Review: The Vision of Edna Walling
Authors: Trisha Dixon and Jennie Churchill

Margaret Hendry (1999) Book Review
The Vision of Edna Walling
Landscape Australia

Volume 1, pages 59-60

 

Within ten years Trisha Dixon and Jennie Churchill have launched two superb books about the gardens created by Edna Walling. The latest, 'The Vision of Edna Walling', is an exquisitely beautiful book, well researched, with supporting plans, photographs, and chronology, to reveal some of her most creative designs. Building on their earlier experiences recorded in Gardens in Time - In the Footsteps of Edna Walling, both Dixon and Churchill, fascinated by this remarkable woman's prodigious forty year output, responded by producing this book. Both invite us to catch a glimpse of Walling's gardens.

As a trio, they form a unique team: the designee; who died more than twenty years ago, and two younger women, one a garden historian and the other an owner of a Walling country garden. Both authors show an amazing capacity to interpret her gardens, allowing readers to enjoy gardens created between thirty and seventy years ago. While only a dozen gardens remain intact out of the three hundred or so Walling created, the stone structures within many still exist. Some are only remnants of their former glory, and others have been lost forever, mostly from subdivision. Remarkably, the plans of many gardens remain, often treasured by their owners. Most are now in safe keeping in the Melbourne La Trobe Library.

A remarkable bond exists between these three women. All possess a gardener's intuitive response to beauty, a skill in both photography and journalism and, above all, an ability to appreciate good design. It's not surprising Dixon and Churchill warmed to the challenge to continue Walling's vision. By doing so they have created a climate of appreciation to enable many of these gardens to become part of our heritage. The resulting book is supported by a group of dedicated people including curators, a graphic designer, editor and publisher. This has resulted in a triumph of artistic achievement.

I visited two of Walling's gardens, Grimwade and Appledore, as a student at Melbourne's Burnley Horticultural College fifty years ago, with a contemporary, Emily Gibson, another eminent garden designer. Walling's designs created spaces for looking and walking, with the focus on the experience ahead.

Can you imagine how I responded to the wonder of it all as a twenty-year-old?

While I never had the opportunity to meet Walling, her gardens tell their own story; the harmony of structures with the simplicity of space, and the skilful use of geometry. Influenced mostly by Gertrude Jekyll, her designs show the use of a delicate mantle of plants. Commentators report that the industrious Walling at the peak of her career produced more plans than Jekyll, preparing some thirty to fifty a year. By the mid 1920s, Walling met Eric Hammond, who soon became her principal contractor. Together they created some of the gardens we treasure today. Within two years of this meeting, Walling became a regular contributor to the Australian Home Beautiful. Over more than twenty years she contributed an estimated two hundred articles. Through these articles she strengthened her design ideas and extended her contact to a wider audience.

Recently I visited Markdale, the country home and garden of Geoffrey and Mary Ashton. I had longed to walk through this garden, which I consider is one of Walling's best. Walling, in her almost illegible handwriting, described it as 'one of the most interesting gardens' she had designed. Constructed in the late forties during the later part of her long career, Markdale is another of the surviving treasures.

A contrast to both the Grimwade and Appledore gardens, Markdale reveals a spectrum of Walling's design skills. The first two are gardens which rely on the created views within, while the latter embraces the distant views as part of its composition. Both the Grimwade and Markdale gardens are privately owned, and are cared for by their owners with an attentive awareness to the plant compositions and the detailed design. These cherished gardens are part of our Australian heritage.

Both Dixon and Churchill have given us a gift beyond measure in their diligent endeavours to create this beautiful book, which every gardener and landscape architect will treasure.

 

 

AILA: Margaret Hendry FAILA