Quite contrary, but how her garden grows

Edna Margaret Walling was extremely talented but genuinely eccentric. Famous around Australia as a landscape designer, author, artist photographer and conservationist, she spent her latter years in Buderim where her cottage can still be found.

Edna was born in Yorkshire in 1895, and at 14, migrated with her family to New Zealand. Three years later they settled in Melbourne where she studied horticulture at the Burnley School of Horticulture which had been established in 1891.

She soon became one of the most sought-after landscape designers in Victoria.

She strived for natural effects and to create gardens in which the architecture and plantings were inseparable.

In 1921, she purchased land in the foothills of the Dandenong Ranges and created a landscaped village which remains and has been listed by the National Trust.

Edna also bought land along the Great Ocean Road where she intended to develop a seaside village.

However, she enjoyed the peace and isolation so much she decided to use the cottage as a retreat and not proceed with the village.

During that time she wrote a book, The Happiest Days of my Life.

For more than 40 years she wrote columns for magazines and newspapers and other books about gardening in Australia.

Among her famous patrons were Dame Nellie Melba, Sir Frank Packer and Sir Keith and Dame Elizabeth Murdoch who, it was said, did not always pay their bills but Edna needed their patronage.

She also worked at Yarralumla in Canberra and during her career carried out 350 commissions.

Edna had been visiting Buderim since 1954 and liked the climate which would grow English flowers – she did not like tropical plants.

In 1965, when she was 71 years old she bought a cottage in Buderim which she named Bendles.  She carried out many commissions of walkways, steps and pergolas and many examples remain around Buderim of her dry-stone walls.

She was a keen conservationist and advocated the use of mulch and little watering.

There are many Buderim residents who still remember her and recall her eccentricities.  One story was that at night she would go out and remove public plantings she disapproved of and replace them with more appropriate plants.

Edna had views about the Buderim people as well. She thought they were very friendly but few could offer stimulating conversation and they cared only for hibiscus and azaleas.

She had strong views on her dislikes, such as frangipanis, annuals and formal flower arrangements. She was known to plonk cut flowers in a water container without a thought to artistry.

Her appearance and manner were striking.

Edna was only 5ft 3inches tall, smoked cigarettes and a small clay pipe, liked sherry and gin, was outspoken, feisty and strong willed and frequently clashed with her male clients. But she could also be warm and charming.

She found domestic chores a bore and obviously liked wearing heavy duty gardening clothes and being outside.

She died in Nambour in 1973 following a stroke and her ashes were placed in the Buderim cemetery.

Since then, there have been many owners of her cottage; the present owners supporting her legacy.

Edna was one of our great personalities. There is a memorial garden dedicated to her name at the Buderim Forest Park.

Thanks to Maxina Williams of the Buderim Garden Club for her research.

  Audienne Blyth is a member of the Nambour Historical Museum, open Wednesday to Saturday 1pm-4pm.