Creating Sanctuary

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Award winning design by Rocky Bay Garden Creations. The tulips are a nod to the designers Dutch heritage

What does the word ‘sanctuary‘ mean to you? A place of peace, protection, an oasis? Somewhere you you feel at ease? Cocoon-like?  How would you go about creating such a space in your own garden?

I had the honor of co-judging the City Living displays at the Northwest Flower & Garden Show last week. These displays are intended to represent pint-sized outdoor living spaces and demonstrate that creativity need not be cramped by limited square footage. The theme was ‘Taste of Spring’ which the designers were encouraged to interpret in their own way to win one or more of the following awards:

  • Best Design
  • Best Use of Plant Material
  • Best Sanctuary
  • Best Use of Theme

While there were several outstanding displays only one really stood out as a ‘sanctuary‘ and that was Food for Thought, skillfully designed by Patricia Ruff of Rocky Bay Garden Creations (Gig Harbor, WA). As I deconstruct the award winning elements of this design for you, consider how they could be re-invented to create your own everyday sanctuary.

The Amphitheater Effect

Award winning City Living display designed by Rocky Bay Gardens

Award winning City Living display designed by Rocky Bay Garden Creations

One of the greatest challenges facing condo and townhome dwellers is the lack of privacy. Balconies and patios often feel exposed to neighbors  – and the neighborhood. Patricia created a sense of both privacy and intimacy by keeping furnishings  low to the ground. Notice how these sophisticated yet casual bean bag chairs by Jaxx , side tables and hypertufa containers are several inches shorter than the typical patio pieces. Sitting in this space one feels tucked away from the world  – an innovative solution.

The Illusion of Seclusion

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When you can’t hide the backdrop, distract the eye with layers of intriguing details

The use of the balcony structure and railing are ingenious. Where some designers might add a tall trellis or a series of columnar plants, this designer allows the sights, sounds and light of the streetscape to be part of the experience yet filtered so as not to be too intrusive. Using fabric planting pouches by Root Pouch, slung on both sides of the balcony  Patricia was able to double the planting opportunities with wispy grasses in shades of green and bronze, low maintenance perennials and seasonal bulbs all creating a subtle scrim effect. It’s a wonderful spin on the concept of vertical gardening.

Supplementing these pouches on the railing are miniature hypertufa pots and some more personalized display pieces including bronze glass bottles that create a lovely glow when lit from behind by the setting sun.

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Textures and colors work together to create delightful vignettes

A string of decorative lights at eye level once again keeps the focus within this cozy space, in the same way that I might plant a tree in the center of a very large lawn – the sense of a middle ground helps to define the space and bridge the chasm between immediate foreground and distant background.

Sensory Experiences

You’ve heard me say it a hundred times: “I believe that gardens should be experienced, not just observed” and this pint sized garden offers an abundance of sensory experiences.

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Fabulous attention to detail with forks being used as plant tag holders

While other designers created the predictable edible containers for inclusion in their Taste of Spring displays, Patricia took it a step further and suspended  her herbs in moss balls (Kokedama) adding an unexpected element that is both practical and decorative.

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One of Rocky Bay Garden Creations signature hypertufa containers

Where the designer did incorporate edibles into containers she included aromatics such as lavender and rosemary that will release their sensuous oils in the summer heat.

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Details matter: tiny gravel shards used as top dressing and a rustic twig re-purposed as a handle

With everything from cocktail garnishes, to salad fixings at arms reach and bouquets of fragrant hyacinths to scent the air, what more could you possibly want? A picnic for two? Got that covered …

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Wonderful attention to scale and proportion

Creating a sense of ‘home’

To me, part of creating a sanctuary experience is to feel at home. That means different things to different people. While some prefer music to relax when they are at home, I prefer silence – or at least just nature’s music of birdsong, leaves rustling in the breeze and the distant bleating of sheep.

Patricia has created a sense of home by adding art to this space, in the same way that you might select a painting to complete your interior decor. She has hung three moss panels on the wall as a unique triptych. While individually beautiful they also transform the drab utilitarian wall of her neighbors space into a living, breathing display. The panels invite inquisitive fingers to explore the unique textures and discerning eyes to appreciate the many shades of green.

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Hanging between these panels are three hypertufa baskets, suspended with rope, and planted with drought tolerant succulents and trailing Spanish moss, the wispy silver-grey strands contrasting with the more solid moss panels behind. Repetition creates a sense of harmony yet each has subtle differences seen only be the keen observer.

Soothing Colors

This understated color palette has a truly calming effect on both the mind and soul.  Natural colored canvas, pure white blooms, soothing shades of green and grey with just a few accents of bronze and dusky rose offer a visually serene space in which to relax.

Final Details

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With a remarkable eye for detail, Patricia added an assortment of perfectly proportioned containers planted with low growing succulents while a pine grows in a larger root pouch in the corner, the soil discreetly disguised with pebbles.

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Love the addition of marine rope to dress up this container

From the comfortable seating, the cocoon-like setting, the sensory experiences of touch, taste and smell perhaps the only thing missing is the clink of celebratory glasses as we say “Well done and well deserved” Patricia. We were delighted to award you not only Best Sanctuary award but also the Best Use of Plant Material. Clearly we weren’t the only ones you impressed as the show goers also voted you their favorite for the People’s Choice Award! Congratulations.

You can follow Patricia at her Rocky Bay Garden Creations on Facebook

If you are interested in learning more about creating a sense of sanctuary in your own garden, watch for a new book by Jessi Bloom called Everyday Sanctuary scheduled to be published by Timber Press in 2018

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Inspired Design – Updating the Front Garden

BEFORE

BEFORE – the existing garden included some lovely trees and shrubs but there was no sense of a plan or understanding of how these plants would mature. The lawn was also an arbitrary shape – a common mistake when grass is added as an afterthought.

This beautiful home was suffering from ‘plant-it-and-sell-it-itis‘.

I see this problem all the time; builders are usually required to landscape the front garden when construction is complete, so a haphazard selection of trees and shrubs are planted with little regard to their mature size, texture, form or even the homes architecture and five years later it is overgrown, over-crowded and needs to be completely re-done.

The problems

BEFORE

BEFORE – trees were planted too close to the home, blocking light and threatening to undermine the foundations.

  • Large trees were planted too close to the home, blocking light and threatening the foundations.
  • Shrubs were planted too close together and would ultimately become much too large for the space.
  • Rather than framing the home, this landscape appeared to be strangling it!
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BEFORE: an odd assortment of conifers and deciduous trees did little to welcome guests

The solution

  • Use plants of a more appropriate size
  • Space plants correctly
  • Add some additional color for winter interest while also varying texture

Other design criteria

  • This busy professional couple are new parents so the design needed to be low maintenance.
  • They wanted  some lawn to remain
  • The irrigation system needed upgrading

Inspiration!

The arched trim detail became the springboard for the design

The arched trim detail became the springboard for the design

I took my design cue for the shape of the new borders and lawn from this trim detail on the home.

Typically I would design a more serpentine shape but I liked the idea of reinforcing this detail and it mimics the sweep of the attractive roofline. I felt this would also provide a stronger connection between the home and the landscape.

AFTER - the revised borders mimic the arch detail and give the home some breathing space

AFTER – the revised borders mimic the arch detail and gives the home some breathing space while welcoming guests with its ‘open arms’

The lawn provides a negative space, keeps the traditional look the homeowners prefer but also enhances the theme by repeating the arc in the trim detail.

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Plant selection

A Fireglow maple (Acer palmatum ‘Fireglow’) was added to the left side of the garden (away from the three square windows that were  blocked by the original cherry tree), and its burgundy foliage will be a colorful highlight from spring until fall, contrasting well with the golden threadleaf cypress that we saved. Even in winter the burgundy stems add a subtle color detail.

Midwinter Fire twig dogwoods  (Cornus sanguinea ‘Midwinter Fire’) add a splash of color in winter, showing up well against the dark green foliage of the existing rhododendrons. They also repeat the color of the heavenly bamboo planted adjacent to the sidewalk, visually expanding the space.

if only you could smell this...

If only you could smell this…

Overgrown Alberta spruce that once flanked the pathway were replaced with fragrant winter daphne (Daphne odora ‘Aureo-marginata’) – a wonderful, gold and green variegated, evergreen shrub. What a perfect way to make guest feel welcome.

While there are many cultivars of heavenly bamboo (Nandina domestica), my number 1 choice is always Gulf Stream heavenly bamboo for its tidy mounding habit and colorful foliage. Unlike the gangly specimens planted by the sidewalk (most likely the species rather than a select cultivar), these have a more refined appearance yet need no pruning. IMG_0598 Ample room has been left to allow them to grow to their mature size of 3 feet tall and wide. I love the way the red foliage echoes the Midwinter Fire dogwoods.

Also working with those warm shades are the Winter Chocolate heather (Calluna vulgaris ‘Winter Chocolate’). In spring this brick red foliage will transition to bright green and orange with lavender flowers in late summer. This is most definitely NOT your ‘builders basic’ heather!!

Winter Chocolate heather - delicious

Winter Chocolate heather – delicious

Although I had to remove two large Colorado blue spruce since space and scale simply did not accommodate their mature size, I added two Wells Special Hinoki cypress for sculptural interest year round. I was also able to re-use several variegated boxwood, Rainbow drooping fetterbush and Japanese andromeda (Pieris japonica).

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With appropriate spacing and attention to four season interest, this revised design will offer color and beauty, with minimal ongoing maintenance beyond annual trimming of the dogwoods to maximize their color potential

Other plants that will come into their own in successive seasons include;

  • Rhododendron Impeditum – blue-grey evergreen foliage and lavender blooms in spring
  • Little QuickFire hydrangea – panicles of creamy-white flowers in late summer, fading to rose on a dwarf deciduous shrub that has stunning fall color
  • Evergreen succulents – rather than a traditional groundcover I added golden Angelina stonecrop (Sedum rupestre ‘Angelina’) under the Fireglow maple and Hinoki trees and rosettes of our native, green Oregon stonecrop (Sedum oreganum) connecting the existing weeping birch trees to the sidewalk.

The results

A front garden to be proud of, that fits in with the neighborhood yet stands out as one of carefully considered design.

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I look forward to being able to photograph this garden again in summer, but when a newly planted landscape looks this good even in the depths of winter you know it’s only going to get even better.

How does your front garden look?

Design by Le jardinet

Installation and hard work by Berg’s Landscaping

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Celebrate with Me – and Enter to Win!

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Hot off the FedEx truck!

I am thrilled to be able to announce that my new book Gardening with Foliage First (Timber Press), co-authored with Christina Salwitz is finally HERE!

Why do you need this book?

The beauty of flowers is seductive, but flowers, by their fleeting nature, are a fickle base to provide long-lasting gardens with year-round interest. Tackle this problem with the advice in Gardening with Foliage First. Learn how to first build a framework of foliage and then layer in flowers and other artistic elements to add the finishing touches. This simple, recipe-style approach to garden design will work for a variety of climates and garden challenges, including deer, dry shade, and more.

How is it organized?

Color-coded pages makes finding what you need easy

Color-coded pages makes finding what you need easy: green for spring& summer, orange for fall & winter

By season (spring/summer) and light requirements (sun/shade), each color coded to help you quickly find what you need.

At the start of each section is an index of the fun combinations. Aren’t you curious to find our more about The Ticklish Porcupine on p270?

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Taking a cue from the layout of our award-winning book Fine Foliage, we  wanted to be sure to explain both why the combination works as a descriptive caption under the main beauty shot, but additionally ‘how the design grows‘ over time. Here’s one example:

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You will also notice that we include helpful details about each of the plants in the Foliage Framework as well as the flower, bark, berry or art piece that acts as the Finishing Touch. That will help you copy our ideas or use them as a springboard to substitute something similar.

Does it only have ideas for the Pacific Northwest?

Of course not! We traveled from British Columbia to Arizona and Florida to Pennsylvania in addition to scouting  local gardens.

Winter inspiration from the Denver Botanical Garden

Winter inspiration from the Denver Botanical Garden

Christina and I are passionate about sharing our insights and knowledge – be sure to take time to read the introduction to gain a better understanding of the attributes that make a plant pairing sing rather than sulk.

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An excerpt from the introduction

 

What do the pros say?

Christina and I were honored and humbled that the uber-talented author and designer Tracy DiSabato-Aust wrote a review of our new book. My copy of her classic text The Well-Designed Mixed Garden (Timber Press) is so well thumbed I may need a replacement soon! Here’s what she said about Gardening with Foliage First:

“Karen and Christina knock one out of the park with exceptional ideas for everything from large landscapes to tiny patios and containers.”

Where can I buy a copy?

By the end of this month it will be available in

But if you can’t wait that long or would like a signed copy you can get one right NOW! Thanks to the nice Mr. FedEx man  have 200 copies just ready to send your way. I ship by USPS 2-3 day Priority mail with tracking, anywhere within the USA.

Just $24.95 (+ shipping) with credit card or PayPal. You can even request a special personalisation during the ordering process (what a great gift!):




Win a signed copy! (Now closed)

And what’s a new book release without sharing the joy? If you’d like to enter to win a signed copy just leave a comment below telling me your favorite foliage plant. (Comments left on social media posts will not count – comments must be left on this blog post).

Competition will close at 9am PST Tuesday January 17th 2017 and the winning name  drawn using a random number generator. Good luck!

And the winner is…

Thank you to all who entered and left comments with great ideas. The WINNER is…. KAREN MILLER!

Congratulations Karen, I have sent you an email.

For those that didn’t win a free copy I do you hope will consider purchasing one and would love it if you left a short review on Amazon when you have time.

 

Thanks again everyone – happy gardening!

 

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Reflections

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My Mum was one for frequently reminding me to “count my blessings“. Whether it was for an unexpected gift, for food on the table or for a warm home. She taught me never to take these things for granted, to give thanks and to freely share. In a social media dominated world where we tend to measure our success against the fairy tale posts and dreamy images shared by our peers, family and friends, we can easily lose our attitude of thankfulness in our anxious determination to do more, be better, aim higher.

The start of a New Year is more than turning a metaphorical page in our Life Book, as much as the pristine new leaf promises everything will be an improvement on our previous, less-than-perfect chapters. I believe it is also a time to pause and reflect on the blessings of the past year. Human nature is such that we tend to think of all the sad, negative or worrying things first; loss of loved ones,  political uncertainty, financial concerns. I’m not suggesting these can, or even should be casually swept aside as though they are of no consequence, but I encourage you to take a few moments to reflect on the good and for me that is often tied to the garden.

So as 2016 wanes and 2017 comes into sharper focus, I’d like to share with you some of the many garden-related blessings that I received this year.

Spring

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Is there any greater gift than love?

We were quite literally speechless when our friends at Berg’s Landscaping said they would like to build a new patio for us as a gift. I remember just standing there  unable to find any words to adequately express how much such generosity meant to us. I mean these guys are BUSY – with their own installations as well as most of mine so how could they possible have time to do this for me? And patios aren’t cheap. And we had drainage problems to deal with, and broken concrete to remove, and I wasn’t even going to be in the country, and……

This was a blessing with a capital B and we remember and give thanks for these wonderful folks every day.

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And talking of love, is there any greater love than that which a parent has for their child? I miss my parents so much yet am grateful for the life lessons they taught me by example and only hope I can continue to live up to their standards and expectations. When Mum passed away in October 2015 I wanted to buy something as a special keepsake. She loved gardening and we spent her last days poring over photographs  of my new patio being installed (thanks to my husband Andy emailing those to me each day) and other images taken of my garden throughout the year. It therefore seemed fitting to treat myself to something for the garden. I selected a very ‘grown up’ patio set with deep teal cushions and a beautiful propane fire table. These were such a luxury for us. I can promise you that every single day as I look out at our garden or settle into those deep cushions I remember my dear Mum. She would have loved this: I can almost hear her saying “Well done Karen“.

Summer

Foliage inspiration from 4 Seasons Gardens LLC, Portland, OR

Foliage inspiration from 4 Seasons Gardens LLC, Portland, OR

Talking of a parents love for their children we are blessed to have both our grown up children living in the same state, with our daughter Katie being just two miles away. As she and her husband are renovating their first home  their interest in gardens is growing so I was delighted that she accepted my offer of a trip to a garden tour in Portland for her birthday treat this year. Being able to share one’s own passion while exchanging ideas, discoveries and garden dreams with my daughter has been an unexpected blessing for sure. There’s also a sense of coming full circle as I have so many memories of learning from my own parents and grandparents.

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When work and play meld together you know you are fortunate. I was invited to visit Bailey Nurseries in June to see their production greenhouses and learn more about the new shrubs and roses that they are propagating. As a designer and writer I was thrilled, but you may be surprised to know that this invitation came about as a result of a glass of wine! A year or so ago my coauthor Christina Salwitz and I were enjoying a glass of sauvignon blanc after a day of garden tours  in Pasadena, CA. When it came time to pay our tab, to our great surprise we were told it had already been paid “by the gentleman with the blonde hair”. Well that gentleman was none other than Ryan McEnaney, PR & Communications Specialist for Bailey Nurseries whom we had spent only a few moments chatting to earlier!  So our friendship and business relationship began over that glass of wine – and continues to this day.

Fall

Snoozing alligator in the Audoban Swamp, Magnolia Plantations and Gardens, Charleston, SC

Snoozing alligator in the Audoban Swamp, Magnolia Plantations and Gardens, Charleston, SC

I truly value my membership with the Garden Writer’s Association (GWA). I have met many wonderful folks that have helped me in my writing career and am always inspired by the garden tours and educational seminars that are the highlight of each annual conference. This year the conference was held in Atlanta – an area of the country I had never visited. I decided to fly out early and combine it with a visit to Charleston, Beaufort and Savannah. Unfortunately my timing wasn’t great, coinciding with a crazy tropical storm that flooded streets and sidewalks but I did still manage to visit historical Magnolia Plantations and the adjacent swamps where surprisingly large alligators were just ‘hanging out’!

Charleston chic

Charleston chic

I also loved seeing the colorful window boxes, interesting architecture and ancient live oaks in the area. This vacation was an unexpected bonus, especially as Andy joined me for this leg of the trip.

While we saw many wonderful gardens both large and small in the Atlanta area on our organized excursions, perhaps my favorite was the one some friends and I took on  our own, returning to the Atlanta Botanical Garden and seeing the Chihuly exhibit lit up at night – unforgettable.

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Winter

Winter in the PNW is a slower time of year in the garden. While there are still chores to be done it is also easy to justify a rest after the frenzy of fall clean up.

Andy and I decided to head to our favorite retreat for Christmas: Mountain Home Lodge in Leavenworth, WA. In winter the steep road is closed so you are transported to the lodge by  Snowcat vehicles. The seclusion is an inherent part of its appeal – the gourmet meals come a close second (and we didn’t need to grow, prepare or clean up after them!!)

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Snow blanketed the earth offering perfect conditions for snowshoeing, cross-country skiing or tobogganing – or just sitting on our porch snuggled under a blanket and watching the sunrise.

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As you reflect on your favorite memories from 2016 I hope that your garden was a part of the good times. Maybe sharing lunch on the patio with a friend? Or watching the fall colors change? Or marveling at the pattern of light and shadows? Do share your reflections in the comments below or on my Facebook page – I’d love to hear them

I leave you with one of my favorite quotes. It speaks to me of the beauty and wildness of Nature, but it also guides me as a landscape designer.

 

Everybody needs beauty as well as bread, places to play in and pray in, where Nature may heal and cheer and give strength to body and soul alike.John Muir, The Yosemite, 1912.

 

May 2017 be a year of blessings for you all, both given and received.

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Wishing You Peace

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Amazing Peace: A Christmas Poem
By Dr. Maya Angelou

Thunder rumbles in the mountain passes
And lightning rattles the eaves of our houses.
Flood waters await us in our avenues.

Snow falls upon snow, falls upon snow to avalanche
Over unprotected villages.
The sky slips low and grey and threatening.

We question ourselves.
What have we done to so affront nature?
We worry God.
Are you there? Are you there really?
Does the covenant you made with us still hold?

Into this climate of fear and apprehension, Christmas enters,
Streaming lights of joy, ringing bells of hope
And singing carols of forgiveness high up in the bright air.
The world is encouraged to come away from rancor,
Come the way of friendship.

It is the Glad Season.
Thunder ebbs to silence and lightning sleeps quietly in the corner.
Flood waters recede into memory.
Snow becomes a yielding cushion to aid us
As we make our way to higher ground.

Hope is born again in the faces of children
It rides on the shoulders of our aged as they walk into their sunsets.
Hope spreads around the earth. Brightening all things,
Even hate which crouches breeding in dark corridors.

In our joy, we think we hear a whisper.
At first it is too soft. Then only half heard.
We listen carefully as it gathers strength.
We hear a sweetness.
The word is Peace.
It is loud now. It is louder.
Louder than the explosion of bombs.

We tremble at the sound. We are thrilled by its presence.
It is what we have hungered for.
Not just the absence of war. But, true Peace.
A harmony of spirit, a comfort of courtesies.
Security for our beloveds and their beloveds.

We clap hands and welcome the Peace of Christmas.
We beckon this good season to wait a while with us.
We, Baptist and Buddhist, Methodist and Muslim, say come.
Peace.
Come and fill us and our world with your majesty.
We, the Jew and the Jainist, the Catholic and the Confucian,
Implore you, to stay a while with us.
So we may learn by your shimmering light
How to look beyond complexion and see community.

It is Christmas time, a halting of hate time.

On this platform of peace, we can create a language
To translate ourselves to ourselves and to each other.

At this Holy Instant, we celebrate the Birth of Jesus Christ
Into the great religions of the world.
We jubilate the precious advent of trust.
We shout with glorious tongues at the coming of hope.
All the earth’s tribes loosen their voices
To celebrate the promise of Peace.

We, Angels and Mortal’s, Believers and Non-Believers,
Look heavenward and speak the word aloud.
Peace. We look at our world and speak the word aloud.
Peace. We look at each other, then into ourselves
And we say without shyness or apology or hesitation.

Peace, My Brother.
Peace, My Sister.
Peace, My Soul.

May you find Peace in your hearts, homes and gardens this season and throughout the coming year.

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