Est 1994, Sydney's oldest tourism website
A Morton Bay fig tree at the top of Wendy's Secret Garden beckons a welcome to all comers. Picture: © Sydney.com.au More pictures below
For a long time it was one of Sydney's best kept secrets, and that's probably because for much of the time there wasn't a lot to tell. A widow, working feverishly at digging holes for plants on neglected railway land alongside picturesque Lavender Bay, was hardly a story, let alone a secret.
But in time the plantings covered more of the urban "waste land" and a garden grew, and the garden to locals came to be known as "Wendy's Garden".
The widow in question was Wendy Whitely, wife of the leading Australian artist Brett Whitely, a gifted man who died young in 1992 and left the world a legacy of paintings that captured the beauty of the brilliant blue hues of Lavender Bay. Painting from Brett Whitely's Lavender Bay series now sell for millions of dollars.
Wendy Whitely, an artist in her own right, went through the process of grieving for her husband by spending time on the neglected patch of land below her home, which sloped down to the railway line skirting around Lavender Bay. The had been neglected for more than a century, was overgrown with lantana and being used as a dumping ground.
While Wendy was constructing her garden most Sydneysiders had no idea that a famous artist's widow was beavering away on all but forgotten railway land not all that far from Luna Park.
In time she created a semblance of a garden, and then the garden took structure and form and had a life of its own. It eventually drew others in - people who wanted to come and work in Wendy's Secret Garden. Little did Wendy know at the time that her garden would take up more than 20 years of her life and become much loved by the people who visited it.
It wasn't until the garden was well established that word got out and Sydneysiders, filled with curiosity, came to look.
Wendy had always intended that the garden would be a "people's garden" - there for all to see and enjoy - even though she reportedly has spent millions of dollars of her own money on the garden. It sits below Clark Park, which is in Lavender Street, and the easiest way to access the garden is to walk to the bottom of Clark Park - where the lawn ends and Wendy's garden begins - and look for a narrow staircase leading down into the garden.
You can also access the garden from below by walking around the Lavender Bay foreshore from Milson Point, ducking through an underpass and climbing a set of stone stairs.
Although Wendy Whitely (and helpful volunteers) had created something truly wonderful on the harbour foreshores, the garden had no permanency. There was always the likelihood that one day the government of the day would "reclaim" the land and develop it in one form or another. After all, it was railway land.
But in 2015, Mike Baird's Government leased the land to the North City Council for a 30-year period and the garden's preservation was assured. Until then successive governments had been refusing to commit to keeping it as a reserve or park. In October that year, the ABC reported NSW Transport Minister Andrew Constance as saying the lease deal meant the garden was "locked away for the beauty of everybody ... A 30-year lease with a 30-year option. I'm pretty sure it would be a game politician in 30 years' time not to continue what is absolutely beautiful."
If you spend just a few days in Sydney, the garden is one thing you should see. Ooverlooking Lavender Bay, it can easily be described as a small miracle. Perhaps it started out as therapy for a strong-minded woman who needed to work through her personal grief, but somewhere along the way it developed into a vision of something special and miraculous - Wendy's Secret Garden.
The small stairway with tree branches for rails leads down from Clark Park into a secret world - Wendy Whitely's secret world. Picture: © Sydney.com.au
The staircase leads to a path that has been terraced across the the slope. Picture: © Sydney.com.au
The path zigzags across the slope with brightly coloured bushes and shrubs growing out of pockets of green. Picture: © Sydney.com.au
Hand-crafted lead end-cappings look exquisite on the bespoked timber handrails. Picture: © Sydney.com.au
Lush plant life embraces the small paths. Picture: © Sydney.com.au
Light manages to penetrate the hidden garden. Picture: © Sydney.com.au
Strategically placed succulents give this set of stairs an air of mystery. Picture: © Sydney.com.au
An old washbasin becomes a fascinating water feature in Wendy's Secret Garden. Picture: © Sydney.com.au
Ferns of varying description are staggered throughout the garden. Picture: © Sydney.com.au
The garden is so dense with foliage that it's difficult to see what lies below. Picture: © Sydney.com.au
Variagated plants contrast brilliantly with other predominantly green vegetation. Picture: © Sydney.com.au
Small stairways lead down from the path at different points. Picture: © Sydney.com.au
The wooden steps, large stones and timber handrails give the stairways rustic charm. Picture: © Sydney.com.au
In the heart of the garden. Picture: © Sydney.com.au
Small curiosities appear at different points throughout the garden. Picture: © Sydney.com.au
A table for two sits invitingly at the bottom of the garden. Picture: © Sydney.com.au
But there are also settings for four ... Picture: © Sydney.com.au
... and settings for eight. Picture: © Sydney.com.au
Throw-aways, like this old-time child's bike, become small treaures in Wendy's Secret garden. Picture: © Sydney.com.au
A cherub confronts a frog in the garden. Picture: © Sydney.com.au
Autumn leaves cascade over outdoor settings placed in the garden. Picture: © Sydney.com.au
More cherubs are visible in the garden.
The stone stairs leading in, or out, of the garden. Picture: © Sydney.com.au
Visitors, enthralled by their visit to Wendy's Secret Garden, are pictured below the figree at the top of the garden. Picture: © Sydney.com.au