Edna Walling’s Legacy Lives On
(17 October 2013)
For those of you not already familiar, let me introduce you to Edna Walling: a humble, no-nonsense woman of the 20th century who had an unpretentious approach to gardening, design and plants in both natural and humanistic environments. She connected with those around her in a practical yet gloriously passionate way, particularly through her monthly gardening column in The Australian Home Beautiful Magazine (1937-1948). She was always the first to seek knowledge from those around her and never professed to have all the answers, but endeavoured with enthusiasm to find them (often through trial and error in her own gardens over the years). She constantly experimented and learnt from her experiences and mishaps, recognising them as valuable learning tools.
Edna (note we are on first name basis here as I feel I must surely have known her) had an exceptionally practical approach to gardening and design and was a particularly hands-on gardener, giving her a rounded gardening knowledge that was evident in all her work. She painted many of her designs using water colours, and fortunately for us, some of these works of art are still in existence today. She embraced and admired Australian native plants, including many still in cultivation. She was (and is) especially well known as advocate for preserving local flora, particularly remnant bushland on roadsides. Edna appreciated the individual imperfections of plants, often leaving them to their own devices. She considered some of the most exquisite specimens to be those spared of human interference, the result being a living piece of art - not a manmade interpretation of what a plant should look like.
Interestingly, Edna Walling practiced many techniques and ways of living which are commonly used in permaculture. For instance, she was advocate of leaving plants to their own devices to naturalise, surprise, and pop up in the most unexpected places, giving gardens a sense of beauty no human hand could possibly manufacture. She also liked to work in harmony with existing landscape and plantings as nature tells us an awful lot about ecology and how to be more efficient, and consequently, more relaxed gardeners. She felt gardening should be predominately enjoyable and rewarding, not stressful and overwhelming.
Most importantly, Edna loved what she did and shared her knowledge and enthusiasm with those around her. In fact, she bordered on being rebellious and was outspoken in the most endearing and inspiring way. Really, it isn’t too much of a stretch for me to say I adore Edna Walling, her philosophies, and resonance still evident in Australian gardens and designs to this day. I can especially relate to her describing plants as having personable, almost human-like traits, and in view of this, I realise I am not crazy, just passionate.