An Encounter ‘Down Under’
Allendale Gardens, near Smithton in the north-west of Tasmania, have understandably become one of the tourist attractions of the region. A picturesque stream wanders through five acres of trees, shrubs and herbaceous beds with ornamental bridges giving access to the various ‘rooms’ into which the layout is divided. Roses, festooned with more blossom than one would think possible, climb thirty feet into the trees and, because of the local climate, the flowering season is more extended than it would be in England. What we would regard as spring and summer flowering plants are found there all blooming together. As if that were not enough, there are 65 acres of cool temperate rain forest adjoining the flower gardens to wander through, with huge 300 year old eucalyptus trees sheltering glades of tree ferns. It is no wonder that it attracts numerous coach parties and that over ninety weddings have already been celebrated on the lawns of the various garden rooms. Yet, as my wife and I wandered round, there was something familiar in what we saw; there were echoes of the Helen Allingham painting of the South Border at Munstead Wood in Godalming Museum. And for this there was a reason.
When, twenty one years ago, Lorraine Cross begged a paddock from her farmer husband Max for the garden of her dreams, she had some ideas in her mind about how she wanted it to be, but had not studied garden design. Then she discovered Edna Walling, an Australian garden designer and writer on gardening, and through reading Edna Walling’s works was led to those of Gertrude Jekyll, which she started to collect. Both these writers were putting into words the ideas on gardening which were at the back of Lorraine’s mind.
The career of Edna Walling runs parallel to that of Gertrude Jekyll in many respects. She was born in England in 1896 and grew up in Bickley in Devon. At the age of 14 she went to New Zealand and subsequently to Melbourne, Australia, where she took a course in horticulture in 1916. An artist in water-colour, she confessed to being more interested in the artistic side of gardening than the horticultural and was an exponent and popularizer in Australia of Jekyll’s principles. Unlike the Jekyll/Lutyens partnership that produced the remarkable flowering of integrated ‘house and garden’ schemes in Edwardian England, Walling had to do it all herself. At Mooroolbark, in Victoria, she designed a series of cottages in a mixed English/Australian vernacular style, together with their gardens. The first of these she lived in herself and the others were sold only to purchasers who guaranteed to maintain them just as she had planned them. Like Jekyll she had her personal eccentricities and was rarely to be seen without her jodhpurs and her broad-brimmed hat.
Mooroolbark is now in the outer suburbs of Melbourne and as our journey was to take us nearby, my wife and I diverted a little to see what trace of Edna Walling could still be found there. We discovered an Edna Walling Lane on the map and set out in search of it. Initially we drove straight past into the sprawl of modern bungalows that typically makes up any Australian outer suburb. Retracing our path, we found it - a narrow, unmade road which is sketched above. It was rather overgrown and there were glimpses of houses just visible through the shrubberies. If this was indeed the settlement that she created it is now in need of the restoration and replanting that Jekyll’s gardens require in order that the genius of their designer should show through in the twenty first century.
It was somewhat eerie standing talking to Lorraine Cross in her garden at Allendale while she questioned us eagerly about Munstead and the Jekyll collection at Godalming Museum. After all we were just about as far away from Godalming as it is possible to be on this planet. But if any Volunteer on duty in the Museum should find a tall, mature, self-possessed woman with an Australian accent enter and demand sight of Gertrude Jekyll’s boots, they should treat her with great respect. She is a true believer.
Have other readers had a similar experience when travelling, linking Godalming and its history with some far-away spot? If so, why not share your experience with others by writing to the Newsletter about it?