This Hidden Harbour Garden Tells The Tale Of A 50-Year Love Story
A chance encounter with a flower bulb, and the spark of a new relationship, gave life to the beautiful, hard-to-find Lex and Ruby Graham Garden.
Regular visitors to Lavender Bay will be familiar with the story behind the lovely Wendy’s Secret Garden, but a few miles to the west, there’s an equalling secretive garden with an equally beautiful history behind it. We’re talking of the Lex and Ruby Graham Garden, found on the foreshore of Cremorne Point – and whilst the gardens are still charming visitors over 60 years since the first plant flowered, it’s the story behind them that we’re captivated by.
The Lex and Ruby Graham GardensCremorne Point Reserve (east side of Cremorne Point peninsula, off, Cremorne Rd, Cremorne Point NSW 2090, Australia
The history of the gardens
To appreciate the gardens as they are today, we’ve got to go back to where it all started: 1959. Two crucial events in the garden’s history took place this year; first, young lovers Lex and Ruby began a relationship that would span the course of their lifetimes (not that they’d know that in 1959, of course).
The second event came about as part of Lex’s regular routine; he’d often go swimming off Cremorne Point on a morning, embracing the refreshing waters of the harbour and the little rockpool that residents had created along the shoreline. On this day, however, he happened upon an elephant bulb floating in the water, and brought it back to the shore with him. Though he wasn’t a gardener, he planted the bulb in the soil, with the hope it might grow into something.
Happily for Lex, and for generations of Sydneysiders ever since, that bulb took root – and as Lex and Ruby’s relationship did the same, they were inspired to add more plants to the area, turning an uncared-for plot of land into a small yet mighty garden. It wasn’t all smooth sailing: the chosen site was steep and choked with weeds, and once they’d cleared those, they found the detritus of many years in the undergrowth, from kitchen sinks to old corsets. Still, it became a labour of love for the couple, not least because there was no fresh water for the site. Lex and Ruby had to ferry containers down to the garden for many years, until the local council finally installed hoses and sprinklers in 1978.
By planting flora that would thrive in the coastal conditions, including agapanthuses, hibiscus, aloes, ferns, and of course that first elephant bulb, the couple ensured that the garden could survive the wind, sun, and occasional waves. They found discarded plants from local gardeners, received cuttings from friends, and generally did whatever they could to help the garden flourish.
For 29 happy years, they tended the gardens and found solitude here, watching the moon rise over the waters of the bay and finding stillness amongst the plants. Even after Lex’s death in 1988, Ruby continued caring for the garden that had brought them so much joy over the years, right up until her own passing in 2009. For 50 years after that first bulb was planted, the garden symbolised the strength of their bond, and their shared belief in the power of nature and community.
Nowadays, the garden is in the care of the National Trust and looked after by volunteers, who keep the legacy of Lex and Ruby Graham alive. Paths wind down to the water, and the garden is enclosed by sandstone walls, which keep it out of view. To get to the Lex and Ruby Graham Garden, the best route is to approach from the water and disembark from the ferry at Cremorne Point Wharf. Heading north back up towards Cremorne, you’ll see that the path forks to follow either shore of the point; take the right-hand path (the left-hand path can take you to the idyllic MacCallum Pool) and walk at a gentle pace for about five minutes, and you’ll arrive at the garden (it’s signposted as you get closer).
To spend a little while wandering the paths of the Lex and Ruby Graham Garden is to experience a slice of tranquillity amongst the Harbour City. And of course, whilst you’re here, you can reflect on an incredible love story that spans the years, and gifted Sydneysiders a beautiful, reclusive spot to come and appreciate the natural world. Not a bad outcome from one lost bulb, hey?