Wendy’s Secret Garden: A Story of Loss and Restoration

In the hustle and bustle of the digital age, it has become difficult to find a quiet space untouched by the stress of daily life.

Luckily, even in the large cities of the world, you can find a small, secluded place where time stands still.

One such space is Wendy’s Secret Garden in Sydney, NSW, Australia. Wendy’s is a peaceful garden with a whimsical artistry derived from the deep love and poignant sorrow of it’s creator, Wendy Whiteley. 

Cultivation in Mourning

The Story of Wendy’s Secret Garden begins in the 1970s when Wendy and her husband, famous artist Brett Whiteley, purchased a home along Lavender Bay in the Lower North Shore suburbs of Sydney. From this perch above unused railway land bordering the bay, Brett Whiteley created many of his iconic Lavender Bay paintings. When Brett passed away in 1992, Wendy found solace in clearing the overgrowth and debris from the abandoned railway land behind their home. As she cleared the space, Wendy planted herbs, shrubs, and trees with a view to their aesthetics and no regard for conventional horticultural knowledge. Some plants, like the giant fig tree and stand of bamboo, she left in place and incorporated into her garden. Others, she cleared entirely.

When asked about her methods, Wendy commented:

“I didn’t know anything about horticulture when I started the garden. I just knew what I liked. I’ve since learnt what likes being here. It’s a symbiotic relationship between the plants, myself and my gardeners”. 

It was the beauty of the space that drew her in; with views of Lavender Bay and a natural sandstone cliff, the small valley was a perfect gardener’s canvas. In 2001, Wendy lost her only daughter, Arkie, to an adrenal tumor at the age of 37. A cluster of palms a gift from Arkie to Wendy, stand as a memorial to Arkie, and have been dubbed “Arkie’s Bungalow”. Throughout the garden, these relics and monuments to the past blend with new growth, creating an enduring symbol of the cycle of loss, grief, and renewal.

A Living Memory

Today, Wendy’s Secret Garden serves as a living memorial to Brett and Arkie Whiteley. Although the garden initially faced legal battles with the New South Wales government, it has since been established as a public park through the North Sydney Council. Thanks in large part to the book Wendy Whiteley and the Secret Garden by Janet Hawley, published in September 2015, the North Sydney Council succeeded in obtaining a 30 year lease with a 30 year option for the garden, thus securing the garden as a public park to be appreciated by generations to come. 

Sources:

Wendy’s Secret Garden. https://www.wendyssecretgarden.org.au/. 2017. Accessed 24 August 2019.

“Wendy’s Secret Garden”. Atlas Obscura. https://www.atlasobscura.com/places/wendys-secret-garden. Accessed 24 August 2019.