In the 1930’s intrepid garden designer Edna Walling purchased an 18 acre site in Mooroolbark and established Bickleigh Vale Village an exclusive enclave of cottages and signature gardens. Today the gardens represent an oasis in the heart of the outer suburbs, at the base of Mt Dandenong. They are a testament to the commitment to ‘the shared vision’ of the current owners and the beautiful simplicity of the Edna Walling Design Philosophy.
During Spring Bickleigh Vale Village was opened to the public. For some of the gardens it was the first time in several years that the private gardens could be explored by the general public.
Edna originally purchased three acres and built a cottage using local stone, timbers and recycled materials. She named the cottage Sonning. Later she purchased 18 adjoining acres and created a subdivision of one and two acre lots and named it Bickleigh Vale after a Village in Devonshire England.
Prospective owners had to agree to have their future cottage and garden designed by Edna Walling.
Between the 1920’s and 1940’s 16 cottages were built. Each is different in size and character but all are based on the philosophy of being ‘related harmoniously with each other as well as the natural environment.’
Through years of drought and numerous home owners over the past decades the gardens have survived as a remarkable tribute to an incredible woman. In 1978 Bickleigh Vale Village was declared a ‘Classified landscape’ by the National trust and were recognised as, ‘an area of special significance’ by the Yarra Ranges Shire. In 2005 the village was also included on the Victorian Heritage register.
One of Edna Walling’s gardening principals was to allow gardens to grow naturally and the foundation colour of green was the most important in all gardens. The philosophy extended to creating garden rooms as a basic framework to numerous and substantial trees.
Numerous large species including Oaks, Elms, Birches and Crab-Apples are features of the gardens at Bickleigh Vale. Combined with exotic and native plants each of the gardens is as serene as it is interesting with most of the gardens featuring elements of stone – on footpaths, brick fire places and the signature stone walls. On first glance the beds may appear to be a random collection of plants but on closer inspection each offers an important layer. Inviting garden rooms, mossy lawns, flowering blossom, useful vegetable gardens and of course the cottages themselves all piece together in this unique jewel in the suburbs.
Famously once owned by film producer Simon Wincer Badger’s Wood is a large garden with a substantial cottage built in 1937, at its centre. Extensive use of dry stone walls is a feature of this garden and in particular the entrance gates and front fence.
Like the other cottages Badgers Wood cottage is set back from the roadside enveloped in the garden. A spectacular stone edged swimming pool and a number of trees including Aspens and Pin Oak tower above ground covers and shady garden rooms. Fressias popping up in flower throughout the lawn are examples of how this garden has been allowed to grow naturally.
Devon Cottage is reminiscent of a fairytale cottage. Built in 1956, it is a simple stuccoed construction within a woodland style garden. A huge tree Parottia Persica (thought to be one of the largest in a private garden) leads into an open mossy lawn garden room and a bulb lawn. Cool and serene the natural bushland adjoining the property is in perfect contrast to the lush exotic plantings and layout. Long winding pathways lead you along under the canopy of other impressive trees including hornbeams, hawthorn and silver birch.
Mistover was designed, created and built by Edna Walling in the early 1930’s and was one of the first to be built in the village.
The heritage listed gardens at Mistover are more open in style to the others and feauture a large Camphor Laurel, rhododendron trees and camellias. The soft grey of the house provides a canvas to the colourful shrubs that are planted right up alongside the exterior walls.
Blue bells popping up through the stone pathways, and a large mural of Edna Walling herself are highlights of this garden.
Across the laneway from Mistover is The Sheilan a ‘scottish crofters cottage’. The Sheilan means Resting Place. This cottage has two striking stone chimneys and a stone facade. Azaleas, roses, crab apples, Japanese Maples and liquidambars contrast with the native vegetation throughout. Pathways spilling over with flowering hellebores and mossy pathways are set within about an acre.
A long driveway leads to Downderry a substantial home originally built for Edna Wallings’ mother. Significant trees include a Copper Beech, Elm, American Scarlet Oak, Hornbeam and Malus. Several sets of French doors open out to a balcony or stone patio. Everywhere you look in this garden are surprising spattering of colour among the largely green palette. For current owners Maryanne and Alan, the garden and house as become very much part of their lives. When they first arrived at Downderry in 1994 the garden was overgrown and time was spent removing privet and weeds and restoring the garden and garden walls.
Originally named ‘Good-a-meavy’ by Edna Walling ‘The Barn’ was built in 1928.It was one of the first to be built in the enclave.
An open lawn is exposed to the north sun and the front garden is full with colourful blooms. Crepe Myrtle, natives and bulbs flourish side by side in this romantic garden. At the bottom of the garden is a tennis court and a large vegetable garden. An inviting walled garden features at the rear of the home and with an unruly jasmine scrambling over the stone wall it is classic Edna Walling style.
One of the planned features of Bickleigh Vale is the easy access into each garden through side garden gates and walkways that casually link each garden. Although each garden is private there is a distinct communal atmosphere.
In 1940 Edna walling designed Wimbourne for the Taylors. The garden was designed with many pathways linking garden rooms, towering trees and shady areas. The impressive garden surrounds the high gabled house and you feel a world away particularly in the magical bottom garden.
Looking back up towards the house from here you see the Edna Walling vision in high definition. It is a picture the garden complementing the house and the house in total harmony with its surroundings.
Like the other garden owners Maryann of Downderry feels a sense of duty to preserve as much of the original plantings and garden formations as possible. “The elm suffered terribly during the drought, and I didn’t want to be the person who killed the elm,” said Maryanne. “I also feel a sense of duty to allow people to come to see the garden.” For weeks leading up to the open garden weekend, each of the garden owners worked hard to prepare the gardens and worked to help each other. “We all look after the village really, it is very social and we have regular meetings.”
“I feel the sense of responsibility every day,” said Lois Dolphin owner of ‘The Sheilan’. “I think there are enough original bits so you can see what she (Edna Walling) intended. We love it here and it is great to be a caretaker and to restore the garden.”