Famed literary masterpiece inspires glorious new garden attraction

Spring is in full bloom in New Zealand and the North Island city of Hamilton is the new destination for a garden party – in the just opened ‘Mansfield Garden’.

Spring is in full bloom in New Zealand and the North Island city of Hamilton is the new destination for a garden party – in the just opened ‘Mansfield Garden’.

The Mansfield Garden, opened this week (12.11.18) in Hamilton, represents the early 20th century New Zealand garden described in writer Katherine Mansfield’s celebrated short story ‘The Garden Party’.

The new garden is the latest addition to a series of popular fantasy-themed gardens at Hamilton Gardens.

Inspired by the early 20th century garden the Mansfield described in ‘The Garden Party’, the garden features elements common in New Zealand gardens at the time and includes the façade of an Edwardian period house representing the Mansfield family home in Wellington.

Katherine Mansfield was a New Zealand-born author recognised internationally as one of the foremost pioneers in modern literature. ‘The Garden Party’ is one of her best-known works. First published in 1922, it was apparently inspired by an event that took place in 1907 in a Wellington garden which was then a few years old.

Garden design detail recalls the style and architecture appropriate to the Edwardian period in New Zealand. Some elements are directly inspired by the original story including a marquee set for a party, a tennis court and a small band. Under the marquee, delicate treats and beverages crafted from resin and concrete have been laid out ahead of the party. There is also an Edwardian era Ford Model T.

Common elements of Edwardian gardens included looping or circular gravel driveways to the front door, large lawns and a lawn tennis court in larger gardens. Ornamental ponds, fountains and roses were popular along with oriental flora such as: maples, cherries, wisteria, camellia, rhododendrons and bamboo. New Zealand natives were also used, such as the karaka hedge on the far side of the tennis court that’s mentioned in the story. The hills behind are planted with New Zealand natives, recalling the Wellington hills behind the Mansfield family home.

Architectural details such as the bench seats and pergola also match the period. The chosen façade resembles the home of the author’s parents in Tinakori Road, Wellington.

In her story, Mansfield describes 15 kinds of sandwiches with the crusts cut off and “Godber’s famous cream puffs”. While the names of several people she knew in New Zealand were changed before incorporating them into ‘The Garden Party’, Mansfield made no effort to disguise the identity of the most successful baker, confectioner and caterer in Wellington at the turn of the 20th century, whose name was James Godber.

According to the New Zealand Times, Godber had “a very fine delivery van… kept to deliver stock to order” and was well known for his “pastry, buns, fancy cakes, scones, cream puffs, girdle scones”.

About: Katherine Mansfield – New Zealand writer

Katherine Mansfield was born into a socially prominent family in Wellington, as Kathleen Mansfield Beauchamp. She lived in a small wooden house on Tinakori Road in Thorndon, Wellington, with her two older sisters, a younger sister and brother. In 1893, the Mansfield family moved to the country suburb of Karori where Mansfield spent the happiest years of her childhood. However, she eventually found the confines of colonial Edwardian life stifling and sought inspiration for a new way of living in the writings of Oscar Wilde and other ‘decadents’. At 19, Mansfield left for London without her family to pursue a career as a professional cello player. She never returned. She had many voyages, several lovers and counted among her friends Virginia Woolf, D.H. Lawrence, Francis Carco and the American artist Anne Estelle Rice.

In 1911, Katherine Mansfield’s first published collection of short stories ‘In a German Pension’ was received with success. Reviews spoke of ‘acute insight’ and ‘unquenchable humour’. She then contributed to the avant-garde publication Rhythm, with her partner and husband-to-be, literary critic John Middleton Murry. The death of her young brother, Leslie, in the First World War devastated Mansfield and she found solace in her remembrance of the country of their childhood. These remembrances were transformed into some of her finest writing such as ‘At the Bay’, ‘The Garden Party’ and ‘Prelude’.

In 1917, she was diagnosed with extrapulmonary tuberculosis, which led to her death at age 34.