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Self Portrait Edna Walling was a remarkable and important Australian. An unusual and charismatic woman who forged a career in a time when most women were 'home makers'. Extremely creative and happy to labour with her gardeners her charm made friends high and low.

Self Portrait [50 K]


Barbara Barnes, Edna Walling's niece recalls:

' I think that her essence is that she was a natural. There was nothing artificial or put on about her. She was influenced by all sorts of people but she was very much her own woman... '

Walling's most common attire was jodhpurs, a shirt, tie and jacket and very often a man's felt hat. This was a very practical outfit and not uncommon clothing for women working out of doors. Jodhpurs were the most accessible pants available to women in the 1920s and 30s, due to the popularity of horse riding. Walling was referred to as 'manly', with her short-cropped hair, jodhpurs and lack of make up.

Barbara Barnes:

' She was physically strong and had a lot of physical energy so digging and carting things in wheelbarrows and heavy loads and things like that were quite normal for her. She was no shrinking violet at all. She had a constantly creative mind, always ticking over with some idea and she was always writing little notes and sticking them on the wall with a thumbtack to remind her to let Arnold know this or let Bill know that... So, the physical activity and her attire were just practical means and not a gender thing necessarily. '

Not one to shy away from an honest opinion, Edna was not always popular with gardeners in charge of carrying out her instructions. They were usually men and not keen on taking direction from a woman.

' The little potatoes had been widely thrown from a bucket (by me) and the gardener told to plant a birch wherever he found one - even if sometimes two or even three were almost touching. ...Sure enough when returning to see later, the perfectly straight rows of silver birches, each meticulously spaced. '
Garden Design, Bruns

Design for the Garden
East Camberwell
[184 K]

Referring to Mr. Galthorpe, a male gardener she employed:

' The other day he actually greeted a piece of my instruction with "Well, you're the boss." I nearly fell over... '

Barbara Barnes:

' I think she had a reputation for being very difficult and I'm sure she was difficult in the sense that she knew how something should go and that's the way she wanted it and that's the way she was determined to get it. Now if someone else had other ideas, that could be difficult. '

Walling had a temper that flared on more than one occasion. Arguments, for example, with Ellis Stones or her mother, were often fierce but short lived and life would then continue as normal.

Barbara Barnes:


I think she would flare up about things and then get over it and not have any continuing ill will...

I don't like the word charisma, but it was a charisma she emanated and she attracted people.


Walling's passion and enthusiasm for design included a passion and zest for life. A very practical, logical and intelligent woman she attracted a following of fans, mainly young women. Often these young women would come and work or help Walling in various ways. Sometimes they were Burnley Horticultural students after work experience. Often they worked closely with Walling for four or five years before leaving.

' 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 '

Income from her landscape work was irregular and Walling relied on the regular pay of her magazine articles. Never the businesswoman, she entrusted her bookkeeping to others such as Blanche Sharpe, who worked with her for many years.

Barbara Barnes:

' It is a wrong assumption to make that my aunt must have been well off because she designed these gardens for wealthy people and that her fees would be comparable. They weren't huge fees but the cost of the garden was huge to implement her ideas. She was always just making do and ended up as an old age pensioner. '
Portrait of Edna Walling

Edna Walling, 1966
Portrait by Daphne Pearson

Lorna Fielden

Edna Walling was a lesbian at a time when homosexuality was not openly talked about. She had many relationships with women and whether they were that of friend, fellow worker or lover is not known. Lorna Fielden was a long-time friend and companion, who for many years lived near Walling in both Bickleigh Vale, Victoria and later in Buderim, Queensland. They are buried next to each other at the Buderim cemetery. Interestingly, Lorna died four years after Walling, on the same day and same month of the year.

Lorna Fielden [49 K]

Although she is best known for her garden designs, Edna Walling is also remembered for her painterly, evocative photographs, her popular gardening and landscape books and her numerous magazine articles. The creation of a whole village of English-style cottages when she was only in her twenties illustrates the practical, determined side of her creativity.

Edna Walling was truly a remarkable and important Australian.

Portrait of Edna Walling

Edna Walling, 1966
Portrait by Daphne Pearson

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