Monday, 11 February 2013

A homage to Edna Walling

When I moved back to Canberra in 1999,  I didn't know much at all about gardening (other than mowing, and trying to keep the odd pot plant alive).

I felt particularly daunted when I moved into my present house.  The large yard was distinctly unprepossessing.  There was the concrete remnants of a home-job water feature; a few random, very scraggly bottlebrush-y shrubs; a few woody lavender bushes; and a huge banksia looming above some enormous rocks.  And a Lot of 'dust 'n' weeds' to mow.
The whole block was very exposed, and So Hot in summer.

Looking out the kitchen window every day (whilst washing up) was very depressing, as the view was abysmal.

What on earth could I do? 

By a stroke of sheer good fortune, I heard about Edna Walling, the prominent garden designer in Australia during the 1920s to 1960s, on ABC radio.  I also heard a new word: 'microclimate'.

Edna Walling's ideas sounded EXACTLY like what could, and should, be done in my garden.  So, off I went to my local Library and found this book, in which her hand-drawn, colourful designs are pictured.

Edna Walling's much-admired designs include curved garden beds and plantings, winding paths leading to copses of trees and garden rooms, stone walls (often also curved) and pools.  She liked to allow plants to self-sow and naturalise, and advised against over-manicuring.

Her designs also featured her favourite plants, including birches, hellebores, Westmoreland thyme, erigeron, cotoneasters and crataegeus, viburnums, camellias, periwinkle, bulbs, and crab apples combined with natives.

Encountering Edna Walling's landscaping ideas were truly a Eureka moment for me: I suddenly realised that my 'problem garden' was in fact an incredible gift.

Over the last 10 years, I have made a start on my very own Edna Walling homage garden.  Here are some of my Walling-esque efforts:

Copses of silver birch.  This one is underplanted with hellebores.  (Chinese fringe flower inn foreground).

A baby camellia japonica 'Tiptoe', surrounded by a froth of Erigeron daisies.

A 'mini-avenue' (three trees!) of crab apples (Malus 'Sugar Tyme') - still little, but looking good.  Here is one specimen from afar . . .

and close up, below - see the little crab apples??  This is the first year the trees have fruited.  The crab apples are supposed to turn red and hold onto the tree well into winter.  I am looking forward to that!

A thriving hedge of Viburnum Tinus - an admirable shrub - both tough and pretty; nothing fazes it!

And a true Walling favourite - the lovely Westmoreland thyme (under my plum tree).  I am really pleased with this thyme - it is more of a ground cover than the standard thymus vulgaris and does not seem to go as woody, yet it still smells divine and thyme-like!  Apparently, Edna Walling regularly planted it as a lawn and loved to roll about on it!  I had trouble finding this thyme in Canberra, so I ended up buying it from Lambley Nursery (find it under Thymus 'Westmoreland').  This whole patch under the plum tree started as three little plants.

I have also made my back lawn area long and 'curvy'.  It does seem to magically add intrigue to what is really a pretty normal backyard!   I was secretly very chuffed when my daughter told me that her friend had described my backyard as the 'secret garden'!  Here it is - this pic taken from edge of vegie patch (you can just see the corner).  The second pic shows the beginnings of another path I am still thinking about (I have just plonked the stepping stones down, but it does seem to lead somewhere mysterious).

Over the years, I have fallen in love with gardening via my Edna Walling adventures.  While I have not been able to undertake any of the more costly Walling features (such as her signature stone walls),  I can confidently state that Edna Walling's landscaping ideas WORK in Canberra.  There is no doubt that my garden is significantly cooler in summer, and significantly less exposed to chill winds in winter, due to the microclimate created by using Edna Walling's simple, effective and aesthetically pleasing techniques.

I feel indebted to Edna Walling for her wonderful legacy.  May she live on, in her gardens, and in mine.



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