It’s taken love, loss and 25 years of dedication to create the twists and turns of Wendy’s Secret Garden in Sydney. It’s a real local secret and one visit really isn’t enough to find all the hidden treasures within it.
I don’t know how many times I’d passed Wendy’s Secret Garden with absolutely no clue it was there: it’s tucked away on the harbour in North Sydney and normally when I’m this part of Sydney, I’m running and the glistening water views, the happy screams from Luna Park, the show-stopping Harbour Bridge (normally framed by a bright blue sky) command my attention.
While sweating my way through another mile, what I now know to be Wendy’s just looked like another patch of greenery to get past before I could turn round and reverse my route – but boy was I missing out.
Now I’ve found it I think Wendy’s Secret Garden is one of my favourite hidden secrets of Sydney.
The Sad Story of Wendy’s Secret Garden
The Garden can be found on a sloping patch of land in the Lavender Bay area of North Sydney.
Despite its gorgeous views of the water and Harbour Bridge (above) this piece of railway land was an overgrown wasteland until 1992.
This was the year when Wendy Whiteley’s husband. Brett Whiteley, a famous Sydney artist, died. The couple lived in a house above the land and to try and cope with her grief, Wendy started working on the disused area her home overlooked.
Ten years later, when her 37-year-old daughter Arkie, also died, Wendy threw herself further into the garden’s renovation.
She cleared rubbish, hacked away at roots, planted new shrubs, herbs and even trees. She shored up the land and created winding walkways where no paths had been before.
As time went on she also started adding tiny trinkets and pieces of artwork to the nooks and crannies of the garden – as such as you wander it’s like a mini treasure hunt of fabulous things – you’ll find tiny silver owls, pixie houses, watering troughs made of baths and sinks and wrought iron sculptures scattered around.
Some of them are easy to spot, some of them require meandering, peering, peeking and searching in a way that completely takes your mind off the day – which is why I think it’s such a brilliant place to chill out.
The morning I went I spent a good hour exploring the twisting paths of this patch of natural beauty trying to spot all the quirky touches hidden inside. There’s so many I’m pretty sure I just touched the surface – for example, I didn’t spot the gargoyle head above the sink in the picture below until I downloaded the pic to use here!
As a rough guide, however, should you want to do your own Wendy’s Secret Garden scavenger hunt, I found…
Cherubs, pixie houses, a boat, a trike, a scooter, a sewing machine, Tinkerbell and a giant concrete head. There’s a sink, a bath, some owls, watering cans and a figure Rubens would have loved to paint. There’s a lawnmower, a letterbox and a meditating Balinese goddess – in fact, the only thing I didn’t spot was a garden gnome- but there could be one in there somewhere.
Until recently, it wasn’t known what would become of Wendy’s Secret Garden, the land was still owned by the railways after all, but in 2015 North Sydney Council was granted a 30-year lease to the land – with the option to extend for at least 30 years more.
Volunteers help keep the garden weeded. watered and planted and continue to add to the curiosities within – and it’s hoped a Trust will be set up for its upkeep long into the future.
Visiting Wendy Whiteley’s Garden
Wendy’s Secret Garden is free to visit and open seven days a week.
The closest station to the garden is North Sydney and you’ll find it located on the south-east side of Clark Park close to where it meets Railway Avenue.
If you’re in Sydney and find yourself on the north side of the bridge with a spare hour to spend, definitely take a wander and see what catches your attention.
What Else is Near Wendy’s Secret Garden?
It’s very close to Luna Park, the fun fairground with the face for an entrance – or nearby Kirribilli with its restaurants, cafes and great view of the Opera House across the water.
One of Sydney’s nicest restaurants, Aqua Dining, is also here if you want to push the boat out a bit.
You can also walk to or from the garden along the waterfront walkway that goes past Luna Park – this will also take you past a trail of tiny sculptures from the local artist Arthur ‘Art’ Baton that is also not to be missed.
These are mostly based on characters from Australian children’s book it’s another fantastic thing to just stumble upon as you wander. If you’re not up on your Aussie kid’s books (and I’m not) here’s a guide to who is who. I have a soft spot for Dugong here.
If you’re in Sydney October or November, Wendy’s Secret Garden is very near a beautiful set of purple jacaranda trees. They line either side of the road and, as the flowers get heavy, bend over to make a tunnel. To find out more, check out this post on Sydney’s Jacaranda Tunnel.
Wendy’s Secret Garden is also a great place to get some amazing Golden Light pictures of the Harbour Bridge, if you then fancy making an evening of it, head into nearby Kirribilli which is packed with bars and restaurants – or, do as we do and head up the hill to Blues Point Road.
There’s a good pub here called the Commodore, which serves amazing food and has a large outdoor terrace – it’s also home to what we think is Sydney’s best Indian restaurant, Zinger Taj.
Finding the Work of Brett Whiteley in Sydney
As I said, the whole impetus behind the creation of Wendy Whiteley’s secret garden was to work through the grief of losing her husband. Brett Whiteley was, and still is, one of Australia’s most famous artists. He worked as a painter and sculptor and his work spanned all sorts of themes – self-portrait, nudes and scenes of Sydney Harbour, particularly around Lavender Bay.
Because he was so well known and well loved, his work is quite easy to find in Sydney.
Start first at the NSW Art Gallery in the Domain which has eight of his paintings on display – but also my favourite piece of his work, a pair of giant matchsticks almost hidden down the hill behind the museum.
You can then take a trip to the Brett Whiteley’s Studio in nearby Surry Hills which has been turned into a museum of his life work. It contains unfinished pieces plus memorabilia. It’s at 2 Raper Street, Surry Hills and open Fri-Sun from 10am-4pm, entrance is free.
Other exhibitions also pop up in galleries and museums around the city.
Sharing is Caring
So, Sydney folk and fellow travellers who have made it to Wendy’s, did I miss anything in my hunting? What’s your favourite part of the garden? Let me know in the comments.
Lastly, if you liked this post – give it a share on social media.