Mansfield Garden is a summer must-see with charming blossoms

The Mansfield Garden at Hamilton Gardens offers more than just a visual feast—it is a captivating journey into the Edwardian era, bringing to life the world of Katherine Mansfield. From meticulous garden recreations to deceptive concrete delicacies, every detail invites visitors to step back in time and immerse themselves in Mansfield's literary legacy.

The Mansfield Garden at Hamilton Gardens is a captivating tribute to New Zealand's renowned short story writer, Katherine Mansfield. Transporting visitors to the Edwardian era of 1907, this garden vividly recreates the setting of Mansfield's celebrated story, "The Garden Party." Let us embark on a journey through time, exploring the elaborate preparations for the Sheridan family's grand affair and discovering the intriguing details that make the Mansfield Garden a must-visit destination.

Setting the scene

As you enter the garden, the scene is set in the wealthy Sheridan family's estate. Picture the anticipation and fervour as the final touches are meticulously arranged for a grand affair. The story unfolds with the arrival of workmen assembling the marquee, the florist delivering lilies, the baker's boy offering cream puffs, and the cook diligently preparing sandwiches. Join young Laura Sheridan outside, where the marquee men emphasize the significance of making a statement, ultimately choosing the tennis court as its prominent location.

The Mansfield home

The Mansfield Garden faithfully reproduces the surroundings of the Sheridan family's house in Thorndon, near Wellington's parliament grounds. Reflecting the trend at the time of carving gardens out of the bush, the landscape surrounding the house mirrors Wellington's bush-clad hills. The circular driveway, a hallmark of the Edwardian era, adds grandeur to the entrance, allowing horse-drawn carriages to turn without reversing, a necessity in the age when motor vehicles were still a rarity.

Floral splendour

As you stroll through the garden, you'll encounter plants and flowers mentioned in Mansfield's story, along with other varieties common to the Edwardian era, notably roses. Laura Sheridan's assertion that "roses are the only flowers that impress people at garden parties" holds true here. Two roses in the garden were grown from cuttings taken from the Mansfield family's original garden in Wellington. The garden features oriental plants popular in the Edwardian era, including maples, cherries, wisteria, camellia, rhododendrons, and bamboo.

Ford Model T Car

Parked outside the house is a beautifully recreated Ford Model T Car. The Edwardian era Ford Model T was chosen for the Mansfield Garden to tie into the story’s Edwardian setting.  The construction of the car was a community project facilitated by the Waikato Veteran and Vintage Car Club Inc. and the Friends of Hamilton Gardens and convened by Reece Burnett. More than 30 individuals and Waikato companies were involved in providing time, expertise, materials, and funding for its construction. Don’t forget to snap a picture in the driver’s seat while you are there. 

An old-fashioned car in the driveway outside the replica of Mansfield House in the Mansfield Garden

The Tennis Court and Summerhouse

During the Edwardian era, tennis courts were symbols of affluence, and the Mansfield Garden was no exception. Adorned with a laden table, musical instruments, and a realistic marquee, the tennis court captures the essence of extravagant tennis parties popular among the elite. The Summer House, sponsored by the Hamilton Club, stands at the opposite end of the court, offering a picturesque garden pavilion for private functions.

An outdoor food setting at the Mansfield Garden

Food that fools

While the food appears delectable, it's a delightful deception. Crafted from concrete and resin, the faux food items, including sandwiches and pastries, fool many unsuspecting visitors. The resin food on display was crafted by Wellington artist Sacha Lauchlan. Two sandwich fillings mentioned in the story and are recreated here are cream cheese with lemon curd and egg and olive. Even the piano and other instruments are made of concrete, with painted wood finishes, showcasing the meticulous attention to detail in recreating the Edwardian ambience.

High tea at the Mansfield Garden

A moment of remembrance

A pink garden seat beneath the wedding cake tree and a pear tree pays tribute to Mansfield's poignant memories of her brother, who perished in World War I. These thoughtful additions provide a deeper connection to Mansfield's life and enrich the overall story of the garden.

Seasonal vibrancy

The Mansfield Garden, like the Katherine Mansfield’s stories, has its seasons. Visiting at a vibrant time of the year reveals the garden in full bloom, bursting with colours. However, during colder months, the garden may appear dormant. A reminder to return and witness its ever-changing beauty.

A group walks along the path in the Mansfield Garden at Hamilton Gardens

A literary icon

Born in Wellington in 1888, Mansfield became a trailblazer in the modernist movement. Her short stories, translated into 25 languages, explore themes of class and societal norms. "The Garden Party" itself reflects Mansfield's commentary on class distinctions during a lavish event juxtaposed with the stark realities of life. Understanding the significance of Mansfield's contribution to literature adds another layer to the Mansfield Garden experience. 

Fascinating titbits:

  • During the garden's design phase, it was initially believed that the garden party concept was entirely fictional. However, it was later discovered to be based on a real garden party held in Wellington around 1907 on a property now utilized by the New Zealand prime minister.
  • The summerhouse was funded by the Hamilton Club through the sale of its old building in central Hamilton, which was constructed in 1904. The Hamilton Club, formed in 1898, was officially dissolved in 2017. The old club building is still visible on Grantham Street.
  • The architectural style of the house reflects that of the British Empire, representing a classic house and garden of a wealthy settler family that could also be found in England's settler colonies in Australia or North America. A similar house has been identified in Canada.

Visit the Mansfield Garden

The Mansfield Garden at Hamilton Gardens offers a captivating journey into the Edwardian era, bringing to life the world of Katherine Mansfield. With meticulous garden recreations and a focus on the setting of Mansfield's celebrated story, "The Garden Party," this destination is a must-visit for those looking to immerse themselves in Mansfield's literary legacy and experience the charm of the Edwardian era. Whether you're a fan of Mansfield's work or simply appreciate beautiful garden settings, the Mansfield Garden is sure to leave a lasting impression.

Looking across the garden beds towards the fountain in the Italian Renaissance Garden at Hamilton Gardens

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