Sneak Peek: Discovering Bickleigh Vale

13 June 2019
Sneak Peek: Discovering Bickleigh Vale

In the fading days of autumn, I visited Edna Walling’s Bickleigh Vale village in Mooroolbark with photographer Brett Horan to capture a little of the magic of the eight gardens OGV will be opening on Sunday 13th October. Mark it in your diary – this will be a real treat!

Words by Kate Catterall. Images by Brett Horan.

The gentle curves of Bickleigh Vale Road (photo: Brett Horan)
Edna Walling Lane, renamed in honour of Bickleigh Vale's creator (photo: Brett Horan) 

You can’t help but feel transported from the moment you leave the regular suburban bitumen and enter the twisting dirt Bickleigh Vale Road – suddenly you’re enclosed by the canopies of mature trees and with soft grass and leaf litter on the verges instead of concrete footpaths. The atmosphere is enchanting and the landscape feels instantly quieter and more gentle. Charming farm-style gates swing from stone walls and signs declare poetic property names such as ‘Badgers Wood’ and ‘Sonningfield’. 

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Full of character - every property has its own unique identity at Bickleigh Vale (photos: Brett Horan)

The light was perfect for our Sunday morning visit – sunshine was filtering through the trembling poplars, elms and maples, still ablaze with autumn colour. By the time the gardens open in October, they will have erupted into lush green spring growth with carpets of flowering bulbs and cascading wisteria – I can’t wait.

Sunlight through the giant Parrotia persica (Persian Witch Hazel) at Devon Cottage (photo: Brett Horan)
Autumn light at Badgers Wood (photo: Brett Horan)

These are not pristine gardens clipped and moulded to perfection. They are rambling and a little wild – perfect imperfection. A narrow path might lead you to a clearing with a spot to sit under a grand old tree. An old timber gate in a stone wall beckons you through to another space entirely...

Lovely spot to sit at Badgers Wood (photo: Brett Horan)
Rustic old gate at The Barn (photo: Brett Horan)

To appreciate Bickleigh Vale village is to understand what renowned landscape designer Edna Walling intended when she created it between the early 1920s and 1940s. The village all began with her three-acre property ‘Sonning’, after which she purchased and developed an 18-acre allotment, which she named Bickleigh Vale after a Devonshire village. From here she drew up one and two-acre blocks and oversaw the construction of 16 cottages and gardens. To buy into Bickleigh Vale, prospective owners had to agree to a cottage and garden of Edna's making.


Bickleigh Vale cottages at Downderry and The Barn (photos: Brett Horan)

Walling’s vision for Bickleigh Vale was to create a village where houses and gardens related harmoniously with each other as well as with the natural environment. Here, gates in fences allowed access to visit neighbours. And the truth about Bickleigh Vale is that it’s as much about the gardens and homes as it is about the people.

Wandering from The Barn through to Downderry (photo: Brett Horan)
Personal touches at Wimborne (photo: Brett Horan)

From the moment we arrived we were greeted by a bunch of friendly owners who gave their time to guide us through the properties and share their stories of life in the village. We saw locals slow down and wind down car windows to greet each other. Hugs of congratulations were exchanged at the news of the arrival of a new grandchild and arrangements for the next village working bee were agreed.
They all are delighted to be keeping the Edna Walling vision alive and sharing their special place with others when the gardens open on October 13.

Space to sit and absorb the atmosphere at Sonningfield (photo: Brett Horan)
Incredible twisted form of old Acacia prominens (Golden Rain Wattle) at Hurst (photo: Brett Horan)

Some of Edna Walling’s garden design principles at Bickleigh Vale included creating ‘rooms’ or different areas within the garden. The most important colour in the garden was green and she felt that the simple bare bones of the garden’s design should be visible in winter. Trees were planted in copses, natives were mixed with exotics and groundcovers were allowed to take over. Local stone was used extensively for garden walls, paths and beautiful cottage chimneys.

Layers of green at Badgers Wood (photo: Brett Horan)
Original stone chimney at Hurst (photo: Brett Horan)

Over the years, many of the houses of Bickleigh Vale have been extended to accommodate families, but have largely kept their original charm and the majority are included on the Victorian Heritage Register.
The owners are passionate about what Edna Walling created – not to be slavish about it – but to preserve the ‘spirit’ of Walling’s intention. There’s no denying that keeping up these naturalistic gardens is hard work. The block sizes are large and as we wandered through gardens, several owners could be found raking leaves, clearing and collecting twigs and preparing for upcoming winter gardening jobs.


Wimborne and Whistlewood (photos: by Brett Horan)

Properties at Bickleigh Vale change hands now and then, and with a new owner often comes a new discovery – an original Crab Apple tree that would have been selected and planted by Walling, a stone path that got buried in decades of leaf litter – small treasures of the past.

Stone path at The Barn (photo: Brett Horan)
The cottage and garden at Hurst (photo: Brett Horan)

These are gardens to delight in and explore, and if you live in regular suburbia like I do, I guarantee you won’t want to go home.
Kate Catterall
*Eight gardens will open at Bickleigh Vale with Open Gardens Victoria on Sunday 13th October from 10am to 4.30pm. Entry is $25 for adults and free for children under 18. For all the details click here. For more information about Bickleigh Vale and its history visit the Bickleigh Vale village website.



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