Frolics at Fernside

Historical costumes at Fernside

Last weekend Fernside, an early 20th century home and gardens an hour away from Wellington in Featherston, held an open day in the gardens as a fundraiser for the local theatre.

I’ve always wanted to see the gardens: they are a lovely example of a restored early 20th century garden. You can generally only see them as part of a (long, expensive) Lord of the Rings themed tour, as the gardens were transformed into Lothlorien for the the films. I’m not that keen on LotR (well, mostly I’m not that keen on long expensive tours where you’d just get trotted through the gardens to the most important filming scenes and then back out again, and can’t wander around), so I was really excited to have a chance to explore the grounds at leisure.

Costumes at Fernside

And obviously, to dress up!

We got together a group, and settled on early 20th c clothing, to match the grounds and house (and also, because it was the easiest to get dressed in a cafe bathroom in. We weren’t going to make the drive over a rather daunting mountain range in costumes!)

Costumes at Fernside

Of the five of us, two chose 1920s Vionnet ‘Chiton’ dresses, two chose Edwardian with Fantails Skirts & Wearing History blouses, and I tied the two eras together with my Miss Muffet dress.

Costumes at Fernside

We had an utterly delightful time. We wandered around the gardens and admired the fruits and flowers:

Historical costumes at Fernside
Historical costumes at Fernside

We cuddled the resident cat (name: Squeaky)

Historical costumes at Fernside
Historical costumes at Fernside

We found peacock feathers, and posed with peacock babies:

Historical costumes at Fernside
Historical costumes at Fernside

Miss A showed off her new Fantail Skirt (her very first completed historical costume!) and Miss Eloise showed off her new Fantail & her new Wearing History blouse (hacked to be front buttoning to enable self dressing).

Historical costumes at Fernside
Historical costumes at Fernside
Historical costumes at Fernside
Historical costumes at Fernside

We took lots, and lots, and lots of photos:

Historical costumes at Fernside

Miss A has a better camera than I do and I’m very envious…

Historical costumes at Fernside

Those of us in Edwardian admired the ’20s ladies for looking so chic and sophisticated and cool and fluttery:

Historical costumes at Fernside
Historical costumes at Fernside
Historical costumes at Fernside

And those in ’20s admired how swishy and elegant the ladies in Edwardian looked in their Fantails & lace blouses:

Historical costumes at Fernside
Historical costumes at Fernside

I’m not exaggerating when I say half the group is now planning their own 20s outfit, and the other half is planning their own 1900s outfit!

And as for me, well, people admired my millinery skills (which I’m getting much better at, and am very proud of, because they didn’t come easily!):

Historical costumes at Fernside

And my dinosaur chicken impression:

Historical costumes at Fernside

I was just really excited that there were chickens…


  1. Elena “of Valhalla” says

    True, driving over a mountain range in costume would have required at the bare minimum duster coats and veils for everybody.

    whooops, I think I suddenly have a new long term costuming goal.

    • I don’t think many cars attempted the Rimutaka hill road when dusters and veils was the option. And those that did at least got to do it much slower than modern traffic will permit. You’d be very unpopular with the cars behind you going at 20kph!

  2. Delight, delight! What a beautiful day for a garden picnic, and for such handsome, easy-to-wear clothes.

    What we can see of the gardens is gorgeous: grapes and ferns and foxglove or snapdragon-like flowers, and those walks laid with small gravel that make a pleasant crunching noises as you go. And Squeaky! Now we have bliss…

    Would love to hear more about the intimidating mountain range sometime.

    Very best,

    Natalie in KY

    • Thank you! I discovered in looking at my photos that I tend to focus on portraits, and am very bad at taking scenic photos that show what the whole scene looked like! It was too late in the year for foxgloves (we’re at high summer), but you can see delphiniums, hollyhocks, dahlias, hydrangeas and roses in the photos. We’re trying to wrangle a trip back in spring to see all the bulbs…

      The gravel was crunchy, but not the friendliest medium for my shoes 🙁

      The next time we go over the Rimutakas I’ll take a video of what it’s like (or get my passenger to), and maybe stop at the lookout for photos.

      Suffice to say my mother, who lives 20 miles down a rural road in Hawai’i, and drove the infamous road to Hana on a weekly basis for a couple of years, and has driven all along the California coast and through the Appalachias (decades ago, so when roads were much worse), finds it nerve-wracking and is worried when she hears I’m doing it.

      It only takes about 25 minutes to do, but it’s quite a ride up and down. At least it’s better than when I first drove it 17 years ago, when there was just a rickety picket fence between you and the chasms! Now there are proper rails!

  3. Claire Payne says

    Utterly delightful post and photos of an utterly delightful day. 🙂

  4. Catherine says

    Oh my goodness. How much fun did you have? You all look fantastic. Amazing, creative women. You needed to team up with a, vintage car club and attack those hills in style I wonder what the reaction was from those in modern day dress?

    • Thank you! We did actually meet some vintage car enthusiasts, and there are some cute pictures of me attempting to climb into a 1908 car in my outfit (LOTS of leg), but I saved them for another post 😉

  5. nofixedstars says

    so pretty! everyone looked fabulous. and gardens make such perfect photo backgrounds.

  6. Elise says

    What fun! Everyone looked so lovely–like you were flowers yourselves! I can only imagine how beautiful the gardens were, if they were the location for Lothlorien. Like you, I have mixed feelings about expensive and fast tours. My sister loves “check the box” type of travel, while I like seeing less, but spending time wandering. I would have loved to have wandered around that garden!

    And yay for the Vionnet dress!

    Is the mountain pass similar to Oahu’s Pali?

    • Thank you! I’m definitely a wander round person! I’d rather spend a week in a ‘boring’ village than trying to see every must-see in a country in the same week.

      The Rimutakas are 20x longer than the Pali, and 50X scarier, with a road that’s 1/2 as wide…

  7. Tres chic! Love the hats and parasols.

    I can remember as a child going over the Rimutakas in a high wind, behind a horse trailer. The horse was not enjoying itself.

    • Thank you! Hats and parasols were mandatory in the summer sun!

      Luckily I have never gone over the Rimutakas in high wind! Oddly enough, we had a horse trailer in front of us going over this time, and speculated on how the horse felt about it. It may have ended with one of the passengers messaging her husband (who has worked with horses) to find out if they can vomit

  8. We have a number of those problematic holidays and I am always at a loss as to how to recognize them. This looks like a lovely approach!


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