© Edna Walling Collection, La Trobe Australian Manuscripts Collection, State Library of Victoria.

Source: MS 13048 box 3726

I did go to a school of Horticulture where I had quite a good time, though I doubt whether it really benefitted me at all. I enjoyed enormously ploughing with that dear old draught horse between the rows of fruit trees. He knew that "cim-'ere" meant turn a bit to the left, and "gee-'oef" meant a bit to the right. I was terribly anxious to please the old instructor with beautifully straight furrows.

However the day came when it was decided that we should work in pairs and the girl they assigned to me had the crookedest eye you could imagine. I was terribly worried that the boss would think those wiggly furrows were mine, and I wasn't as good as he thought I was!

Regrettable to relate I have never had a chance to plough since, but I shall be everlasting grateful for the fun we had in those two years.

The work in the garden I particularly disliked, having to wheel barrows full of earth across a plank to an island in the middle of the lake wasn't too bad, but I positively hated working on what was known as the "Australian border"!

The one and only lady instructor - all the rest were men, - poor soul: none of us respected her I'm afraid, because she was so sentimental about that blessed border in the school garden that it put me off, perhaps.

Little I knew how enthusiastic about native plants I was to become. Mind you, the plants in that border were so extraordinarily depressing that they positively repelled one.

It is only in recent years that so many exquisite Australian plants have been stocked by nurserymen, instead of those dreadfully dull ones.

After leaving that school I found myself having to earn my living "doing" people's gardens - not quite "doing them in" - but almost. However they all appreciated my straight eye (which meant tidiness of course) and my strength, which meant that they could order me to wheel in the manure from the footpath without worrying whether it would kill me. One particular person I shall never forget: not even on the hottest days - an unforgettable sin in this country - did she offer me a cup of tea. This went on and my hatred of gardens grew deeper and deeper until one day I went for a holiday by the seaside (heaven knows I needed it!). The friend I went with loved gardens, and one day we were walking around looking over the fences of local gardens. I was terribly bored until we came to one with a stone wall supporting a semi-circular terrace. It was really lovely. I was fascinated and stood rooted to the spot. My friend was giving forth little squeaks of delight at some flower or other. "Oh! do look at those petunias," she cried. "Yes, aren't they lovely," I replied in a flat voice, not looking. "But that wall, I shall build walls," I said. "I beg your pardon," she said, "Oh, nothing I was just thinking."

From then on gardens for me became a chance to carry out the architectural designs in my head, instead of places where one slaved for too many hours of the precious days. I remembered that one of my friends had a brother architect, so I took a day off from that awful gardening and walked into his office. I asked if he would let me design a garden for one of his houses. He had no objections at all - gardening didn't interest him. So one of his clients was persuaded to let me design his garden. As luck would have it the men I got to build my first wall made a splendid job of it, and on we went from garden to garden, building walls, always building walls.

I was soon to discover that stone wall builders were few and far between. It was easy for me to design them, but to get them built was another matter. Some of the men showed sufficient promise to be allowed to do the actual building, and so a sufficient number of builders eventually came into the field to handle the amount of work that soon came my way.

Once the walls, stairways and terraces were completed the planting had to be faced, of course, and I was sufficiently interested in my new gardens not to have spoilt them by [a] planting that I did not like.

Always I have longed for a collaborator to whom I could [hand] over this side of the planting work while I got on with more building of gardens. As soon as I trained anyone up to the point of being able to leave the planting to them, off they went to work on their own - or got married.

I was soon to learn that people were much more interested in the planting than in the way I overcame problems of topography etc., so that their house and garden would look "united" with the house. Even a frightfully mediocre house does not appear quite so dull when the garden has been designed and built - not merely planted - and it has been gratifying when the clients say "The garden sold the house".

I wanted to build the kind (of garden) that would "live", gardens people couldn't dig up and throw on the rubbish heap. I found myself trying my hand at natural out-crops with some trepidation, but with never the same degree of satisfaction - and having found someone who was excellent at this type of work, I was happy enough to hand it over and stick to the architectural garden.

It will now be apparent that I am no gardener - that is, in the true sense.

There is something to be said for one who warned a Queensland client of mine, that I would not be able to make a success of his garden, "She doesn't know the tropical plants", "Oh, don't worry, she's not using plants, she's using stones", the client said to his friend!

Confucius said, "And as for gardening leave that to the gardeners"! That's all very well but, what about the plan?

To see builders moving in on the land with house plans and equipment for erecting a house, but without plans for the garden is rather disquieting. Even on perfectly level ground a plan is most advisable - on hills it is vitally essential.

Apart from making the most of the possibilities of the site, much money is saved if the builders know what is to happen to the surrounding grounds.

The architect should be keeping a watchful eye on the land in proximity to the house, and certainly not allow it to be spoiled unnecessarily. It may be too much to say that the garden should be built first, forming the setting for the house which should then be linked up with it.

The driveways and the courtyards provide the builders with space for their activities and materials, without interfering with a garden area, when there is a garden plan to show where those areas will be. Retaining walls, pergolas, colonnades and such necessary pieces of constructions can usually be built before the house and when completed, THEN is the time to "Leave the garden to the gardeners". But clearly it is the architect's job to design these gardens. Wouldn't it be better for architects to spend a little less money on their house and some on the ground adjacent to it?

It is not necessary at all that he should know anything about horticulture or landscape gardening, but he does need to have a feeling for the land.

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