"Welcome to Ferris Lane"

A rubbish-strewn lane has been transformed into a lush oasis
Sunday, 12 June 2022     

The entry to Ferris Lane

For several years, a friend of mine who lives in Annandale, in Sydney's inner west, has been telling me about a wonderful lane near to her home, known to the locals as the Magic Lane. In a transformation reminiscent of (and indeed inspired by) the garden at Lavender Bay made by Wendy Whiteley, Ferris Lane (between 66 and 68 Ferris Street) - once a disused lane full of 'rubbish, rats and wasps' - has been turned into a green oasis for all-comers to enjoy. I finally got to visit the lane recently with my friend, and I was captivated by what I found.

The project is the creation of nearby resident and passionate gardener Kathy O'Donnell, with the help of her husband, Michael. Seven years ago, Kathy saw the potential to make what she likes to describe as an 'urban inclusive green space' for the community. The lane had been closed off to traffic for a number of decades previously, and it had a hideously weed-ridden garden bed along one side. This spot was where Kathy began to make the garden, originally planting herbs. Over time, more and more plants were added in pots. Many of the plants were donated by locals: some were rescued from building sites; others had been dumped unwanted on the footpaths, or found as giveaways on community websites - and they all found a new life in the evolving garden. Council clean-ups became a great source of pots and other items to decorate the lane. Initially, water for the plants had to be bucketed from Kathy's home, but later the council installed a tap, which made things easier.

All the plants are flourishing and spill out luxuriantly across the lane, softening hard edges and appearing to grow from the ground! Taller shrubs and even small trees in pots provide valuable height and interesting silhouettes to the scene. A profusion of flowers delights the eye: various Salvia and Plectranthus varieties, numerous daisies, Pelargoniums galore and Canna. The blooms attract birds and a diversity of insects into the lane, bringing it alive with their activity. Shallow bowls of water are provided for these and other wildlife visitors, such as lizards.

Much of the vibrant colour of the plantings comes from decorative foliage, such as coleus, Tradescantia zebrina, Alternanthera, bromeliads and variegated spider plant. I enjoyed the way these leaves were used in colour echoes with adjacent flowers or objects, such as the pink centre of a coleus paired with the inflorescence of Aechmea gamosepala (pictured above). Nearby a golden-yellow trike is combined with a similarly hued coleus. Plants with fragrant leaves, such as lavender, pineapple sage and scented-leaf geraniums, invite touch to release their perfumes. Other plants provide varied textures, such as grassy-looking Liriope, lacy ferns, the fingered foliage of palms, and dainty, round-leaved Evolvulus.

A collection of whimsical objects throughout the space brought a smile to my face: old wire birdcages with potted plants growing through them; a life-sized scarecrow brandishing a rake; a number of pairs of old gumboots planted with sculptural succulents; assorted metal watering cans and old gates; and toys tucked here and there, inhabiting a magical green world. A teddies' tea party set-up with child-sized table and chairs enchants young children coming to the lane.

Other dolls and quirky figures perch atop various ladders against the lane walls. These ladders provide further height for the garden space as well as places to display potted succulents, housed in brightly hued nursery pots, bringing extra colour to the scene. An easel at one end of the garden showcases a 'painting' made entirely of succulents.

The lane continues to evolve. Plants and objects are donated on an ongoing basis. A street library and a seed bank have been added, housed in a cute wooden structure at the Ferris Road end of the lane. Christmas parties for the community are held each year in the lane, and last year a market offered handmade items by local artists, and a stall with plants grown from cuttings from the lane. After concerted lobbying by the community, last year the lane was approved by Transport for NSW to be permanently closed to vehicular traffic (though it remains a pedestrian thoroughfare) so that its future would be secure. Various roadworks are in progress to achieve this end. The space should properly now be known as ‚??former Ferris Lane‚?? because of this change!

One important aspect of the space has been the provision over time of a number of benches, chairs and tables, inviting visitors to sit down and immerse themselves in the beauty of this place - and to bring a coffee or even a meal. Research shows more and more convincingly the importance of our having regular contact with nature, with its benefits of improving our mood, reducing our stress levels and helping our general wellbeing - what we gardeners have always known! In inner city areas, where outdoor space is at a premium and where many residents don't have their own gardens, these sorts of places are precious resources to allow people to simply be in nature, with the added bonus of providing a spot for community members to meet and connect. There are also so many great ideas in the lane for those who do have gardens - how to maximise the space available, how to repurpose found objects to embellish a garden scene, and how to combine plants together in skilful ways. Let's hope it can inspire many more such places to be created in our city.

 Reader Comments

1/11  Victoria - 2088 (Zone:10 - Warm Temperate) Monday, 13 June 2022

Inspiring, informative story, Deidre. Some great ideas, too, for those gardening in limited space. Thank you, Victoria Thanks, Victoria. Yes it has some great ideas for compact spaces. Deirdre

2/11  Kerrie - 2104 (Zone:10 - Warm Temperate) Monday, 13 June 2022

What a fabulous blog Deirdre! Thanks so much, Kerrie. I enjoyed doing this story. Deirdre

3/11  Maree - 2074 (Zone:10 - Warm Temperate) Monday, 13 June 2022

What a magical space. Im sure many of us will be heading to Annandale. If only more dreary areas could be revitalised I hope it inspires others to do something like this! Deirdre

4/11  Kay - 2158 (Zone:10 - Warm Temperate) Monday, 13 June 2022

What a wonderful story Thanks for sharing someones passion for creating something wonderful Thanks, Kay. I found the story of the lane so uplifting. Deirdre

5/11  Margaret - 2122 (Zone:10 - Warm Temperate) Monday, 13 June 2022

Have been waiting to read about this inspiring place. Thank you for the blog, it is just magic. Thanks. Margaret! Deirdre

6/11  Jude - 4560 (Zone:10 - Warm Temperate) Monday, 13 June 2022

Even more wonderful than your always wonderful blogs, Deirdre. Thank you! I'm sure others saw Friday's Gardening Australia's segment on the reclamation of unused city spaces for growing food and communities. It's so good to hear good news! Off to liquid feed my pansies and bulbs. The former are hanging on and I wonder about a straw mulch to keep them warmer? or is it better to let the rain in? I live in the Sunshine Coast Hinterland but it is COLD just now. Thanks so much, Jude. I did see that Gardening Australia story and it was fascinating. The mulch should be OK as long as the soil is moist when you put it on. This cold snap is a bit of a shock! Deirdre

7/11  Kathy - 2038 (Zone:10 - Warm Temperate) Monday, 13 June 2022

Thank you Dierdre for capturing the true essence & magic of our humble lane The Magic Lane is a community inspired funded and maintained inclusive green space where community habitat and magic truly grows It is thru the support & magic of community & people like you, we can transform these pockets of otherwise dead spaces, into magical lush green spaces, connecting people to nature & importantly providing vital habitat in our cities for our dwindling pollinators K.Rgds Kathy Thanks so much for your help with the story, Kathy. The lane is truly inspiring and you have really created something very special. Deirdre

8/11  Jan - 2130 (Zone:10 - Warm Temperate) Monday, 13 June 2022

First discovered The Magic Lane when they liked Alice's petition about the demise of single date Council collections, then went to visit several times and walk in the local area during lockdown. Love the clever display ideas, especially the ladders. Thanks for sharing! Lovely to hear from you, Jan. Glad you have seen the lane. The ideas are wonderful, aren't they! Deirdre

9/11  Janna - UK Monday, 13 June 2022

This is lovely, Deirdre! Thanks so much, Janna, and lovely to hear from you. Deirdre

10/11  Valerie - 2121 (Zone:10 - Warm Temperate) Wednesday, 15 June 2022

Thanks Deirdre. I used to live in Annandale in the last century so I can appreciate the transformation the happy lane garden must be for inhabitants and visitors. I love too the use of the wooden ladders to hold little pots.Thanks, Valerie. It is a fab transformation. Deirdre

11/11  Marion - 4103 (Zone:11A - Sub-tropical) Friday, 17 June 2022

So inspiring Deidre! Thanks for taking us on the tour! May it generate many more transformations. Yes I hope so! Deirdre

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