Unusual Life of Edna Walling
Allen & Unwin
Reviewed by Chris Segelmann
BUT for a twist of fate,
the name of one of Australia's best known landscapers might have
meant more to Christchurch gardeners than it does to their counterparts
Edna Walling came to
Christchurch from Britain in 1911 as a 16-year-old. In five years
she had a stint working on a North Island cattle station before
becoming a nurse aide. But when her family moved to Melbourne, Edna
went, too - sparking the career of a pre-eminent landscaper who
designed more than 300 gardens between 1920 and 1960 and whose writings
informed a generation of Australian gardeners.
Sara Hardy, playwright
and actress, became captivated with this singular woman when she
played the part of Walling in a play. While other books have explored
Edna the garden designer, Hardy says her purpose was to probe "the
woman behind the work".
There's no doubt that
Hardy's research is exhaustive - there are allusions to lesbianism
and a comparison of one friendship to that of Vita Sackville West
and Virginia Woolf.
Despite the wealth of
biographical material, the author is forced to resort to transparent
conjecture to set the scene for episodes and relationships - a device
that fails to ring true.
depiction of this tireless gardener and her relentless determination
sweep the reader along. Walling's will to succeed in a male-dominated
domain and to stamp her own style is richly portrayed, particularly
in the story of the 'village' that was her vision, Bickleigh Vale
and her own house, Sonning.
to stone as a medium and the evolution of her style to include predominant
plantings of natives, rather than exotics, will strike a chord with
many Kiwi gardeners.
The Unusual Life of
Edna Walling is an absorbing read and whets the appetite for
more detailed reading on her landscaping legacy.
Reproduced with permission from the former Weekend Gardener magazine. The views expressed here are not necessarily those of the RNZIH