Strawberries in the Desert

Story telling from Australia

The place to be is under a tree

Sydney has sweltered in a run of hot weather recently. Never mind the beach, the only place to be when it hits 40 degrees is under a tree, and there’s nowhere more soothing on a hot day than Wendy Whiteley’s secret garden.


Of course, thanks to Janet Hawley’s fantastic book Wendy’s garden is no longer so secret.

For those who don’t know, Wendy was married to one of Australia’s most famous artists – Brett Whiteley – and she’s also an artist in her own right. Her talent is obvious everywhere you look in the garden she’s created.


For decades the land in Lavendar Bay that fronts her house had been overrun with weeds, its only purpose a dumping ground for waste produced when they built the railway that runs along the shore.


Wendy set about turning it into a garden as a way of dealing with unimaginable grief.

“When Brett died, followed by the death nine years later of their daughter Arkie, Wendy threw her grief and creativity into making an enchanting hidden oasis out of derelict land owned by the New South Wales government.” Janet Hawley

She transformed a derelict wasteland into a sanctuary of joy.

We visited when Sydney hit 38 degrees. We caught the ferry to Milson’s Point, walked along the boardwalk past Luna Park and cut under the railway line. There’s no entrance as such, you just wander in past the biggest fig tree I’ve ever seen.


Suddenly it was ten degrees cooler. Towering stands of bamboo and huge tree ferns offered immediate relief. Paths wound up and down the steeply sloping sight, each marked by ‘bush’ handrails hewn directly from a tree. Nothing was straight or rigid in that wonderful garden. It looked like it had evolved organically, which of course meant Wendy and others had put a whole lot of work into it.


Hand made steps led in different directions, zig zagging in and out of patches of shade, affording glimpses of the harbor just beyond. Everywhere we looked plants were thriving – spider lilies, lady-finger palms and flax; huge coco palms and banana plants; lavender was loving the patches of hot sun and clumps of plum red iresine were scrambling through the shade.


It’s a playful garden too. Turn a corner and you might come across an old child’s bicycle, or a place to sit and picnic. We met a bush turkey ambling along one of the paths, which was astonishing given that we were in the heart of the city.


Thankfully, before Baird left office (yes, we just lost another head of state) he ensured the long term survival of this amazing garden.

Visit if you can. Buy the book. It’s so worth it.


10 comments on “The place to be is under a tree

  1. Jack Burke.
    January 20, 2017

    Deb, thank you. So often you come up with some wonderful gems. Will have to visit this garden, it looks amazing.
    Look after yourself, regards to Clyde.

    Thelma and Jack.


    • debhuntwasinbrokenhill
      January 20, 2017

      Definitely worth a visit Jack, quite a few steps though! Best wishes to you and Thelma. Raining here at the moment. Blissful.


  2. Eliza Waters
    January 20, 2017

    I love stories like this… waste to wonder. The woman is a hero!


  3. Nandini Ray
    January 20, 2017

    So beautiful. This is a place I have been meaning to visit for a long time. Gorgeous photos. Thanks for sharing this with us. xx


  4. candidkay
    January 20, 2017

    I love the idea of grief transformed into a transformative experience for visitors. Beautiful space!


  5. bkpyett
    January 23, 2017

    Beautiful photos and post, Deb. I’m so pleased that Mike Baird has made sure this garden will remain for public enjoyment.


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This entry was posted on January 19, 2017 by and tagged , , , , .

I'm a writer based in Australia with a passion for gardening, remote places and people with a story to tell.

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