Tea Garden

there's always something to do


Historic background ~ our garden
Our garden is part of what was once the Donald Tea Gardens, in Karori, Wellington, New Zealand.

Named after Robert Donald (1811-1895), a gardener from Aberdeenshire who arrived in New Zealand with his wife Jane in 1850 on the Travancore. In 1853 Donald bought lot 19, fronting Donald Street, of John Yule’s original subdivision of Section 36 into twenty 5-acre lots. He later added lots 18 (1858) and 14 (1859) making 15 acres in all. As early as November 1853 Donald was announcing in the press the commencement of “a Pic-nic and General Fruit Garded’, open daily, Sabbaths excepted. By the early 1860s his tree nursery and the well known Donald Tea Gardens were flourishing. In the early 1880s a further 11 acres were purchased from John Campbell and it seems as if the tea gardens were replaced as a commercial proposition by a farm. However, after Robert Donald’s death in 1895, the tea gardens were re-established by the Young family who first leased and then bought for £1650 the whole 26~acre property. They subsequently sold out in 1900 to a syndicate who offered the Campbell Street sections (14 to 18) for sale; the original gardens, mainly lot 19, were sold to John Mills and his wife, Dr Platts-Mills. The Mills employed caretakers and served teas early in their period of ownership but by 1914 this had stopped. The grounds deteriorated and were eventually subdivided over the following 25 years. The original farm house, Edenvale, was demolished in 1930 after being empty for some years. Source: Karori Historical Society

The Archives section of the Wellington City Council had this to say:

Thank you for your request for information on Donald Tea Gardens. Unfortunately the information you require is too old for us. We don’t have any maps of the Karori area pre 1915. We do however have access to old survey maps and have discovered that Lot 19, as you mentioned, is at the south end of Donald Street where the road starts to bend. Your property is on the old lot 18.

image from http://www.dnzb.govt.nz/ (Ministry for Culture and Heritage), originally from Alexander Turnbull Library, National Library of New Zealand, Te Puna Matauranga o Aotearoa The thought of a nice cup of tea in the elegant company of Dr Platts-Mills is rather appealing.

It’s not difficult to see why the gardens went into decline after 1912.

According to the Dictionary of New Zealand Biography, in 1900 Daisy Platts was one of five women and 706 men on the medical register. She married Wellington merchant John Fortescue Wright Mills on 11 February 1902. The couple bought the old Donald Tea Gardens in Karori, and Daisy Platts-Mills, as she now became known, gave birth to three children over the next five years.

And this while building her medical practice.

Coincident with the opening of the King Edward VII Memorial Hospital in 1912, four new honorary posts were created – 2 physicians and 2 surgeons – to staff the new facility. In the advertisement for these posts, it was stated that the 2 honorary physicians were to be “Lady Physicians”. Thus, the first female senior medical staff at the Hospital were appointed: Dr Agnes Bennett and Dr Daisy Platts-Mills. Both served in that role 1912 – 1915. Source: Capital and Coast Health Board

For six years from 1912 she was house physician to the children’s ward at Wellington Hospital. She also served for two successive terms on the Wellington Hospital and Charitable Aid Board, topping the poll in both elections. She referred to the successful campaign for the reorganisation of the capital’s milk supply at this time as ‘one of the greatest boons conferred on the children of Wellington’. She was the first president of the Plunket Society in Wellington, and belonged to the Mothers’ Union, the League of Mothers, the Women’s Christian Temperance Union of New Zealand, the New Zealand Society for the Protection of Women and Children, and the YWCA. She held office to become a past noble grand of the Independent Order of Oddfellows. Source: Dictionary of New Zealand Biography

It’s easy to imagine the Victorian settlers enjoying a beautiful garden. Although our garden is but a fragment of the original land area, we are rebuilding the garden back to something of its former glory – something that Daisy might recognise as part of her original tea garden. In the process we will also be exploring – discovering some of the aspects of our own heritage in gardening.

Historic background ~ our home
We secured our home back in 2006. We spent three years (T H R E E . W H O L E . Y E A R S) searching for our house. I swear we looked at hundreds of houses – from the “delightful, but we can’t afford it”; through to the “OMG, no no NO!” Some houses were so bad we dragged each other out of the car to see. Some we looked at without looking at each other in case we laughed out loud that the horror. Eventually we found the house, and we (I) went to war with the real estate salesman. It wasn’t pretty. In the end he wouldn’t deal with me, all conversations were directed through Marica. The negotiations went on for over a month, but finally to the total delight of the salesman we settled on a price, and the poor exhausted darling could really concentrate on the only thing he was interested in: his commission. What an ass. We never heard or saw him again. An additional blessing.

By way of a few tips for would-be home buyers, here’s some basic advice.

  • Start saving right now. You can never have too much money for your deposit.
  • Be patient. Keep looking. You’re going to be paying for this for a long time, get a keeper.
  • Write a list of what you want in the perfect house.