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A young Edna Walling


Born 4th December in Yorkshire, UK
Family migrates to New Zealand
Family moves to Melbourne
Edna studies at Burnley Horticultural College
Works as a jobbing gardener
Builds first cottage at Bickleigh Vale
Sonning destroyed by fire
Moved into The Barn
Moves from Bickleigh Vale to Buderim Qld
Dies 8th August in Queensland

Edna Walling's childhood in the Devonshire countryside in England inspired her creation of the Bickleigh Vale village in Mooroolbark, Victoria, when she was in her twenties. Those Devonshire walks taught her to love "low growing plants, mauves and soft greens, mossy boulders and gritty pathways and closely nibbled turf" and simple stone cottages.

After Burnley in 1919 while doing gardening for others, she saw a stone wall supporting a terrace and decided gardens were "a chance to carry out the architectural designs in my head instead of places where one slaved for too many hours".

During a bush walk sometime between 1919 and 1921 she saw a For Sale sign at Mooroolbark. 3 Acres of rolling cow paddocks graced by a "few depressing she-oaks" at the foot of Mt Dandenong.

She decided to try her idea of building a cottage of "charm and personality" that pleased the eye and cost no more than a conventional house. The result was her first house Sonning, named after an English village. Edna used local quarry stone for the floors, walls and chimney, packing cases for lining board, saplings for pergolas. She selected trees to give "an appearance of completion and restfulness which had been my ambition for so long".

Meanwhile she worked as a gardener at Dame Nellie Melba's Coombe Cottage at Lilydale.

taken while building Sonning
Edna, taken while building Sonning
Some time in the early 1920s an 18 acre allotment next to Sonning came up for sale. Edna borrowed heavily and bought it at $50 an acre, named it Bickleigh Vale after a Devonshire Village and drew up 1 and 2 acre allotments. She vetted prospective owners (mainly spinsters which led to Bickleigh Vale road becoming known as "Trouser Lane"). They were charged $100 an acre and had to agree to a cottage and garden of Edna's making.

She oversaw the construction of 16 cottages and gardens between the early 1920s and into the 1940s. By 1934 Mistover, Hurst, Downderry, The Barn, Lynton Lee, Corner Cottage and Sonning had been constructed. They were separated by simple farm fences with picket gates for neighbourly access. These are still used throughout the village.

"I can imagine few things more exciting than the steering of a little country village into a course that will bring it into a picturesque completion" she wrote in Home Beautiful in the early 1930s.

During 1936, Sonning was destroyed by fire along with all of Edna's possessions. She immediately started to plan Sonning II amidst the ruins.

Edna dominated garden design in Victoria between the 1920s and the 1950s - wrote her books, gave public lectures, held open days at Sonning and became sought after as a garden designer by Melbourne's Establishment. She designed city and country gardens in Victoria and some in New South Wales. Clients included Dame Elizabeth Murdoch, Mrs Harold Darling, Sir Clive and Lady Steele and the Baillieus.

In 1951 Edna decided to move from Sonning as it had become too large for her. The Barn had been built as a stable and workshop, however Edna set about turning it into a cottage, which was to be her last home in the village. To Edna the growth of suburbia around her village became unbearable and she finally made the painful decision to leave Mooroolbark in 1967. At 71 years of age, she moved to Buderim, Queensland where she started a new home and garden. She wrote "my garden will be stuffed full of as many of the old-world flowers as I can find that will thrive happily in this rather humid climate".

Edna Walling In 1989 Bickleigh Vale joined Victoria's Garden Scheme. The gardens of five of her original cottages, some now extended, are open to the public one day each spring and autumn. the gardens of Glencairn, Badgers Wood, The Barn, Downderry and Mistover are joined with Abbotsley. Although this is a modern home, the garden is of special significance to Bickleigh Vale.

Bickleigh Vale shows how Edna blended native and exotic plants and built collages nestling into a landscape characterised by repeated plantings of a wide variety of her preferred groundcovers, shrubs and trees. When residents replant today, they do it with one eye on her writings so that character is preserved.

Walling's favourites at Bickleigh Vale:

TREES: crab-apples, birches, hornbeams, hawthornes, plums, tea tree, apricots, oaks, elms.

SHRUBS: various viburnums, kolkwitzia (the beauty bush), berberis, buddleia (the butterfly bush), japonica, cotoneaster, forsythia, spirea, magnolia, mock orange, mint bushes

GROUNDCOVERS/FLOWERS: yarrow, brachycome, erigeron, forget-me-not, periwinkle, thyme, veronica, bell-flowers, foxgloves, penstemon, snow-in-summer, herbs

PHILOSOPHY: most important colour is green. Create "rooms" or different areas within garden. Be sensitive to foliage and texture. Good simple bare bones of design should b visible in winter. Plant trees in copses. Let groundcover take over. Mulch, don't over water.

Much of the philosophy she espoused has since been revived by others with the revival of the cottage garden. But her emphasis on foliage and the colour green remain unique.



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