The striking colours, off-season showiness and hardy habit of heather - otherwise known as erica - inspire daydreams of vibrant displays that chase the winter chill away.
I've bought an erica. Goodness knows why. I've never bought one before in my life. Possibly I was besotted by its deep-pink flowers at a time when Christchurch had just suffered a couple more major aftershocks and many suburbs were freshly covered in liquefaction.
I've been in a pink phase lately and, having just about exhausted all the possibilities of camellias that will grow where I want them to, I needed a new best friend.
I planned to plant it on a mound of shrubs at the bottom of the garden, but a quick scan of erica images on the internet alerted me to a number of far more interesting possibilities.
One erica does not a garden make, but a collection of different ericas, imaginatively used, may mark me as a Designer Of Some Talent and an Erica Collector Of Note.
We have an eco-warrior friend who collects flax. Every time we go to his house, he proudly guides us around his multi-faceted flax collection and describes in relentless detail how each one is doing. To me, flaxes are like other people's grandchildren. They all look the same and they're about as interesting as watching paint dry.
My ericas, however, will be a different story. I am starting with erica "Ruby". It has already proved itself hardy. It was sitting on the courtyard wall awaiting planting when gale-force winds blew it into the water feature below and I didn't notice it until the dog mentioned she could no longer get her snout in there for a drink.
So it will become the first specimen in a lush bank of ericas that will edge a 15m path from the house to the shrub mound. The path will be covered in crushed shell, which will provide a perfect contrast to the many pinks of my new plants.
The Partner has been less than keen on the idea. He went off ericas, he said, because he'd seen them go leggy and spindly after a couple of years. But under his supervision, I argued, they would likely remain lush.
They are generally very hardy and will withstand frosts and even snow, although in their first year their tips can become frost-damaged. If they're pruned immediately after flowering (simply cut back the flowered stems), you're likely to keep them as compact, bushy plants.
For mass-planting of a path edge or a display area, allow about 45cm between plants, even if it does leave a soil gap. Ericas will normally start spreading during their second year after planting.
A couple of rather fascinating forms of erica I've recently read about are erica "Melanthera Improved", which fascinates me because its name sounds like some sort of new and improved dish detergent, and erica "Surprise", a pure white form of Melanthera, so named because the odd plant reverts back to its pink form.
If you're lucky - and of course I will be - you may get a plant with both pink and white flowers.
Another one is Erica cerinthoides, a very showy and long-lasting smaller-growing shrub. Evidently its regenerative capabilities are spectacular - in its natural habitat in the Cape Province it's regularly destroyed by fire but quickly regrows from underground tuberous roots. (Hopefully it reacts the same way to being flooded!)
I have pointed out to The Partner that because of this it can be cut back really hard to retain its bushy growth habit.
South African ericas grow best with perfect drainage and full sun. The former cuts Christchurch out just for the moment, but we pray that won't always be the case.
For those whose residential future is uncertain, some ericas grow well as container plants. Pot into a potting mix with a low phosphate fertiliser content. Choose a decent-sized pot and your erica may grow to 1m x 1m and, assuming you don't have a cat, will attract small, nectar-feeding birds like waxeyes.
If you don't think you can form a lasting relationship with ericas, there are other options for creating banks of the same type of plant, like hebes or azaleas. But please, not flax.