Gardening is a favourite hobby of New Zealanders and has rated highly in recreation surveys. The 2007/8 Active New Zealand Survey found that 43% of New Zealanders had gardened in the last 12 months – the second-most popular activity behind walking.
Even the early 19th-century British Resident James Busby found relief from his difficult work in gardening. The Treaty of Waitangi was signed in the garden of his property at Waitangi.
While there is evidence that traditional Māori communities cultivated ornamental (non-food) plants, gardening for pleasure was largely a European introduction. Early 19th-century missionaries were preoccupied with food production but did find time to cultivate ornamental gardens as well. Growing ornamental trees such as ash and oak was a hobby for some.
Gardening was an accessible pursuit open to people of all classes. Seeds and cuttings were gifted and swapped as well as bought. Women tended to look after flower gardens, while men were responsible for backyard vegetable gardens, although neither were restricted to those domains.
Vegetable gardening blurred the line between work and leisure because it provided people with cheap food. After the Second World War, increased pesticide and fertiliser use made commercially grown crops cheaper. Backyard vegetable gardening became less common and more of a hobby than a necessity, while ornamental gardening remained popular. Most backyards were devoted to family recreation. They were used for ball and water games and some had pools.
Like vegetable gardening, some home crafts such as knitting and sewing have been both leisure and work. Women made clothes and furnishings because it was cheaper than buying them, but many enjoyed this work and occupied their ‘spare’ time with it. In a 1979 recreation survey sewing was the most common craft activity for women – 55% had sewn over the past year, compared to 2% of men.
Tariff and import licensing changes in the 1980s and 1990s made shop-bought clothes and furnishings cheaper than home-made items, and knitting and sewing became recreational pursuits.
Recreation between the sheets
The 1991 Life in New Zealand Survey recorded a range of recreational activities, one of which was sexual activity. It found that 8% of males and 2% of females ‘enjoyed’ sex weekly.
‘Do it yourself’
Home maintenance was traditionally a man’s task and one he did in his spare time. While it was a form of unpaid work it could be satisfying and enjoyable – a hobby.
‘Do it yourself’ (DIY) has become a distinctive New Zealand practice. It originated in the self-sufficiency required of early to mid-19th-century colonists, many of whom had to build their own houses. This can-do attitude persisted and was reinforced during times of hardship such as the 1930s depression and the two world wars.
In the 1950s and 1960s DIY became a hobby rather than a necessity, affordable housing and economic prosperity providing the impetus for this change.
While no official statistics on DIY activity are recorded New Zealand is believed to have more ‘DIYers’ than other western countries, and women as well as men enjoy DIY.