Events, Travel

“A perfect day for a garden party” The Katherine Mansfield Garden Party at Hamilton Gardens

Last weekend I flew up to Hamilton to give a talk on Katherine Mansfield and Garden Party fashions at the Glory Days Salon at the Katherine Mansfield Garden Party at Hamilton Gardens.

Hamilton doesn’t have a reputation for being the most interesting  city in New Zealand, and I wasn’t sure what to expect.  I’m happy to say that I had an absolutely marvellous time, and that everyone I met and interacted with was absolutely delightful.

The point of the garden party is to raise money for a new Katherine Mansfield garden at Hamilton Gardens, which will recreate the garden described in Mansfield’s The Garden Party (that’s a link to the story, and if you haven’t read it, do.  It’s delicious.  The more I read Mansfield the more I love her, and the more I understand why Virginia Woolf said that Mansfield was the only person who ever produced writing that she envied).

The Hamilton Gardens are just spectacular.  I wish I’d had a week to explore them!  And the Garden Party was fabulous.  Hamilton Garden’s sets it in 1922, when Mansfield published The Garden Party, rather than in 1907ish, when the story is actually set, so all the music and decor and costumes  were focused on the 1920s.

A vintage friend, going to the garden party for the first time, commented on how much she enjoyed it, and how relaxed and friendly it was, and how much it reminded her of Art Deco Weekend, before it got too big.

Hearing her, I realised that the Mansfield Garden Party is everything I want Art Deco Weekend to be, and which it doesn’t always achieve.  It is relaxed, and friendly, and inclusive, and nicely informal, but with just enough going on.  It was big enough to be interesting for the whole day, but small enough you felt you actually got to see it all and really spend time with people.  And it’s New Zealand focused: drawing on something that is totally unique to us, and presenting it in a very New Zealand way.  Art Deco weekend gets a bit too big and polished and commercialised.  The Garden Party was just my size.

Plus, starting this year it had a Salon!  What could be more fabulous than spending your morning broadening your mind and learning a bit and having delicious morning tea and chatting with interesting people?

I was one of three featured speakers at the Salon.  Barbara Roseberg spoke on garden parties and  the flowers in Mansfield’s writing, Ian Day of Howick Historical Village spoke on al-fresco dining (utterly fascinating  – definitely someone worth making an effort to hear speak), and I talked about Mansfield’s garden party fashions.

This  meant pretty dresses!  New ones!  And new hats!

And models!  All of my Hamilton contacts were already involved in the Garden Party, so I ended up putting out an open call for models, and got lucky when three lovely and incredibly nice and helpful ladies volunteered.  It’s always a little scary dressing models based on a few measurements and a photo or two, but they all fit their dresses perfectly, in all possible ways.  Oh, the happiness!

The Katherine Mansfield Garden Party, Hamilton Gardens

The Salon was fascinating; here my models are reacting to a particularly terrible story of Ian’s about flies and food and WWI:

And the feedback for my part of it was great (Yay!)

Afterwards there was a mini photo-shoot with Tony McKay (OH MY!  Best time spent to results achieved ratio ever!  I’ve worked with quite a few photographers, and I don’t think I’ve ever seen one who managed to get such a great shot with almost every single click):

Courtesy of Tony McKay Photography and Glory Days Magazine

Courtesy of Tony McKay Photography and Glory Days Magazine

And beautiful gardens to explore.

The Katherine Mansfield Garden Party, Hamilton Gardens

And fabulous old cars to look at:

The Katherine Mansfield Garden Party, Hamilton Gardens

And a costume contest to judge (yes, yours truly got to be a judge!).

And roses to admire:

The Katherine Mansfield Garden Party, Hamilton Gardens

TL;DR: Hamilton is fabulous.  Particularly the Hamilton Gardens.  And my models.  And Glory Days.  And Tony McKay.  Go to the Garden Party and the Glory Days Salon next year!


  1. Just a word to say your link to “Mansfield’s The Garden Party” isn’t working.

    How wonderfull it must be to go to such parties…

  2. What fun! Thanks for sharing all the gorgeous photos–your dresses are absolutely divine! I so want to host a party like this someday. Maybe with a bit of vintage wares to sell thrown in, a cake auction and some live jazz music … Ahh, to dream!

  3. Sixer says

    These dresses are to die for – though I think I’d settle for wearing them. They wouldn’t look too odd in public, would they? Maybe with a short brimmed cloche?

    Thank you for sharing all the pretty.

  4. Stephanie says

    So lovely! I especially love the yellow dress, but I get all weak in the knees for pintucks. Which I know…..are the devil’s handiwork 😉

    Do you sell patterns somewhere that I should know about?

  5. M in Carolina says

    I just read the Katherine Mansfield story you linked. I loved it–Katherine Mansfield’s novels will be showing up on my Kindle very soon. (I am a bibliofile and will always love real books, but the ease and storage capacity of my Kindle has captured my heart as well–the Kindle is also easier to hold when my hands are swollen and painful because of my MS.) I loved all the dresses, yours and the black and white greek key dress were my favourites. Was the greek key dress and matching hat supposed to resemble Laura’s from the story? I am a sucker for velvet ribbons–especially long ones.

    Speaking of dresses from classic novels, have you ever read the Laura Ingalls Wilder books? I’ve always wanted to see the dresses from those books–especially the black best dress Laura made that she was later married in. Laura also works for a while making shirts to earn money to send Mary to a college for the blind and to surprise her with an organ to play at home. There’s a paragraph dedicated to Laura’s hatred of sewing buttonholes and her solution of sewing them really fast to get them over with.

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