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.
Brett Whiteley called this place ”optical ecstasy” and many of his paintings reflected these scenes.
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.
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.Wendy, has no background in horticulture. However, she has the artist’s eye for colour, shape and texture and design.
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….
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….
………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.”
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.