griffin, a young architect from Chicago was the winner of a design competition for the new capital city of Australia. His wife, Marion Mahony did many of the design drawings for the project. She was the first woman in America to become a licensed architect. They made a remarkable team.

On his first visit to Australia, at the site for the future capital city, Canberra, Walter Burley Griffin told the Melbourne Press,

”I think this is a grand site for a city. Of course I’m pretty familiar with the layout of the land, but drawings and photos can give you no real idea of the contour of the country and its charms

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Views of the Brindabella Ranges from our house on the south side of the city of Canberra.

The morning and the evening lights at Canberra are wonderful.

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The shadows of the clouds and mists as they cross the mountains are very beautiful indeed.IMG_0747 (1024x622)

Walter and Marion believed that good planning and architecture could improve the quality of life of the people living in a city.

With their vision, Canberra is designed to have several town centres,  with corridors of greenery and bush in between, and several small lakes…

Rodney Moss, former Professor of Architecture at the University of Canberra and Director of Cox Architecture says,

”Canberra is a city designed within a landscape setting..”

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It is possible to go rowing before work..

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or keep an eye out for the sleeping cockatoos as you drive to work…

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or walk along the backtracks behind our suburbs..

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The corridors of bush means that wild birds and kangaroos live in a companionable way around  us….

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one of the many young kangaroos watching us as we walk up Mt Taylor

Magpies are part of the family…(sometimes not in spring, but that is another story)

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These parrots visit our cabin in the garden for some unfrozen water in winter …

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In summer our fruit trees are given over to the birds

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They are worth it!

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Early on a hot summer’s  morning the sun shines through the gum (eucalypt) trees…

..as Walter remarked……it really is all about the light.

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Once Walter Burley Griffin had seen the site he said he was reminded of a great American artist, George Innes..

he said every one of his paintings reminded him of Canberra.

Thanks to the magic of the internet, I’ve looked up some of his paintings, and I agree, the light in many of George Innes’s paintings is very similar to the light in Canberra.

Walter never did see his design completed, and he died unexpectedly while working in the north eastern Indian city of Lucknow. Fortunately Marion was at his side when he died, and she did make the journey back to Canberra to see it as a fledging city. …but that is a much bigger story..

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Wendy Whiteley’s garden, bringing solace and joy

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Early on New Year’s Day 2016 Sydney was a very quiet place after a big night of fireworks and parties.

We took advantage of the quiet to visit a wonderful public garden with an extraordinary story.

Brett Whiteley, a famous Australian painter and his wife Wendy, also an artist, settled in Lavender Bay, a secluded inlet on Sydney’s north side.

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Brett Whiteley called this place ”optical ecstasy” and many of his paintings reflected these scenes.

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Brett Whiteley died in 1992 aged 52, and tragically the couple’s only daughter, died of a rare cancer in 2001.

After Brett’s death Wendy, in her grief, began clearing an overgrown dump of derelict public land below their house.

Over 20 years she poured her money, creative skills, energy and emotion into transforming  the wasteland by the harbour into a public garden.

The Moreton Bay Fig is the feature point of the garden, and its magnificent trunk and branches seem to reach protectively over the garden.

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It is a challenging steep site, but over time, steps and paths have been built, first by Wendy and some faithful gardeners, and now by many volunteers as well.

Sydney has a wonderful climate for many different plants, and gradually the plants have almost engulfed the paths in some areas.IMG_7925 (1024x857)Wendy, has no background in horticulture. However, she has the artist’s eye for colour, shape and texture and design.

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IMG_7881 (1024x771)As a child Wendy loved the book by Frances Hodgson Burnett called The Secret Garden. This garden began as her secret garden, a place where the physical needs of the garden gave her a distraction from grief, but also a place of solitude, and in time, replenishment.

As the garden developed it gradually became more than Wendy’s garden, it became a haven for many people who come to sit for a while in the cool dappled shade, read a book, or simply enjoy the lush green plants…. away from noisy city life.

the power of the garden….

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Wendy says ”Loss is something all people end up dealing with one way or another. Sometimes it can be too much, but I have learnt we must give ourselves time to get over the stages of grieving. The amazing thing about life is that deep sadness can, in its own time eventually lead you on the path to renewal and discovery….

IMG_7947 (1024x738)………This garden started as therapy, but it’s gone way beyond that, into a joyous celebration of life and nature, and a desire to share. I transformed an ugly wasteland into a beautiful garden, and along the way, the garden transformed me.”

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As this is public land, the future of the garden was precarious, but in October 2015 the NSW government gave the garden a 30 year lease with a 30 year renewal option.

Many thanks to Wendy for building a garden such as this in a time of grief, and now it is available for all to share, in a quiet and caring way.

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