Burnley graduate Edna Walling must have been over the moon when she won the landscape design and construction project for ‘The Grove’ at Mawarra in Sherbrook Victoria. A newly constructed Tudor style house, situated at the top of a steep block of land set amongst towering mountain ash (Eucalyptus regnans) would have captured her imagination entirely.
English born Walling (1895-1973) is known today as one of Australia’s most highly regarded twentieth-century garden designers and writers. An early graduate from the Burnley School of Horticulture in Victoria she went on to design some significant Arts and Crafts and Italian inspired gardens. She was Australia’s first woman property developer, the initiator of many conservation actions, a prolific writer for journals and newspapers, and a talented photographer and author.
Walling migrated to Melbourne, Australia in 1914. She graduate from Burnley in 1917 and commenced her working life as a jobbing gardener. Construction rather than horticulture inspired her and she pressed individuals from Melbourne’s architecture profession for work. As she demonstrated her design capabilities commissions followed, including several from the fashionable architect Marcus Martin. In 1934-35, she met Ellis Stones (1895-1975) who along with contractor Eric Hammond formed the most important relationships of her career. Walling’s work echoes that of the collaborations between English Arts and Crafts garden designer Gertrude Jekyll and architect Edwin Lutyens. Characteristic examples include Boortkoi (1937-38), Mooramong (1940) and Mawarra (1932-34).
When Walling was invited to design a garden at Mawarra she was at the peak of her career. She was the ‘go to’ landscape architect for the upper echelons’ of society. She had a passion for designing gardens which included steps and walls, terraces and water. She created stylish gardens that impressed even the most finicky of clients ‘eventually’. I say eventually because sometimes, particularly when there was extensive stonework involved, as was the case at Mawarra, the initial result could be somewhat confronting.
Her clients, three sisters, initially thought the hard landscaping reminded them Pentridge Prison! A few seasons later however the stone was softened by one of Edna’s favourite plants the seaside daisy (Erigeron glaucus). The high rainfall and rich soil of the Dandenong ranges soon had her careful selection of trees reaching for the sky and gracefully draping themselves over and around the extensive stone landscaping. Created by Eric Hammond, Edna’s long term landscape construction contractor, they are a testament to his skill and expertise.
There is a drop of several meters between the terraces skirting the multi level Tudor style house to the next terrace below. A magnificent rock retaining wall forms the backdrop to a symmetrical pair of curved steps. Their protective form shelters a lovely small pond and water spout. From here steps cascaded down the slope interspersed with further terraces dissected by paths.
When I visited in the second week in May the steps sported a jewel like carpet of gold and russet autumn leaves. Damp and mossy they initially appeared a bit daunting but I need not have worried. The solid construction and beautiful proportions made them a delightful way to transport oneself up and down the steep incline. At the foot of the steps the octagonal pond reflects the sky and the trees just as Walling had intended to add further dimension to her garden design.
One would seldom climb from top to bottom in one go however. Every mossy side path beckons; the garden walk, the reclining boy walk, and the birch walk are all there to be discovered. In the original design one of the paths led to a traditional perennial border in classic Gertrude Jekyll style. Now too shady for such a floriferous display it is a perfect haven for rhododendrons and camellias.
Mawarra has been lovingly cared for and abandoned in equal measure. The current owners are keen to awake this sleeping beauty and have engaged horticulturalist and master stonemason John Champion to apply his horticultural skills and expertise as a stonemason to do just that.
Edna would have been astonished to learn that the greatest threat to the stone walls was her dearly loved erigeron daisy. It’s very attributes of self seeding in the tiniest crevice has dislodged many of the stones. However in just three months since my previous visit the results speak for themselves. John and his team have weeded and pruned, cleared and unearthed long forgotten paths and restored walls and capping. It is early days but Walling’s masterpiece is emerging from a tangle of woodland to become a stylish and impressive garden once again.
It is a privilege to be able visit this private property. To enjoy this very special Edna Walling experience guided tours are available for small parties by appointment or alternatively you can stay at the Manor as a house guest free to ramble at will throughout the garden. For more information go to Mawarra: The Edna Walling Experience or call John on +61(0)448288892.