Colonial Secretary Alexander Macleay planted his famous garden at Elizabeth Bay with botanical rarities from around the world, sent to him by nurserymen, plant hunters and fellow collectors, or gifted by visitors. ‘In this garden are the plants of every climate’, wrote English artist Georgiana Lowe in the early 1840s ‘– flowers and trees from Rio, the West Indies, the East Indies, China and even England’.
As well as exotic plants, Sydney Harbour’s indigenous flora was an integral part of Macleay’s vision for his picturesque estate. He planted specimen ferns and orchids among the nature trees and shrubs, adding to the interest of the ‘wood walks’ through the estate. An 1835 visitor, English naturalist James Backhouse, noted that the rock lily was among the ‘remarkable plants of the Orchis tribe’ he encountered there, growing wild upon the rocks.