A great Australian country garden
Markdale’s garden is acknowledged as one of the great country gardens of Australia. It was started in the 1920’s and redesigned in 1949 by the pioneer of Australian landscape gardening Edna Walling.
Spanning 5 acres, it has been featured in many books and magazines over the years and is synonymous with Walling’s signature design – blending native plants and exotics, thyme lawns, informal garden pool, hand built paths, and integrating the house with a serene yet untamed garden.
Markdale’s garden features a pergola of blue and white wisteria, stunning golden and weeping elms, a profusion of roses, stone-walled garden and a sweeping lawn down to a small lake.
Walling was determined to use the glorious natural scenery of paddocks and hills to advantage, removing many of the existing hedges in the process. Today, silver birch, aspens, pinoaks, hawthorns, golden elms, golden ash and claret ash, spireas, viburnums and native eucalypts shelter and frame the garden without obscuring the view.
Guests can now book the farmstay accommodation and have unlimited access to this beautiful and mature garden during their stay.
Geoff Ashton Snr describes the process of getting Edna Walling involved in the garden in a book written in 1980 by his nephew, Chris Ashton:
“We decided to do up the garden in 1949. We started by putting up a low stone wall in front of the house, but it ended up about six feet high. It wasn’t satisfactory, so I said to Janet [Geoff’s wife], ‘I think we need to get somebody in to advise us, somenone who knows where they’re going, who can visualise what it will look like, and can work out the levels and so on.’
That’s when we brought in Edna Walling. The Markdale garden made her reputation in NSW, because she wasn’t very well known here. Janet had seen a garden she’d done in the Western District of Victoria. She had liked it, so she wrote to Edna Walling who wrote back that she’d love to do a garden in NSW.”
Edna Walling arrived and seemed intrigued. She picked on the two big trees in front of the house and said, ‘We’ll build the garden round them.’
I said, ‘Well, I don’t see how we can do it unless we can get some good workmen who know how you want things done.’
She said, ‘I’ve just had an awful row with Hammond. I’ll try him.’ (Hammond maintained a lot of Toorak gardens and later did the job for the Olympic Games [the Games in Melbourne in 1956]). Hammond agreed to send up a couple of men for six weeks. We couldn’t do everything Edna Walling wanted.
She wanted to put in a kidney-shaped swimming pool and a cover over the underground tank. Hammond said that if he did the swimming pool and underground tank, he wouldn’t have time to do anything else. Both were eventually done later some 30 years later by Geoff’s son. So we decided to concentrate on the garden, and they built the stone walls and did a lot of the levelling and grading and so forth. She also changed the driveway from the northerly side of the house to the westerly side.”
The garden outline has changed very little, but a great deal of replanting has gone on in all existing beds, with emphasis on design and colour. New additions include the bridge and bog garden by the lake, and the path around it, the new plantings of trees to the west, and the area below the tennis court, including the pavilion and swimming pool, shrubberies, stone wall, new Pittosporum hedge and further plantings of crab apple in the old orchard.
Overall the garden remains substantially as Edna Walling planned. Characteristic of her work are the dry stone walls constructed by E. R. Hammond, the sweeping lawns merging with mown paddock, informal curving paths leading the eye onward to the to the enchanting hidden depths of the garden and to the hills beyond.