Adela’s Simple Life

I see that Athenree Homestead is doing Devonshire Teas for Mothers’ Day (Sunday, May 12, in case you’ve missed the advertising) and have posted details on the Events page.

So it’s a good chance to share some garden-related excerpts from My Simple Life in New Zealand by Adela Stewart,the homestead’s first resident. The book was published in England in 1908.

1880: I got from an old friend in Auckland a present of cuttings and plants, which Agnes and I had a busy time putting in – geraniums, pelargoniums, heliotropes, penstemons, ageratums, hydrangeas, escallonias, deutzias, mesembryanthemums, guelder roses, laurels, oxalis, roses, arums, ixias, agapanthus – a splendid contribution, most of which grew well and helped to convert our wilderness into a garden.

[I had to look up mesembryanthemum – ice plants; guelder rose is another name for Viburnum opulus.]

1881: Some of our garden experiences were very successful, others quite the reverse; but we learnt to bear our disappointments philosophically, though perhaps not quite calmly, when we found that our newly purchased calves had broken through the post and wire fence and had eaten all the garden cabbages, etc. Hugh, seeing my grief, immediately repaired the fence, so we had peace, but not plenty, for a time.

In those early years we had wonderful crops of tomatoes, far better than in later years with more care and cultivation. For instance, on September 23rd, 1880, I sowed in a drill in the garden one ounce of Carter’s large red tomato seed; began transplanting them from October 20th to November 17th, on the latter date putting in 700 plants in the copping-field which … grew at their own sweet will, without pruning or staking … and beginning in February continued till April to yield such a crop that they were brought home in wheelbarrows, sometimes in a dray, and I made many gallons of tomato sauce (selling some it at 1s. 6d. a quart bottle), chutneys and jams, the latter flavoured with lemon or ginger.

A few pages further on Adela records making 287lbs of strawberry jam, 407lbs of peach jam “in that hottest of months” (February) and 760lbs of tomato and pumpkin jam. “Thus I was prepared for a siege and stood it.”

A 2011 reprint of the book is available from the Mural Centre and Craft Shop, Main Rd, Katikati with proceeds going to the project to restore Athenree Homestead, built by Hugh and Adela and their son Mervyn after arriving in New Zealand with a group of Ulster Irish settlers in 1878. The group was led by George Vesey Stewart, Adela’s brother-in-law. Hugh and Adela named their new home after his home village in Ireland (Athenrey)

Hugh and Adela lived at Athenree from 1878 to 1906, then returning to England. Hugh died in 1909 and Adela returned to Katikati for a visit the following year. A ball was held to mark her return to the area – she left early, feeling unwell, and returned to her sister-in-law’s home (Twickenham Homestead, currently for sale), dying shortly after. She is buried in Katikati Cemetery.

See a photograph of Hugh and Adela here and the murals in Katikati that show Adela and Athenree Homestead.

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