A very Sydney garden

Saturday, 21 November 2009

A Moreton Bay fig in the garden created by Wendy Whiteley

Last week I finally was able to visit the 'secret garden' created by Wendy Whiteley at Lavender Bay. Created on NSW Rail Corporation land from what was once a hideous rubbish tip, the garden is a lush, tranquil oasis with a million-dollar view. Wendy Whitely began the garden at one end of the site, after the death of her former husband, artists Brett Whiteley, and just kept going until she reached the other end, where a railway siding exists on the edge of Sydney Harbour.

The land is steep, and has been terraced with many stone walls to retain the soil. At the entrance of the garden, a majestic Moreton Bay fig provides a canopy and frames a magnificent panorama of Sydney Harbour. Within the garden, mature shrubs and trees - both native and exotic, many of them unusual - have created shady walks and glades between the more open grassy areas where visitors picnic.

Foliage contrast in the garden created by Wendy Whiteley

I relished the extensive use of semi-tropical foliage plants, such as Monstera, palms, gingers, tree ferns, red and yellow forms of Iresine, Alocasia, Cordyline and native grassy-like such as Dianella in the shady parts of the garden, giving form and interest throughout the seasons. Each plant is artfully paired with its neighbour, so that bold shield-shaped leaves contrast with lacy ferns, strappy leaves grow below broad paddles.

Brugmansia x candida in the garden created by Wendy Whiteley

While there is an emphasis on foliage, there are flower highlights throughout. At the moment, the angel's trumpets (Brugmansia species) are in full bloom, in colours of white, apricot and pink, giving the feeling of being in some sort of tropical paradise, Hydrangea are opening their cool blue and white flower heads, and the plump spikes of Acanthus mollis provide a strong vertical element. Repetition of plantings through the garden provides a sense of cohesion. In contrast to the rainforest lushness of the main body of the garden, its dry, sunny top edge near Clark Park is planted in a mixture of South African and Mediterranean plants, including Echium, lavender, Pelargonium, Gazania and Marguerite daisies, all excellent plants for the Sydney climate in such a spot.

Iresine herbstii Brilliantissima in the garden created by Wendy Whiteley

The garden is beautifully maintained and the plants are all extremely healthy. It is as far away as I can imagine from the visions of English perennial borders which were once my horticultural goal: an object lesson in how the types of plants that grow so easily in our mild climate can be combined with an artist's eye into beautiful pictures.

Garden created by Wendy Whiteley

There are some intriguing statues, an old tricycle and scooter and other domestic objects placed artfully amongst the plants. The garden is open to the public all the time, and there are many chairs and tables dotted throughout where people can sit. Children find all the little paths enchanting. It has a wonderfully serene atmosphere that speaks to the therapeutic effects of gardens and gardening for a garden's creator as well as its visitors.

Gazania in the garden created by Wendy Whiteley

The garden is situated below Clark Park, off Lavender Street, Lavender Bay. Entry is free. Wear good walking shoes if you visit, as there are some steep parts of the garden and quite a few steps.