northsider takes a look at the romantic history of North Sydney’s other secret garden…
While us northsiders are all familiar with the breathtaking beauty of Wendy Whiteley’s Secret Garden in Lavender Bay, how many of us know about the ‘other’ secret garden, one that’s tucked away in a foreshore nook along Cremorne Reserve?
Situated past the lighthouse, towards The Rowers and on a slope down to a secluded rock pool, the Lex and Ruby Graham Garden is a blooming testament to one couple’s dedication to the earth, and to each other.
Lex and Ruby met in 1959. A keen swimmer, Lex would head to the harbour every day to take a dip just off Cremorne Reserve.
One morning, an Elephant Ear bulb floated past Lex as he swam. Fishing it out of the water, he decided to plant it on a whim.
The bulb began to flourish in its foreshore haven, inspiring Lex and Ruby, who’d only recently become a couple, to add more plants to the uncared for area.
Back then, the land was a rubbish dump, strewn with mattresses, old fridges… even a kitchen sink. Weeds were rampant, with lantana covering the detritus.
Lex and Ruby rolled up their sleeves and got to work. Neighbours and friends all pitched in, offering cuttings for them to plant. From tree ferns to clivias, agapanthus, kangaroo paws, hibiscus, aloe and more, the couple kept all their plants happy by carrying buckets of water to the foreshore every day.
Soon, a network of trails were mapped out, surrounded by the lush vegetation that was starting to thrive. The steep pathways snake down the slope to the harbour.
As the years passed and the garden grew, so did the couple’s love, blossoming into a marriage proposal.
In 1978, North Sydney Council installed hoses and sprinklers to help maintain the plants, meaning no more treks with overflowing buckets!
When Lex died in 1988, Ruby continued to tend their paradise until she passed away in 2009. Between them, the couple spent 50 years cultivating the garden, watching the moon rise over the waves together from their favourite secret spots.
Today, their garden is protected by the National Trust. Cared for by volunteers, its green boughs are home to a plethora of wildlife and birds, including the rare Powerful Owl and Tawny Frogmouth.
The descendants of that first elephant ear plant still thrive there today, a continually growing, everlasting emblem of Lex and Ruby’s love.
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