Landscape designer Edna Walling was a complex, talented and prodigious designer who devoted her life to her profession. Her far-sighted approach is as relevant today as at the peak of her career 70 years ago.
Edna Walling made landscape drawing into an art form. Her plans are now treasured works of art, just as her few remaining gardens are highly valued.
The evolution in her garden design as well as her plans was also matched with a change in how she deemed herself professionally.
On one of her earliest plans from 1920 for L Heath Esq., she signs herself ‘Edna Walling, Garden Designer’, a term she was not to use again for 15 years.
A year later, a far more complex design for ‘Flower Garden and Improvements to Existing Lawn and Borders at Ringwood’, quite different to any other plan in her long career, carries the label ‘Edna Walling, Landscape Architect’.
This was followed by the most productive time of her career in terms of significant gardens and stunning watercolour plans, all signed as “Edna Walling, Landscape Designer”.
By 1927, Edna Walling was hailed in the popular press of the day as “Melbourne’s famous landscape gardener” and “a genius at her job”.
Her designs at this stage were largely architectural, with a strong framework of stone walls, colonnades, pergolas, paths and steps.
Edna Walling’s talents were many, and it is her engaging style of writing, her strongly atmospheric black and white images and her clear and far-sighted philosophy that if we, as a nation, were to landscape the Australian way, then we had to learn from the landscape.
“Seldom, if ever, do we achieve the quiet perfection of nature’s planting.”
Her philosophy of not watering the garden and conserving water was one which she tried to instill in people. The skill lay in selecting plants in tune with the environment (native or exotic) and mulching well.
Through her writings, she was able to open people’s eyes to the need for conservation. When her career started, garden manuals were exhorting horticultural brilliance with carpet bedding and spotting of lawns with exotic ‘specimens’.
Opening gardeners’ eyes to the beauty of our native vegetation, she was resolute in creating harmonious relationships between garden and landscape.
Edna Walling’s legacy was to encourage a more relaxed style of gardening and through this she found her way into the hearts of generations of gardeners throughout Australia.
Edna Margaret Walling was born in Yorkshire, England and spent her formative childhood years in Devon before migrating with her family to New Zealand in 1911, then to Australia in 1914. One of the first women to attend Burnley School of Horticulture, she started designing gardens after her graduation in 1917.
Contributed by Trisha Dixon Burkitt
Burkitt, Trish Dixon and Jennie Churchill The Vision of Edna Walling: Garden Plans 1920-1951, Bloomings Books Hawthorn, Vic, 1998
‘Edna Walling’ Australian Dictionary of Biography