The Secret Garden and Nursery located at Richmond, NSW, is a unique place. Nestled within a rambling old garden with many old trees and a menagerie of tame farm animals, including amiable pigs and two adorable goats, is a centre that has been offering horticultural therapy to a wide range of people, including individuals living with a disability; schoolchildren; and garden groups. It has been operating for for more than 18 years. Some of those who come regularly to the garden have their own raised beds growing flowers and vegetables, which they tend to every week during their visits. Others engage with plant-related craft activities. Others find peace and tranquillity simply sitting in the garden surrounded by greenery and blooms, and patting the friendly animals. Others help the dedicated staff and volunteers pot up plants for the nursery, open to the public, which provides funding to help keep the centre going. The centre is managed by the not-for-profit North West Disability Services Inc.
Extensive research has established that plants and gardens have a definite effect on our health and wellbeing; whether just seeing plants or working with them in a garden. The Secret Garden and Nursery has a fabulous quirky atmosphere for nurturing these influences, with a mischievous sense of fun lurking around every corner. It is as far from a modern-day garden centre as can be possibly imagined. Rambling paths lead through the garden, and the plants for sale are displayed on old metal chairs, nestled with old teapots, or growing out of old jugs, boots, baskets or birdcages. Rustic scarecrows stand guard over the vegetable patches. Recycling and repurposing pre-loved items are an important aspect of a commitment to sustainability here.
There is always a wide range of plants for sale and this is one nursery in Sydney that has the kind of old-fashioned favourites that are so hard to find these days. On my visit last week, I snapped up a tall, pink-flowered marguerite daisy (the modern 'improved' hybrids are dumpy in stature and do not seem to survive beyond their first season); and Echium candicans, which will have majestic spires of metallic purple-blue blooms next spring; a soft-pink Geranium macrorrhizum, one of the few species Geranium that flourish in Sydney's climate, with the added bonus of growing in shaded spots; and a Salvia confertiflora to replace my previous specimen, which was overtaken by another rampant Salvia. The nursery has a big focus on Salvia: their display of them at this year's Collectors Plant Fair at Clarendon was truly outstanding. There are also interesting native and exotic shrubs for sale, such as the flowering quince and other robust specimens that do so well in the Sydney climate.
After many years on its present site, the garden and nursery will be moving to a new location at the end of this year. The new spot is, like the current one, located within the grounds of Western Sydney University, and the construction of the buildings and garden there is well underway (as shown in the photo at left). The new area is much bigger than the current one, with 15 acres of land and scope for a wide range of new facilities, including a cafe and a fabulous children's playground, complete with a mud-brick castle. Trees and shrubs that will form the structure of the new garden have been planted, and large areas for the retail and wholesale sides of the nursery are being established. The new centre will be part of a broader community hub that includes a Men's Shed and a branch of Riding For the Disabled.
I was very pleased to hear that all the farm animals will be going to live at the new site and that all the idiosyncratic garden ornaments, paving and so on will also be transferred there, so the endearing atmosphere of the current place will not be lost. Some of the smaller plants from the garden will also be transplanted, and coordinator Marianne Farrar would love to hear from any individuals or garden groups that might be interested in helping her out with this job and other tasks relating to the move (ph 0414 784460)!
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