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Wendy and her renowned artist husband, the late Brett Whiteley, set up their family home in Lavender Bay in 1970 and lived there together for two decades. Brett painted many of his iconic Sydney Harbour pictures in the house.

In the weeks that followed Brett’s death in 1992, Wendy’s grief-stricken need to regain some control in her life, to clean up a mess that she could clean up, found her obsessively attacking the piles of overgrown rubbish on the large land filled valley of unused railway land at the foot of her house. Wendy hurled herself into the forlorn site, hacking away at lantana, blackberry vines and privet, clearing up dumped bottles, rusty refrigerators, rotting mattresses, labouring till she was too exhausted to think or feel, then collapsing into sleep each night. Then doing the same, the next day and the next. Wendy never asked any authorities for permission, and no one told her to stop, so she kept going.

Wendy Whiteley Under Tree

As Wendy cleared the site, she began creating a garden like a giant painting. Rather than being horticulturally inspired, Wendy’s gardening is driven by aesthetics, colour, form, beauty and whimsy. Wendy comments “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”. What emerged was a place of nooks and crannies where a panoply of shrubs – both natives and exotics, herbs and towering trees run along winding gully paths, all attracting an odd collection of birdlife – colourful parrots, noisy gulls, watchful kookaburras and cheeky wagtails.

Wendy's Secret Garden Wendy Clearing Mid 90s

The creative joys of the artist-cum-gardener, however, were again extinguished when, in 2001, Wendy’s greatly loved daughter, her only child, Arkie, died at age thirty-seven.

Numb with grief, Wendy hurled herself into the daily garden toil with even more ferocity.