Here's a piece of advice - if your partner is a landscaper, don't take him on garden safaris. He will likely develop the gardener's equivalent of you-know-what envy and wish his was bigger, smoother, lusher and without prickles.
I'm talking about lawns, obviously. We were in the middle of edging our reasonably flat, user-friendly front lawn with railway sleepers to give it more style and now it's about to be torn up with a small plough, sprayed for kikuyu, levelled and resown. It will be bare for months. The cats will regard it as a new, deluxe-model toilet, the dog will bury things in it and The Partner will wish he'd been content with a small, sloping one with the odd bare patch.
But that's the nature of garden safaris. You come away yearning for things you can't achieve, can't grow or can't afford.
We've just come back from a sneak preview of the Powerco Taranaki Garden Spectacular, which opens officially on October 26 and runs for 10 days.
They know how to run a garden safari in the 'Naki, and well they should. They've been at it for 25 years. When it started it was just a regional garden event, but these days, around 75 per cent of the visitors are from out of town.
This year there are more than 50 gardens. We visited seven, and came away from every one with an idea or 10. And we learned heaps - the worst lesson being that it takes three sprays to rid your lawn of kikuyu and close to a year before you can play croquet on it. The next was that buxus blight is affecting hedges almost everywhere. It was mentioned in a UK garden programme I watched recently, and it's certainly bothering gardeners in Taranaki. So wherever you are, you're not alone if patches of your box hedge are turning to custard. And if your rengarenga lilies have brown spots, welcome to the club. One gardener told us current thinking was that a soil virus is to blame, while others suggest frost is the culprit.
The highlight of my visit was to meet a Chatham Islands lily in full flower. I'd never seen one. This specimen is in the renowned Te Kainga Marire garden, New Zealand's only private native garden to be rated as a Garden of International Significance. The incredibly knowledgeable Valda Poletti assured me that I could grow this in a shady spot at home, and I can't wait to try it, along with hostas, which I've never grown before, either.
One thing I won't try is covering an entire car with ivy. Not that it isn't a great idea - it certainly beats leaving them to rot in the front yard - but I just don't have one to spare. The owner of this recycled Austin Cambridge is a car enthusiast. It's one of several touches that brings humour and originality to a stylish, formal garden.
All of the gardens we visited had one thing in common - the gardeners had created garden rooms as opposed to big spaces with plants around the edge. Every path opened into a new space, every vantage point revealed a view of something enticing. It's a great design strategy, and further proof that creating a garden is a long-term venture and has little to do with what's "on trend".
Leigh's preview of the Taranaki Garden Spectacular was made possible by Taranaki Arts Festival Trust, Air New Zealand, Quality Hotel Plymouth, and Pegasus Rental Cars.