Wendy Whiteley's Secret Garden

Wendy Whiteley's Secret Garden, North Sydney: Address, Phone Number, Wendy Whiteley's Secret Garden Reviews: 5/5

Wendy Whiteley's Secret Garden

Wendy Whiteley's Secret Garden
Everyone needs a secret garden in their life and you’re invited to visit Wendy's, a public garden and much loved oasis in the heart of Sydney. Located a short walk over the Sydney Harbour Bridge, or stroll from Milsons Point and North Sydney train stations, the Secret Garden is a haven where you can explore meandering pathways discovering sculptures; enjoy a picnic basket or read a book at one of the tables beneath the garden’s canopy; or simply enjoy the nature and serenity of your beautiful surrounds. You may even stumble across a fairy. Created over 20 years by artist Wendy Whiteley, wife and muse of Australian artist Brett Whiteley, the Secret Garden is nestled behind Luna Park in one of Sydney's most spectacular suburbs, Lavender Bay. While its free and open seven days a week, there are steep inclines and a range of steps. Visitors with limited mobility may only be able to access the uppermost sections of the garden but we're sure you'll enjoy your visit.
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435 reviews
Very good

Terrazio T
Kiama, Australia12 contributions
May 2021

This place is special. It’s some makeover. A good idea is to find a BEFORE photo on the ‘net and compare it with the present. I was under the impression that the before thing was a harbourside gully vegetated with the usual dry eucalypt forest, but found a pic showing that it had been cleared for railway purposes and then abandoned, meaning immediately before Wendy’s magic it was largely a regrowth-scrub covered gully littered with dumped railway bits and other junk.
I’m not a horticultural person but I do like wandering around forest areas – that Wendy and her assistants have managed to convert this former scrubby, daggy hillside covered with junk into a patch of sub-tropical rainforest- like^^ garden is pretty cool. And inspiring – Australia has heaps of these places: formerly forest, cleared for some purpose and then abandoned to become junk laden scrubby wildernesses. Wendy shows they can be transformed.
There are lots of paths, specially planted areas of sub-tropical and other stuff, some idyllic places where people can sit and read/chill etc, some places where you can see the harbour and bridge thru gaps, clearings for picnics, outdoor tables and chairs suited to same, a few samples of the junk cleared out (some industrial and household stuff) plus a few statues and object d’art contributed over time by Wendy and artist friends. And over all this is Wendy’s sense of artistic layout. There are some remnants of the original forest in a few huge Moreton Bay Figs which have been cleverly integrated into the garden theme.

I also left with a few questions:
SUB-TROPICAL RAINFOREST is not endemic to this area. Instead ,DRY EUCALYPT FOREST is the go. But the former can be found in patches – these tend to be gullies with an easterly aspect, well sheltered from the cold and desiccating westerly and southerly winds frequent in he region.
Wendy’s gully doesn’t fit this aspect. True, it is protected from the westerlies by the ridge immediately that side. But it is pretty open to the south and sou’east. Winds from those directions often bring heavy rainfall which sub-tropical rainforest needs, but they can also be pretty desiccating at times.
Yes the south-easterly aspect is a bit of a conundrum, but I reckon there might be something in the NURTURE v NATURE thing – plant things strategically and you can cut exposure to damaging winds. Certainly the area is nicely protected from the dry cold westerlies. I visited on a late autumn afternoon with such a wind blowing but within the garden it was pretty still and definitely warmer, encouraging quite a few people to picnic or sit and read in some idyllic location. I think it was possibly more humid too, which micro-climates sheltered from drying winds are supposed to be.

This is a reasonably big area and I was amazed by the amount of work which had been done. The gardens have been given TV and press coverage and my impression (I admit I don’t always pay attention closely) was that it was mainly the work of one person.
Reservations about the number of people needed to create and maintain the area were partly dispelled by reading the spiel taped to the fence of one of the houses near the northern entrance. Apparently Wendy threw herself into cleaning up this NSW RailCorp land immediately south of her Lavender Bay house on which all sorts of rubbish had been dumped This to distract her grief after the deaths of her husband and daughter. She then started applying her love of art to planting and improving the area. Locals were impressed and joined in. Later North Sydney council threw its support behind the gardens, Finally the NSW govt. came good in 2019 with a special Trust providing a 30/30 year lease of the railway land and a small grant. Prior to this, all funding had come from Wendy. She and two permanent employees assisted by volunteers provide the labour. With the Trust and grant the future of the gardens seems assured.
All the same, it is a bit gob-smacking that so much work has been done by so few people.

- that popular online mapping outfit shows only two or three paths within the garden. In fact there are many – they tend to zig-zag across rhe steep hillside, forming kind of terraces, sometimes moving to the next levels by a short steep set of stairs or up/downslope, other times by a simple hairpin in the pathway.
Surfaces seemed in good repair.
Slopes were reasonable, apart from a few very short sections of connecting stairs between the terraced pathways and the long LAVENDER BAY STAIRWAY at the western side of the garden. The latter is the quickest way from bottom to top – fit people will have no problem doing it in one hit, people of normal fitness may need a short stop to rest. Unfit people more. Grossly unfit dudes like my online buddy KANANGA (aka SINGAPORE SLIM), the only person (still alive) who has completely surrounded a 20inch/50cm cream pie in under a minute, will not try – he will simply walk DOWN thru the garden from the highest LAVENDER ST entrance.
However Ks demographic needs to plan ahead. RAILWAY AVE the other side of the railway tracks at the bottom (there is an underpass) is pedestrianised – so grossly unfit dudes need to pre-order a water-taxi to pick up from LAVENDER BAY JETTY opposite the underpass. The nearest public ferry stop is a bit of a walk away at MILSONS POINT.
- there is a public toilet near the LAVENDER BAY JETTY
- visit in the day time if possible: there is no lighting.
- this would be a great area for tweeters: bird life was everywhere. Want to get close and personal with a BUSH TURKEY? This is the place. Didn’t see other animal life but I reckon quite a lot of nocturnal critters including ferals might be seen after dark. Perhaps a SPOTLIGHTING EXPEDITION (spotlight only, no guns!) would not be a waste of time for animal buffs.
- NEARBY are: THE ROYAL ART SOCIETY’S GALLERY** 1OOM up WALKER ST from the top of LAVENDER BAY STAIRS), the THE VIEW HOTEL** (southern entrance another 50 M up the road). If you fancy a tipple and a good-value meal BILLY BARRY’S old style pub** is 250m from the garden - just across DAY STREET north-west of THE VIEW. Note there are dozens of other cafes, restaurants and watering holes in North Sydney, but I found BB’s very good value.
- ACCESS is pretty good. NORTH SYDNEY STATION is a 300m downhill walk – turn right from the DAY STREET exit then after 50m take the stairs/walkway on the west side of THE VIEW which dump you at the top of the WAKER ST which leads down to the top of the LAVENDER BAY STAIRWAY.
A WHOLE BUNCH OF BUSES from all-over call in/terminate at the station.
FERRY TERMINALS can be found about 10mins walk from the bottom of the stairs at MCMAHON’s POINT (turn left) and MILSON’s POINT ferry stops. (The latter walk is far more straightforward along the harbour-side and avoids backstreets. 10 minutes or so will get you from these terminals to either DARLING HARBOUR** or CIRCULAR QUAY**.
DRIVERS will find plenty of parking stations in North Sydney although curbside parking near the garden varies and is often scarce.
PEOPLE INTO WALKING and with plenty of time on their hands will find one of the most scenic in Sydney is from CIRCULAR QUAY** about 3kms away. This goes across the bridge** and alongside the harbour via MILSON’s POINT and LUNA PARK**.
- GO ONLINE before you visit. I was so impressed after visiting that I hit the ‘net for more information – there is so much good stuff there that I’m intent on revisiting next Sydney trip to check out things I’d missed.

SUM UP – This is a good one for people like me who see conundrums and like to ponder answers; for horticultural nerds; and for those of us who just like to wander or sit in some idyllic setting.
A great half-day itinerary would be a ferry from THE QUAY or DARLING HARBOUR to MILSON’s POINT, a stroll around the SECRET GARDENS, followed by the short walk up to the gallery.

^^ this is not a classical sub-tropical rainforest area in that Wendy’s ministrations have made it more garden-like than the natural. There is also a lot of non-tropical vegetation.

**TRIPADVISOR has reader review pages on all.
Written June 9, 2021
This review is the subjective opinion of a Tripadvisor member and not of Tripadvisor LLC.

Sydney, Australia1,409 contributions
Not so secret but magical
May 2021 • Couples
Enjoyed a relaxed walk and explore of the garden. It is much more extensive than it looks from above, with meandering paths and nooks and crannies hiding artworks. It was a great place to sit and contemplate what Wendy Whitely has achieved through determination, hard work and vision. It is a great gift to Sydney. The harbour views are an added bonus.
A further bonus is the exit to the Harbourside walkway with its small statues celebrating Australians children literature.
Written May 17, 2021
This review is the subjective opinion of a Tripadvisor member and not of Tripadvisor LLC.

Di Robbo
6 contributions
A beautiful spot
Apr 2021 • Family
A lovely garden for children’s and adults to explore, run, walk or relax in, it is surprisingly large! Great views of the harbour, peaceful and beautiful.
Written April 9, 2021
This review is the subjective opinion of a Tripadvisor member and not of Tripadvisor LLC.

Sydney, Australia28 contributions
Shhhh it’s a secret
Mar 2021 • Couples
This was the perfect way to start a romantic Sunday.

We arrived around 9am or a little before and the garden was virtually empty. Queue many photo opportunities and discussions about future visits to enjoy picnics and the possibility of hosting a wedding in the garden (we aren’t engaged as yet but maybe it’s just the magic of the garden...). Every little nook and cranny of the garden is just beautiful. And what better way to start the day than gorgeous harbour views as the sun rises.

I’ve also been told I need to buy us a house in Lavender Bay to go with that preemptive wedding so I imagine if I’m that fortunate I’ll be here on the daily
Written March 7, 2021
This review is the subjective opinion of a Tripadvisor member and not of Tripadvisor LLC.

3 contributions
Slice of heaven
Jan 2021 • Couples
I loved the paths that ran through the garden at different levels and vast use of lush and tropical plants. To be able to sit at one of the many table settings tops it off.
Written February 3, 2021
This review is the subjective opinion of a Tripadvisor member and not of Tripadvisor LLC.

Blue Mountains, Australia2 contributions
The hidden gem of Wendy Whitley
Jan 2021
A quiet nook hidden away from the rush of the busy Sydney life, and a great tribute to Wendy Whitley and the local residents for for their TLC of the gardens.
Written February 1, 2021
This review is the subjective opinion of a Tripadvisor member and not of Tripadvisor LLC.

Teresa C
Metro Manila, Philippines1,175 contributions
Still a secret
Jan 2021 • Friends
Cleverly conceived, this garden along a scrap of old railway land is planted with shady trees and plants and decorated with old items from the past. Such a peaceful plate to collect thoughts.
Written January 15, 2021
This review is the subjective opinion of a Tripadvisor member and not of Tripadvisor LLC.

Darren S
Bright, Australia2,487 contributions
Hidden Gem 🌲🌸
Jan 2021 • Couples
A must visit a little hidden gem.
Catch the ferry over to Luna Park and it is a 5 to 10 minute walk to the garden's.
A few steep steps but we'll worth it.
Beautiful views back towards the Bridge and Opera House from Lavender Bay.
Always visit when I visit Sydney such a great place to spend a few hours soaking up the Gardens and View
Written January 1, 2021
This review is the subjective opinion of a Tripadvisor member and not of Tripadvisor LLC.

Canberra, Australia618 contributions
so beautiful
Dec 2020
This is so beautiful - it was designed 'like a painting', the play of light and shade is spectacular! I think it's well worth the trip over the bridge for both garden fans and art fans.
There's a supermarket near the train station where you can assemble a picnic to enjoy at the many tables within the garden - I wish I'd done that instead of eating at an over-priced cafe nearby that I won't name!
Written January 1, 2021
This review is the subjective opinion of a Tripadvisor member and not of Tripadvisor LLC.

Sydney, Australia10 contributions
Delightful garden to visit on a hot day.
Nov 2020
Visited this garden first time after hearing about it from friends. A quiet, leafy and shady area, and we loved the little nooks with tables for picnics or sitting and relaxing, a credit to Wendy for creating this space in memory of her late husband.
Written November 17, 2020
This review is the subjective opinion of a Tripadvisor member and not of Tripadvisor LLC.

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