When we'd finished being gobsmacked by the impressive landscaping and gardening efforts among the 80 gardens in the Bay of Plenty's Garden and Artfest, The Landscaper and I took time out to attend the birthday party of my niece's 1-year-old daughter.
In their backyard, notable for its almost complete lack of garden, I found something that sent me scurrying inside for scissors and a plastic bag.
It's probably well documented that I've never been a fan of manuka, but this one was something else.
"What's that called?" I demanded of my niece, who is unlikely even to be able to recognise a daisy.
"Don't know," she said cheerily, "but the tag's probably still on it."
The Landscaper found the tag, which identified the glorious mauve manuka as Leptospermum phoenix - my new best friend. Its big, dense, mauve flowers arrive in mid-spring and are said to last for ages. The plant grows to about 1.5m, can be kept bushy with regular haircuts, and is hardy in dry and cold conditions.
In the unlikely event that you find the same manuka, or some other colour that knocks your socks off, you can grow them from cuttings.
Choose new growth from the tip of the branch.
Look for twigs with soft reddish bark and multiple leaf terminals.
Cut them at a 45-degree angle about 10cm from the tip, and then slice a 5ml portion of bark from the end of the cutting to expose the vascular cambium. Keep the cuttings damp until you're ready to pot them.
Then dip them in rooting compound and plant them to about half their length in a sandy mix that has been pre-watered and drained for about half an hour.
Put them in your propagating box if you have one, or in a plastic bag to hold moisture and heat. Keep them moist but not wet, and warm but out of direct sunlight.
Should all 20 of our mauve manuka survive the propagation process and grow into real trees, I'll be looking for something useful to do with them. Fortunately, it seems they have many properties other than pleasing me and the bees with its extraordinary flowers.
The leaves can be combined with other plants - such as coprosma, kawkawa, hebe and ngaio - to use in vapour baths as a treatment for rheumatism.
Infusions of the bark have also been used to ease aches and pains - perfect for The Landscaper - and can have a sedative effect (perhaps not so perfect). And though I wouldn't recommend trying the following at home, it is documented that infusions are also useful for the treatment of dandruff and skin infections, while a poultice of pounded fruit can be used to treat flesh wounds, apparently drying them up and hastening healing.
A decoction of leaves taken internally is said to help urinary complaints and treat fever, while a decoction of bark may relieve constipation and diarrhoea (presumably not both at once), treat mouth, throat and eye infections, colic, inflamed breasts, scalds and burns.
Leptostopermum scoparium contains leptospermone, which is effective for treating parasitic worms, and is also an insesecticide. And then there's the honey, which contains high levels of the antibacterial compound methylglyoxal. Oils extracted from manuka leaves in some areas also have antibacterial and fungicidal properties. Quite the all-rounder, then.
If you're a little shamefaced that you've been using your manuka only for firewood, don't be. It burns beautifully, and makes a great barbecue.
Tricks from Tauranga
Not surprisingly, we didn't make it around all 88 of the gardens in the Bay of Plenty New Zealand Garden and Artfest. We didn't see the work of all 57 of the artists, either, but what we did see was enough to send us scurrying home with many new ideas.
1. We really liked this display of ceramic bathers. At first we thought it was a wall hanging, but the gardener has neatly clipped back the ivy to reveal a timber paling fence beneath, and used the foliage as a frame. Nifty.
2. Then we found the clever vege boxes - smart and good looking, and probably quite easy to achieve. Find a large, stainless steel bench - the sort of thing you occasionally see at a junk yard.
A butcher's bench would be ideal, but even a sink bench could be used. Construct simple, wooden boxes of uniform size, fill with soil and compost, and plant with veges. They look stylish and are easy to weed because they're at hand height. I see no reason why this could not be achieved by Saturday lunchtime.