Monday, November 30, 2009

Wendy Whiteley's Garden at Lavender Bay

When I was in Sydney in September I visited the garden of Wendy Whiteley, the widow of artist Brett Whiteley. My mum had visited a year or so ago and said it was beautiful and inspiring. Wendy Whitely started making it after the death of Brett Whiteley in 1992. Here is a description of its creation by Wendy herself:
Making the garden has been kind of part of being more than just a survivor. The garden is one of the things that gives me a feeling that life's worth living, that it is worth getting through the hard nights and the lonely moments and the sadness about the past. It's about life. As is my nature, I'm obsessive about it. It was all landfill originally, for the railway line, and subsequently over 50, 60, 70 years, it was dumped, a lot of rubbish and weeds, old fridges and bits of metal and broken bottles and plastic bags full of clothes, and it was just impenetrable and quite dangerous. And I just started at one end and I've now gone right to the other end and it's still all railway land, but, you know, it's now got a garden. Bit of engineering skills have come into it too, from...must have inherited it. - Wendy Whitely on Australian Story, transcript here.

The steep slope means the garden has views across the harbour, and of the somewhat ugly modern apartment buildings. A shame they aren't glass fa├žades that reflect the gardens and harbour.

The plantings don't have any obvious pattern about them. They seem to be have been arranged almost by instinct with attention to contrasts between height, between colours and between the textures of foliage, wood and stone.

The hillside has been terraced and pathways zig-zag down it, they are narrow and bordered by rough handrails made from wooden branches.

There are places of darkness and enclosure that contrast wiht the open views across the bay. There is a sense in these spaces of being almost entirely alone in the garden, there is virtually no traffic or other noise that you might expect in an inner city suburb.

The use of different trees that have only sparse foliage create a delicate see-through screen.

Found objects are turned into garden sculpture. One imagines each piece has some special significance, though as a casual viewer we can only speculate on what this might be. Were they items from the Whiteley family? Were they discarded into the landfill and rediscovered during the garden's construction?

Other pieces have clearly been commissioned or carefully selected for the garden. Including this standing stone with inscription that greets the visitor as they stand in front of the house and look down toward the garden. It reminds me of Little Sparta, though the inscription is perhaps less cryptic than many of Ian Hamilton Finlay's. The words are taken from the song 'Sweet Thing' by Van Morrison.

Click the photo to make it bigger and read the words.

The garden is public and most maintenance is now carried out by the council. I could never imagine a public park like this being created from th start by any council, not in Australia at any rate. It makes me think all public gardens should be like this, privately created and then made publicly accessible.

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  1. I so agree! The little bits of personalities people leave behind are what make a place special. Love your blog thank you - I followed a recommendation from Tom Turner's Gardenvisit. What is your thesis on?

  2. Hi Marian, thanks for your comment. Sorry about the delay in replying. My thesis is on gardens and theatre in Baroque Italy. I should do some posts on it at some point really!


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