"The New Secret Garden "

I visit the New Secret Garden & Nursery.
Sunday, 18 March 2018     

Entrance to the New Secret Garden & Nursery at Richmond

Readers may recall my previous visits to the Secret Garden & Nursery at Richmond, a place that offers horticultural therapy and training opportunities to peope with a wide range of abilities. Some of those who come regularly to the garden have their own raised beds growing flowers and vegetables, which they tend to every week during their visits. Others engage with plant-related craft activities. Others find peace and tranquillity simply sitting in the garden surrounded by greenery and blooms, and patting the friendly animals. Others help the dedicated staff and volunteers to pot up plants for the nursery, open to the public, which provides funding to help keep the centre going.

The centre is managed by the not-for-profit North West Disability Services Inc. As I mentioned in a previous blog, the garden and nursery were to relocate to a new site on the grounds of the Western Sydney University at Richmond, NSW. The move happened in the middle of last year, and I recently was able to visit the New Secret Garden & Nursery with a group of gardening friends.

I had seen the new site (originally bare horse paddocks) in August 2016, when work had begun on building a variety of mud brick structures, including a cafe and a children's castle. There has been a big emphasis on the use of recycled materials in all aspects of the creation of the new nursery, consistent with their philosophy of sustainability. When I visited in 2016, tree saplings had been planted and paths created - the bare bones of the display garden were there, but it was still quite open and sparse.

Returning last week, a brilliant spectacle greeted my eyes. The display garden is truly flourishing, with shrubs and shrubby perennials, succulents, foliage plants, ornamental grasses and groundcovers merging to create an impressive display. Much initial work was put in to improve the meagre, poorly drained, sandy/silty soil, with organic amendments added and steps taken improve the drainage, including the creation of raised beds and a stone-lined creek bed to take the runoff. Meandering paths run between impressive plantings of Buddleja, flowering crepe myrtle trees, many robust Salvia specimens in full bloom, a truly stunning Lepechinia salviae, Echium candicans, lavender, Miscanthus grasses and the biggest clump of hot pink Gaura I have ever seen. Plants have to be tough to survive here, with extremes of hot and cold through the year. Everything I saw on my visit appeared to be thriving!

The size of the site is much larger than the previous one, allowing scope to create different areas, such as a cute fairy garden, a sensory garden with fragrant leaves and flowers, a wedding garden and a village green for functions such as the biannual fair. The chickens now have a very palatial residence, and within their extensive outdoor area, a 'food forest' is being planted. Eggs from the hens and local honey are sold in the nursery shop. The goats and the sheep have their own field, eagerly eating all the weeds that are cleared from the gardens, adjacent to the Riding for the Disabled centre, which forms part of the hub. A 'mates' shed' allows people to pursue woodworking activities, with one product being the delightful bug hotels that are sold in the shop. The addition of these new facilities has expanded the activities available to the 100 or so participants who visit the garden each week.

The nursery has a vast range of interesting plants suited to the Sydney climate, including herbs, vegetable seedlings, shrubs, perennials, ferns, tree saplings, hedge plants and native specimens, all at appealing prices. A good range of Salvia can be found, especially the popular compact cultivars that suit any garden, but also some of the more unusual specimens that will appeal to Salvia collectors, such as 'San Carlos Festival' and 'Magenta Magic' that can be hard to find in mainstream nurseries. On the day of my visit, I was particularly captivated by the scented-leaf geraniums available for sale, and I came home with pine-, nutmeg- and citronella-scented varieties. This past summer, I found scented-leaf geraniums very resilient in the face of intense heat and dryness, so am keen to add more to difficult spots in my garden. There is such a variety of leaf shapes, sizes and textures. There were many well-established specimens of them in the display gardens. The nursery sells unusual plants that are rarely seen anywhere else; on this visit, I netted an unusual Nematanthus with bronze, tubular flowers and purple-tinged foliage, similar to the 'goldfish plant' (Columnea microcalyx), which grows quite well in Sydney.

The quirky decorative objects that made the old Secret Garden and Nursery such a joy to visit have been transported to the new site, such as the collection of teapots and old wire garden furniture. As the trees grow to maturity, the magical sense of enclosure of the original site will come to the new place. However, as it is now, it already looks beautiful, and my garden group and I had such an enjoyable time.

The Secret Garden and Nursery is open Monday to Saturday from 9 am to 5 pm and is situated on Clydesdale Lane, Richmond NSW (enter via Londonderry Road). The cafe is open on Wednesdays. They will have a stall at the upcoming Collectors' Plant Fair at Clarendon NSW on 7 and 8 April 2018, and will also hold their autumn fair on their own village green on Saturday 12 May 2018 from 9 am to 4 pm, with plants for sale, market stalls, refreshments, live music and kids' activities. Volunteers play a vital role in the success of the garden and nursery; if you are interested in becoming involved, contact Marianne on 0414 784 460. This place is such a worthwhile cause. It has come a long way over the past 30 years and will continue to evolve into the future in its new home.

 Reader Comments

1/4  Anne - 2518 (Zone:10 - Warm Temperate) Monday, 19 March 2018

Just read their brochure re their fair on the Mothers Day weekend so what a coincidence when I opened your email and read your blog. Been meaning to get up there and will try and do it soon. Sounds fascinating. Always like what they have to offer at the Plant Collectors Fair. Thanks Deirdre. Thanks, Anne. Their stall is always marvellous as the plant fair. Hope you can get to the nursery at some stage. Deirdre

2/4  Sue - 2074 (Zone:10 - Warm Temperate) Monday, 19 March 2018

Thanks Deirdre. I visited the old garden many times as you could find plants not found anywhere else and it was always interesting. Will definitely go to this one as well. Thanks, Sue. It is worth a visit. Deirdre

3/4  Margaret - 2122 (Zone:10 - Warm Temperate) Tuesday, 20 March 2018

Thank you for the update on The Secret Garden. It was always an interesting place to visit, and I will look forward to visiting the new venue, at some time. It is such a worthwhile project, and the workers there are pleasant and helpful. Thanks, Margaret. Sorry you missed the visit with us last week. Deirdre

4/4  Peta - 2758 (Zone:9 - Cool Temperate) Wednesday, 21 March 2018

Hi Deirdre, I visited the Secret Garden last November on a searing hot day and really missed the shade canopy at the last location, consequently I didn"t stay long. Your story has encouraged me to return soon! I did come back with a quite lovely variegated Hydrangea though. Glad you mentioned the Collectors" Plant Fair, I"ll be speaking on Sunday 8 April at 11 am. That"s of course after I"ve spent up for Autumn planting. Hope to see you there! Yes the conditions there are very challenging on hot days at the moment, but it is reassuring that their plants can survive that! Hope your talk goes well at the fair. Deirdre

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