Looking for a quiet spot to lay down a picnic blanket, unplug your headphones and enjoy the quiet? For meandering through park trails, sandstone bridges and lakes filled with koi – here’s our list of Sydney’s best-kept secluded gardens.
Wendy Whiteley Gardens
Once an abandoned rail yard brimming with noxious weeds and rubbish, this garden is now one of Sydney’s most beloved hideaways. Located in Lavender Bay, the garden sits at an easy distance from Milsons Point and North Sydney stations. Wendy Whiteley, artist and wife of icon Brett Whiteley, has spent the past two decades cultivating the garden; planting Moreton Bay figs, palms and flowers in a tropical oasis that stretches down to the harbour.
In Sydney’s Eastern Suburbs there is a sprawling valley of walking trails and creeks much loved by locals. Cooper Park is 17 hectares of stone picnic shelters, tennis courts, cricket pitches and garden paths spanning from Bellevue Hill to Bondi Junction. Set up as a plant regeneration area, the park is a forest of blooming shrubs, vines and palms and home to a couple of noisy flocks of colourful native birds.
Arthur McElhone Reserve in Elizabeth Bay
McElhone Reserve is a bright garden with panoramic views across Sydney Harbour. Located opposite Elizabeth Bay House – on the corner of Billyard and Onslow Avenues – the gardens were bought by City of Sydney council in 1948 as a retreat from the city. Sandstone bridges cross lakes decorated with orange koi and pond lilies that lead into parkland soaked in sunshine.
Lex and Ruby Graham Gardens
On the eastern side of Cremorne Point Reserve, local residents Lex and Ruby Graham have grown a sanctuary out of a rubbish tip. Easy to access from Cremorne Point Ferry, the garden is thick with tropical foliage, frog ponds and stone paths winding down to rock pools on Sydney Harbour. Lex and Ruby started the garden in 1959 after fishing out an elephant’s ear root in the swell and planting it in what was then a bed of lantana and garbage. To this day the garden continues to be nurtured by volunteers and North Sydney Council.
A 40-minute drive from Sydney is 64 hectares of bushland, lakes and a waterfall. Nurragingy was originally part of the Cumberland timber forest and has been used for all things from horse-stud farm to rubbish tip. Since the ’70s, though, the land has been returned to its natural glory; filled with impressive red gums and native grasses. The gardens have multiple picnic areas and even the Chang Lai Yuan Chinese Gardens – creating hugely varied picnic options for whatever your mood.
Joseph Banks Reserve
One of the few gardens in Sydney devoted entirely to Australian natives, this park is an escape from the city and an opportunity to learn about the local wildlife. Located in Manooka Place, in Kareela, Joseph Banks Reserve is a 45-minute drive from the city. Four kilometres of sealed paths meander through the twisted limbs of grevilleas, lily pillys and banksias – all labelled with information about the plants’ uses by Indigenous people as food or medicine. The gardens have four barbeque areas with views stretching out over the pristine Oyster Bay.