Sunday Dinner: Pay Attention

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“You are one of the rare people
who can separate your observation from your perception…
you see what is,
where most people see what they expect.”
.
Tsitsi Dangarembga

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“To acquire knowledge, one must study;
but to acquire wisdom, one must observe.”
.
Marilyn vos Savant

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“Do stuff. be clenched, curious.
Not waiting for inspiration’s shove or society’s kiss on your forehead.
Pay attention.
It’s all about paying attention; attention is vitality.
It connects you with others.
It makes you eager. Stay eager
.
Susan Sontag

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“Observation is at its core an expression of love
which doesn’t get caught up in sentiment.”
.
Takashi Hiraide

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“Only when you observe with the intent to understand
you will discover the deeper truth.”
.
Tatjana Urbic

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“For a Photographer –
Having an OBSERVANT MIND
is more important than having
an expensive camera.”
.
Sukant Ratnakar 

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Photos by Woodland Gnome 2018
*
“The waves of probabilities collapse
into a physical reality
through observation by a conscious mind.”

.
Ilchi Lee

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“The beauty and mystery of this world
only emerges through affection, attention, interest and compassion . . .
open your eyes wide
and actually see this world
by attending to its colors,
details and irony.”
.
Orhan Pamuk

~

 

 

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Fabulous Friday: Under the Storm

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The cloud shield of Hurricane Florence crept across our area in the night, blotting out the sun and bringing sporadic showers so that by the time we first looked out on Thursday morning, the world was damp and grey.

But quiet.  Very quiet, with barely a breath of wind.

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We watched the storm’s progress throughout the day as it slowly ground towards the coastal islands of North Carolina.  I’ve loved those broad, sandy beaches and beach towns since childhood and know them well.  I’ve seen many storms come and go there, and watched the tough, resilient folks of these communities re-build their beach cottages and their communities time after time.   They love the ocean in all of its moods and seasons.

Life along the coast is a gamble.  Only this monster storm has skewed the odds towards devastation.

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All was calm along the coast of Yorktown on Wednesday afternoon, before the storm moved in.

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I remember one childhood Sunday afternoon lunch at our favorite Topsail Island sound side restaurant.  Our family calmly ate hush puppies at a big, round table by the windows, as waterspouts whipped up on the Inland Waterway, spinning bright and beautiful against the black and purple storm clouds behind the trees.  The restaurant was packed; the staff calm and friendly as ever, the food delicious.  By dinner time we were back out walking along the beach, picking up shells, and admiring the sunset’s golden rays stretching towards us through the line of cottages.

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The ferry approaches the dock of Ocracoke Island, autumn 2007.  Ocracoke has been especially hard hit this time with overwash and torrential rains.

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We saw Topsail cottages dismantled by the storm surge’s waves on CNN last night.  Another reporter stood in the middle of the deserted road through nearby Hampstead, buffeted by the wind and rain as the hurricane’s eye paced slowly towards the coast a few miles further south.  When the eye of the Hurricane finally came ashore near Wrightsville Beach early this morning, it was so huge that the geography of landfall almost didn’t matter.

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Except it wasn’t here.  And for that we are enormously grateful today.  Tropical force winds haven’t quite made it far enough up the rivers to reach us, here in Williamsburg, and the rainfall has been relatively light.  The power’s on, the roads are clear, and our forest stands intact.

We keep in mind and heart everyone along the coast, and all those living on farms and in small towns whose lives are upended by the wind and rain.  We remember the thousands of workers even now rescuing families from flooded homes, patrolling the roads, running shelters and putting themselves in harm’s way to tell the story to the rest of us comfortably watching it unfold from home.

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Our appreciation to Lesley, Don and the gang at Classic Caladiums for their good luck wishes ahead of the storm.  This is our favorite Caladium this season, ‘Peppermint’, well grown now from a single tuber.

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The rain squalls come and go and the wind whips up from time to time.  The day is cool and fresh.  When I walked up the drive this morning a cloud of goldfinches startled from their morning meal in the Rudbeckia, flying in all directions to safer perches in the trees.  They chirped and chatted at the interruption, and I was so happy to see them still here.

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Can you spot the goldfinch in the center of the Rudbeckia? I caught his photo the instant before he flew away.  He was the bravest of his small flock, to linger this long as I approached.

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The flowers have taken on that intense hue that comes when they are well watered and the nights turn cool.  Gold and purples, scarlet, pink and purest white pop against fading leaves.  But also brown, as petals drop and seeds ripen in the undergrowth.

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Rudbeckia with basil. The goldfinches love ripened seeds from both of these.

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We’re happy to see that the routine continues in our Forest Garden.  Huge bumblies make their way slowly from flower to flower.  Birds peck at the muddy ground.  Clouds of mosquitoes wait for a chance to land and drink on unprotected flesh.  Hummingbirds dart from flower to flower.  But where are the butterflies?  Have they taken shelter, or taken wing?

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Native mist flower, Conoclinium coelestinum

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Even as beautyberries ripen from green to purple, and the mistflower bursts into bloom, we anticipate our garden’s closing extravaganza of beauty.  Summer is passed, and Indian Summer is upon us.  Cooler, wetter, milder; this season is a celebration of the fullness of our garden’s annual growth.  It stretches from mid-September until first frost.  Some might say it is the best part of the year, when acorns drop and leaves turn gold and scarlet against the clear, blue sky.

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Mist flower grows among obedient plant, black-eyed Susans and goldenrod.  All are native to our region.

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Even as we sit and wait out this monstrous storm, we notice the subtle signs of change.  Dogwood berries turn scarlet as next year’s buds emerge behind them.  The first Muscari leaves emerge in pots, and the Italian Arum begin to appear in the shadows.  I’m looking forward to a trip to Gloucester next week to pick up some Cyclamen for our winter garden

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Oakleaf Hydrangea heads persist all summer, mellowing into shades of cream and brown towards fall.

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All things change to their own pace and rhythms.  Flowers bloom, berries ripen, families grow, and leaves turn and fall.  Storms grow and subside.   Sandbar islands move along the coast.  Communities suffer loss and rebuild.  And life grows richer and more beautiful with each passing year.   It is the way of things. 

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Woodland Gnome 2018
*

Fabulous Friday: 

Happiness is contagious;  let’s infect one another.

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Hedychium coronarium, butterfly ginger lily

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“There are times when the world is rearranging itself,
and at times like that,
the right words can change the world.”
.
Orson Scott Card
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The first ever flower blooms on a volunteer seedling Hibiscus.

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“It is change, continuing change, inevitable change,
that is the dominant factor in society today.
No sensible decision can be made any longer
without taking into account not only the world as it is,
but the world as it will be…
This, in turn, means that our statesmen, our businessmen, our everyman
must take on a science fictional way of thinking.”
.
Isaac Asimov
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Fabulous Friday: Gifts from Friends

Obedient Plant, Physotegia virginiana

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In our neighborhood, we celebrate the plants the deer leave alone.  And many of us share with our neighborhood friends when we have the opportunity to dig and divide.  We are so happy to have found something beautiful that will grow un-grazed and un-molested, that we just naturally want to ‘spread the joy.’

I am very fortunate to have a Master Gardener friend who has been tending her acre for many years and has developed many garden rooms of trees, ferns, and perennials.  She gave me a tour of her beautiful garden a few years back, and will share a perennial with me from time to time.  Last spring, 2017, she offered me some divisions of a native commonly called ‘obedient plant.’

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You may know this beautiful perennial as Physotegia virginiana, or false dragonhead.  I think it looks a little like a summer foxglove or snapdragon, don’t you?  It comes in shades of pink, lavendar and white.  I was very happy to receive this special gift, and she brought enough that I could plant quite a few divisions and still share some further with friends.

I was determined to take care of these so they would survive last summer.  And even through the excessive heat and my extended absences from the garden, somehow they pulled through and even gave a few late summer blooms.  And when they reappeared this spring, and I recognized that my few plants had not only taken hold but spread, there was real cause to celebrate.

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Now, what you need to know, if you think you might want a little P. virginiana in your own garden, is that this perennial belongs to the mint family.  That’s a good thing if you want a plant that will quickly grow and fill in a large space.  That maybe isn’t such a good thing if your garden is already pretty full, and you don’t want your precious perennials crowded out by a newcomer.  In its first spring,  my new stand of obedient plant immediately required ‘the discipline of the spade.’  But no worries, that just gave me a few more clumps to share, right?

This plant quickly forms clumps as its rhizomes spread around.  The plants grow fairly tall, in sun or part sun, and can manage with average soil.  They are considered drought tolerant and are much loved by hummingbirds and other pollinators.  They make lovely cut flowers, and help the garden gracefully bridge the transition to fall.

I planted them in several spots to see what they would prefer, and most of those initial clumps are either in bud or bloom.  I am enjoying these elegant flowers as they bloom this year.  They continually remind me how the kindness of others enriches our lives so much.

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Some gardeners recommend planting obedient plant in a large, bottomless pot sunk into the garden to contain the rhizomes.  This advice is often given for members of the mint family, and it may work for you.

I’m a bit more laissez-faire with our Forest Garden, and still feel very grateful to those plants who can make it through the season with their leaves, stems, and roots still intact.  What the deer don’t get around here, the voles often claim.  Please just keep in mind that the moniker ‘obedient’ refers to the flowers, who will hold a curve if you try to shape their stem, but not the roots and rhizomes of this vigorous plant.

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We have enjoyed abundant rain and a short spell of cooler weather this week.  We’ve had some cool, crisp mornings to remind us that September is a breath away.  I’m always a little surprised to feel how much energy we have when the humidity and temps drop towards the end of summer!

We have used these cool mornings in the garden, and have actually done some productive tasks when not chasing butterflies!

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The change of seasons always brings a bit of excitement and fresh energy.  The colors in the garden shift as new perennials come into bloom and some of the trees are beginning to blush with the first hints of fall color.

Our garden turns purple and gold as autumn approaches, and white with clumps of chives popping up in unexpected places.  Even as we prepare to welcome our long Virginia autumn, I’m already ordering bulbs to plant this fall and thinking ahead to spring.  And yes, finding spare clumps of perennials to share with our neighbors and friends.

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Woodland Gnome 2018

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Fabulous Friday:  Happiness is Contagious;
Let’s infect one another!

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Monarch on Zinnia at the Williamsburg Botanical Garden

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“When we least expect it, life sets us a challenge

to test our courage and willingness to change;

at such a moment, there is no point in pretending

that nothing has happened

or in saying that we are not yet ready.

The challenge will not wait.

Life does not look back.

A week is more than enough time

for us to decide whether or not

to accept our destiny.”
.

Paulo Coelho

 

Summer’s Passions

Can you see the raindrops?

“Color is my daylong obsession, joy, and torment.”
.
Claude Monet

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Once again, I agree with Monet.  And I believe it is the intensity of summer’s colors which inflames my gardener’s heart.  How would we ever believe it possible for such vibrant color and intricate detail to emerge from the muddy brown Earth, if we didn’t witness it for ourselves?

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Buddleia davidii blooms against a clump of fennel.

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“I began to realize how important it was to be an enthusiast in life.
He taught me that if you are interested in something,
no matter what it is, go at it at full speed ahead.
Embrace it with both arms, hug it, love it
and above all become passionate about it.
Lukewarm is no good. Hot is no good either.
White hot and passionate is the only thing to be.”
.
Roald Dahl

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I was very, very young when I discovered the wondrous possibilities that can be coaxed into life in a garden.  There was the monstrous climbing rosebush rooted in our neighbor’s yard, yet blooming with delicate, sweetly perfumed shell pink buds in ours.  I would linger by the fence, meditating on this miracle of roses.

A few years later, there was the gift of vibrant Iris magically emerging from tall green stalks and gnarly brown rhizomes we had buried in beds dug specially to receive them the summer before.  I had never smelled such fragrances as those Iris emitted from their red and purple and yellow and pink and white and blue standards and falls, all embroidered in furry golden velvet.

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“Enthusiasm can help you find the new doors,
but it takes passion to open them.
If you have a strong purpose in life, you don’t have to be pushed.
Your passion will drive you there.”
.
Roy T. Bennett

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As soon as my parents taught me the secret of opening the Earth, and planting some small something, and watching it and caring for it and celebrating its growth; I was smitten.  We grew things together, large and small:  Rhubarb and Salvias, coleus and roses; impatiens grown under thick pine tag mulch that grew as large as the azalea hedge behind them.

My mother planted vegetables and my father planted flowers, until his hands shook so much he could barely fit the plug into the prepared pot I set before him.

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Ironweed, blooming at the Williamsburg Botanical Garden this week.

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“It is good to love many things,
for therein lies the true strength,
and whosoever loves much performs much, and can accomplish much,
and what is done in love is well done.”
.
Vincent van Gogh

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And I planted, too.  And what began as a child working alongside a parent, grew into a passion for wildflowers and shrubs, climbing vines and herbs and big bold leaves and every shape and hue of flower.

What magic we can cast with spade and shears and water and Earth.  Birdsong and windsong sing incantations over the garden as it rises up from the soil, animated by the sun!

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Sunflower and bees, WBG

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There is no day so hot, that an impassioned gardener won’t stand out under the sun watering with sprinkler or hose.  There is no back so sore that we won’t find a way to get our precious new plants into the Earth.  There’s no February so cold that we won’t find time to prune and clean up for spring.  There is no summer evening so long and lingering, that we won’t find time for one more twilit walk around the garden.

It is another madness born from love; a passion and obsession beyond reason.  Sweat and mud, stinging insect bites and soreness can’t dim the vividness of our enthusiasm when we are truly smitten.

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Hibiscus syriacus

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“Everyday I discover more and more beautiful things.
It’s enough to drive one mad.
I have such a desire to do everything,
my head is bursting with it.”
.
Claude Monet

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Butterfly garden at the WBG

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How can we not be driven a little mad, when surrounded by the intense colors and perfumes of summer?  Stand in the middle of the garden, and slowly turn around, savoring every vivid leaf and petal.  It is July, and the world is intensely alive.  The buzz of life surrounds us.

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It is passion that keeps us young, and obsession which keeps us energized.  But it is light and color which mesmerize and inspire our spirits.

*
Woodland Gnome 2018

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Artistry of Herbs

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So much of our garden was slack and wilting yesterday evening, before the rain began.  The ground has grown drier each day, available moisture retreating deeper, away from the multitude of thirsty roots.  This time of year devolves into a contest of will between me with my trusty garden hoses, and July’s relentless heat and extended dry spells.

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Bronze fennel glows in the late afternoon paired Verbena bonareinsis and Joe Pye weed.

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Plants react differently to the many challenges that befall them in the course of the year.  Watching how plants respond to stress can guide us in the choices we make in planting.

No one enjoys a garden filled with drooping, brown tipped leaves.  And most of us don’t have the unlimited time or resources to water enough to compensate when the weather turns hot and dry for days or weeks at a time.  That is why it is smart to plant a good percentage of deep rooted, sturdy, drought tolerant plants to stand tall through July and August.

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Loose foliage of Siberian Iris and Crinum lily function like ornamental grasses through summer, setting off other flowering plants nearby.

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Herbs top my list of sturdy, dependable choices for summer structure.  Fennel, lavender, Salvias, dill, thyme, Santolina, rosemary, Germander, Artemesia, and Pelargoniums stand up and look smart with a minimum of supplemental water.  Iris, considered an herb by many, are a part of this dependably sturdy cohort.

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Rose scented Pelargonium

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And, these plants are all beautiful.  Many are fragrant, and some bloom for weeks right through the summer. Their leaves are fleshy and thick, some waxy and prepared to stand up to the relentless Mediterranean sun.  Their subtle colors and designs fascinating.

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Spanish Lavender

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As an added bonus, most can be found for a very small investment each spring.  Many herbs are offered at local big box stores and grocery stores from March through June or early July for just a few dollars a pot.

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Newly planted Rosemary ‘Tuscan Blue’ grows with tough Sedum ‘Angelina.’  This Rosemary can eventually grow into a good sized shrub.

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Perennials generally survive challenging weather better than annuals, anyway, because they have grown deeper, larger roots. Perennial herbs prove some of the most dependable.

They may need more coddling through their first few months, but once established they will hang on until conditions improve.  Like trees and shrubs, their roots can seek out moisture out of reach of many other plants.

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Keep newly planted perennials well watered while their roots grow out into the surrounding soil. Once new growth begins, you know the plants are settling in. The Monarda and Verbena hastata were planted in mid-July, a terrible time for planting!  The Pineapple sage (top right) is now well established and can handle summer weather.

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We are all discovering ways to adapt to the challenges our changing weather patterns bring.  We see all sorts of records broken month after month, and know that more change is likely ahead.

Our gardens can adapt, beautifully, and with tremendous artistry.  We just need to keep an open mind as we plant.  A willingness to experiment with new plants, ones we may not have previously considered for the perennial garden, and different ways of cultivating it opens up all sorts of exciting possibilities.

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Woodland Gnome 2018

*

“In a world of change,

the learners shall inherit the earth,

while the learned shall find themselves

perfectly suited

for a world that no longer exists.”
.

Eric Hoffer

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Experiments With Gravel Mulch

Yucca filamentosa ‘Colorguard’ has appeared from under our newly installed gravel mulch.

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Most of the mulches we use are organic and improve the soil as they decay.  Shredded bark or leaves, pine straw, straw, newsprint or brown paper all have their uses.

When we consider inorganic mulches, there are definite benefits along with some obvious deficits.  Inorganic mulch won’t improve soil texture or fertility.  But neither will it harbor fungal disease, come pre-contaminated with weed seeds, provide a nesting site for ants or decay in just a few months.

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New terraces are planted to help control erosion, and mulched with pea gravel (spring 2017).

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I was first drawn to pea gravel mulch as we began to try to control erosion and cultivate the steep slopes of our back garden.    But I was also digging some gravel into the back-fill and planting hole when we installed new shrubs and perennials, to try to thwart the voles who would otherwise devour their tasty root balls.  Finishing the job with a nice mulch of gravel felt appropriate as a further deterrent to rodents.

Pea gravel definitely helps both with erosion control and rodent control.  But it also ‘disappeared’ into the soil on rainy days, after a while, and got covered with leaf litter and other organic matter over time.  I find myself renewing the pea gravel in spots after a while.

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“Soil security”

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Gravel mulch serves to help conserve soil moisture, just like every other sort of mulch.  It shades the soil, shelters root systems, absorbs the shock of falling rain and holds soil in place.

Additionally, gravel reflects sunlight and heat back up into the plants above it, helping to dry the plants more quickly after a rain and thereby deter fungal disease.  Gravel mulch also provides a dry barrier between moist soil and dry plant, preventing crown rot.

Soil doesn’t splash up onto lower leaves and branches, and the gravel perhaps makes it a little harder for invertebrates to travel up and back between soil and delicious plant above.

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Gravel mulch is used most commonly in rock gardens, where many drought tolerant and alpine plants are featured.  Some plants wouldn’t live long with a moist organic mulch, but manage just fine with gravel mulch that protects their crown.  Gravel is coming into vogue again as a fashionable and useful mulch for perennial gardens, too.  I have been reading about perennial and succulent  gardens grown under several inches of pea gravel in various garden magazines.

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Even a thin gravel mulch has helped conserve moisture around these newly planted perennials.

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I also recently enjoyed listening to a presentation by Joseph Tychonievich at the Williamsburg Botanical Garden where he presented his new book, Rock Gardening:  Reimagining a Classic Style.  Joseph inspired me to move ahead with my vision to incorporate more areas of gravel mulch in our sunny perennial beds in the upper garden.

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I use fine gravel as a mulch in potted arrangements, too.

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This area is gently sloping, and erosion isn’t as much of a pressing concern as in the lower gardens.  The entire area was left under several inches of freshly ground hardwood mulch in 2013, as the arborists who cleaned up our fallen trees ground up leaves and branches and simply left it all in place.

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Fresh compost piled on top of existing mulch allows me to plant in this area in 2013, right after the trees came down, without digging into the clay. A light covering of wood chips from the forest floor mulches the planting .

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As that has decomposed, I’ve renewed the mulch with bagged hardwood and Cypress mulch from the local hardware store.  It smells pleasant, and Cypress helps to repel insects.  It has an ecological downside, though as mature trees are cut for mulch.

The soil in much of this area still consists of thick, hard clay, despite my best efforts to dig in compost and improve its texture.  There may be a few inches of good compost on top of the clay, but the clay still holds heavy rainfall and keeps parts of the garden far too wet, especially in winter.

I am beginning to understand that a gravel mulch will promote better growth and vigor in most of the plants we are trying to establish, particularly the Iris and Mediterranean herbs.

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Recently,  I decided to experiment with a much larger gravel mulch in one of the beds that needed some TLC.  I lost several perennials here over winter, and so had quite a bit of bare ground.

On our shopping trip, my partner noticed this beautiful blue green rock quarried somewhere in Virginia.  We decided on the spot to give it a try, and I am very pleased with the results thus far.  Not only is this gravel not going to shift around on a rainy day, but I don’t believe it will sink down into the soil anytime soon, either.

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This three year old Siberian Iris bloomed for the first time this spring, and I hope the new gravel mulch will help it grow more vigorously in future.

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Now, please keep in mind that gravel is the heaviest mulch you can choose, and moving it around and spreading it takes both strength and commitment.  If I had the luxury of ordering up a truckload of it and hiring a crew to spread it for me, that would be a lovely thing.  But I don’t.

Rather, I’m buying it a couple of bags at a time and spreading it by hand.  It is going to take most of the summer to mulch this whole area working with just a few square feet each week.  But I am already seeing the benefit this mulch brings to our plants.

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This is a single bag of gravel spread around our new Monarda.  It will take a few more bags to finish this area….

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I bought three plugs of Yucca filamentosa ‘Color Guard’ about four years ago, as we were first planting this bed.  I wanted them to make a large focal point to anchor the area and planted them in a broad triangle.  Well, let’s just say that I expected them to grow much faster and they have largely gotten lost between larger and floppier perennials.  In fact, one of the three was struggling so much that I dug it up in late winter and planted it into a pot in full sun, hoping to give it a better chance to grow.

Never mind that I kept digging it up every month or so, checking to see if there was any visible growth, and replanting it again with the confirmation of a fresh root or tiny shoot.  That is a sad tale, and I ended up filling the pot with first one plant, and then another, simply to have something to look at besides the empty pot.  I ticked this off as a failed plant and moved on.

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Maybe if I put a fresh gravel mulch in this pot, the Yucca would finally grow?

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But not so fast!  Something of that Yucca was left alive in the original bed.  And finally, a month after I mulched over the area with the new Virginia gravel, look at what has emerged!  Plants really really want to live, and sometimes we just need to improve conditions for them and get out of the way to give them a chance!

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This newly planted Lavender was struggling with our weather extremes, but has improved under the gravel mulch this month.

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Our friends at our local garden center have a running joke that we always buy gravel or compost, if nothing else, and are their best customers for pea gravel. Gravel has made gardening in this difficult site possible.

If you happen to be in the neighborhood, and want to visit with me and bring a little gift, a fresh bag of gravel is always in style.   I’ll be so happy to see you, will show you around the garden and offer you a few divisions of something nice to take away with you.

And I might even let you help spread the gravel while we’re at it!

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Woodland Gnome 2018

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Fabulous Friday: Rain and Lizards

Hosta in (soggy) bloom

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Our garden is thoroughly watered, I’m happy to share!  And it’s unlikely that any of my gardening friends will be spending chunks of their weekend with a hose in their hand watering after the several inches of rain that we’ve had this week.

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Zantedeschia ‘Memories’

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In fact, the sound of pouring rain roused me well before sunrise this morning.  Downpours have come and gone today, interspersed with glimpses of blue sky and brilliant sunshine.

I appreciate the rain, of course; but am well aware of the flash flooding many have to deal with this week.  It has snarled the local airport with delays as the runway and access roads flooded early this morning.  Local roads flooded out again, and the chocolate milk brown James River is churning very high against its banks.  It is a good day to stay at home!

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Colocasia ‘Coffee Cups’ after this morning’s rain

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Plants hate too much rain, and may perish from their roots up when the soil stays saturated for very long.  I’ve emptied saucers under a few of our pots twice already today, and know I should do the tour and check them all again this evening.

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Artemisia prefers dry conditions. I have potted this one up from its nursery pot into a small ceramic pot just until I can prepare its new place in the garden. 

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All of the small creatures must cope with too much rain, as well.  While there is plenty of fresh water to drink, there is also the small matter of flooding in the nooks and crannies where they generally hide.

We came home mid-day to find our resident lizards enjoying their privacy, sunning themselves on our side porch.  One after another scampered away for cover as we approached.  They know us, and that we bring them no harm.  The boldest held her place on the step making eye contact as I greeted her.  She didn’t scamper into the vines until my shoe touched her step.

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These small lizards are known as skinks.

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Lizards crave warmth and laze about on all of the hardscapes around the house and garden.  Since they gladly eat up insects, spiders, slugs and worms wherever they can find them, I am quite happy to see them hanging around our potted plants.  We have an understanding, as these little guys are quite harmless.  Our cat is in on the bargain and watches them closely, but leaves the lizzies strictly alone.

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It is challenging to plant for the weather and our ever variable ‘climate.’  Those of us who planted drought tolerant perennials, like lavenders, Yucca, and other succulents are watching them try to cope with the saturated soil.  Sometimes herbs will get moldy or turn to mush in our steamy wet spells in summer.

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Spanish lavender wants great drainage and bright sun to thrive.

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That is why it is smart to consider drainage when planting them in the first place.  Plant a bit high, on a bit of a mound, and incorporate sharp sand or small gravel into the surrounding soil to improve drainage.  Mulch with grit, crushed oyster shells or gravel to keep soil and pathogens from splashing up onto their lower leaves in heavy rain.

Sun reflecting off of the gravel mulch will also help dry the plant’s inner foliage more quickly.

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A tiny dragonfly happily hovered around the pots on the patio during a break in the rain this afternoon.

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On the other hand, we have plenty of plants just loving the reliably moist soil.  The Caladiums and Colocasias like even moisture, though even they may rot if the soil stays too wet too long.  When the weather turns dry, these want watering most days to keep them growing happily.

They have a system:  Their large leaves, covered with tiny openings called stomata, allow water transported up from their roots to evaporate into the surrounding air.  So long as their leaves are growing and working in the sunlight, their roots can pump large amounts of water out of the soil and into the air.  Trees do this on an industrial scale!

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Caladium ‘Carolyn Wharton’ and Colocasia ‘Coffee Cups’ both enjoy moist soil.

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The smaller or more protected a plant’s leaves, the less water they will release from soil to atmosphere, and the better they tolerate drought.

It is smart to learn about a plant’s tolerance for wet soil and humidity just as we learn about its needs for sunlight, warmth, PH, and trace minerals in the surrounding soil.  That way, we can give them the conditions they need and keep them growing.

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Succulents with thick, waxy leaves release very little water into the air. They are built for hot, dry conditions and may rot of their soil remains saturated for too long.

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A plant with particular needs, or one that doesn’t thrive in local conditions may still be grown well in a pot.  And of course, pots can be set back under the eaves when the skies open and a downpour comes.

And believe me, our little lizards and toads find lodging in the pots sometimes.  Somehow, it seems to work out pretty well, no matter what strangeness the summer brings.

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“Breathe deep…
The rain falls but a moment,
and in a moment, gives life to another day.”
.
Laurence Overmire

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Woodland Gnome 2018
*
Fabulous Friday:  Happiness is Contagious. 
Let’s infect one another!

*

Caladium ‘Peppermint’ left, and C. ‘Berries and Burgundy’ above and right

Blossom XLI: Tradescantia

Tradescantia, spiderwort

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“Everyday I discover more and more beautiful things.

It’s enough to drive one mad.

I have such a desire to do everything,

my head is bursting with it.”

.

Claude Monet

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“It’s on the strength of observation and reflection

that one finds a way.

So we must dig and delve unceasingly.”

.

Claude Monet

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The Williamsburg Botanical Garden keeps many native plants in its collection. This area is for pollinators.

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“It was such a pleasure to sink one’s hands

into the warm earth, to feel at one’s fingertips

the possibilities of the new season.”

.

Kate Morton

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“The master of the garden is the one who waters it,

trims the branches, plants the seeds, and pulls the weeds.

If you merely stroll through the garden,

you are but an acolyte.”

.

Vera Nazarian

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Photos by Woodland Gnome

all photos from the Williamsburg Botanical Garden
May 2018

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“If you wish to make anything grow, you must understand it,

and understand it in a very real sense.

‘Green fingers’ are a fact,

and a mystery only to the unpracticed.

But green fingers are the extensions

of a verdant heart.”

.

Russell Page

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Season’s Change

Daucus carota, from a grocery store carrot planted this spring, blooms alongside perennial Geranium in our garden.

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We feel the season’s change every time we open the kitchen door and step outside.

The air is soft and thick, perfumed by millions of tiny white flowers opening now on the uncounted Ligustrum shrubs surrounding the garden.  It smells of summer, stirring some nearly forgotten restlessness echoing across the years, from summers long, long passed.

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The sweetness permeates the warm breeze, full of promises and  vague intrigue.  In the early morning, the breeze holds an invitation and a dare, drawing us outside to ‘seize the day.’

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By noon it grows oppressive, rank with humidity and pulsing with summer’s heat.

The air buzzes now.  Bees mind their business, methodically working flower to flower, unless startled into a quick evasive maneuver out of range.

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Asclepias syriaca, common milkweed, blooms along Jones Mill Pond on the Colonial Parkway.

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But mayflies and mosquitoes buzz in as close as they dare, waiting for a flash of skin to light and drink, waiting for a moment of distraction to attack.

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Birds call out to one another, chirping at the cat napping on the deck, warning intruders off from nests.  Ever vigilant, ever hungry; the swoosh of restless wings cuts the thick air, in pursuit of another bite of summer’s bounty.

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Our garden explodes in growth.  Warm, humid nights coax even the most reluctant perennials to pulse into life.

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Verbena bonariensis stretches towards the sky even as it spreads across the garden.

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Responding to the season’s magic, stalks rise and leaves open to the cadence of  croaked and clicked incantations wafting on the evening air.

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The air is thick with leaves, trees now fully clothed make living green walls and ceilings around our garden’s rooms.  Bamboo arises, thick and green, sealing us in from the wildness of the ravine.

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Flowers appear in every shade of purple and gold, white and ruby.  They sparkle through the sea of green, enchanting in their transience.

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Wildflowers nod along the bank of Jones Millpond on the Colonial Parkway in York County.

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Spring’s flowers have come and gone.  The last few foxglove, beaten down by the rain, limply bloom at the ends of stalks swelling with seed.

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A few Iris pods swell, too; overlooked in my pruning.  Daffodil leaves have grown limp, yellowing and fading to make room for something new to arise.

Summer’s flowers replace them, filled with nectar and bursting with pollen, a magnet for every sort and  size of pollinator.

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We feel the season’s change every time we step outside the haven of air conditioning and window screens.  When we dare leave the shade in the afternoon, a fierce sun burns down upon us.

We want the smaller shades offered by hats and sleeves; the relative safety of socks and gloves and thick jeans protecting us from ‘the bities’.

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Colonial Parkway, near Jamestown, where wild prickly-pear cactus bloom in summer.

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As the days grow longer and the nights warmer, we feel ourselves drawn to the top of the year.

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Mid-summer beckons, only days away.  Nature calls us to come out and join our own human voices in the buzzing, clicking, croaking, swooshing, chorus of life.

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This is the time of sweetness and abundance, full of promises, eternally youthful and energetic.

Summer at last.

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Woodland Gnome 2018

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Fabulous Friday: Summer Rain

Colocasia ‘Black Coral’ glows after a rain shower.

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As the early summer rain continues to fall in fits, drizzles and passing storms, I am enjoying a rare quiet day at home, chased inside from any major gardening tasks by the weather.  The forays outside have been brief thus far today, and usually ended with me left feeling soggy from the humidity or a sudden shower.

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Ferns and hardy Begonias enjoy our damp weather.

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I woke this morning concerned about all of the little plants in their nursery pots, still waiting to be planted out.  I thought of how soggy their roots must be and rushed outside to move them as needed and empty standing water that had collected overnight.

Soggy roots can mean sudden death for many plants that need a bit of air in their soil.  That set me to puttering about with pots and baskets and a few strategic transplanting jobs.

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Rose scented Pelargonium likes room for its roots to breathe.

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I am especially concerned for the Caladiums still growing on in their bins.  It is one of those tasks that gets more difficult the longer one procrastinates.  While I wait for the new ones, ordered this spring to emerge, the ones grown from over-wintered bulbs have gotten huge and leggy; their roots entangled.  But the wet soil and frequent showers give me reason to wait another day for more transplanting.

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What won’t wait is our annual dance with the bamboo grove in the ravine.  Bamboo is considered a grass, but what a stubborn and determined force of nature it as proven to be in our garden!  Though we didn’t plant it, we admire it and appreciate its beauty.

But that beauty is expected to stay within reasonable bounds.  The bamboo disagrees, determinedly marching up the slope of our garden towards the house.  It sends out small scouting sprouts ahead of its main force.  We must stay on top of these year round, as they seek to colonize every bed and pathway.  The bamboo’s main assault begins in late April, as its new stalks emerge.

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We allow a certain number of these to grow each spring, and it seems that we give up another few feet of garden to the ‘bamboo forest’ with each passing year.  What would happen if we were away in May?  Could we find the house when we returned?

Every day we seek out and remove the new bamboo stalks growing in spots we cannot allow.  The squirrels appreciate our efforts, and feast on the broken shoots we leave for them.

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And so it was that we were out early this morning, me with the pots and saucers, and attacking the new bamboo that emerged over night.  This constant stream of moisture has encouraged its audacity.

As we made another tour of the garden during a break in the rain this afternoon, my partner called me over to see one of our garden visitors.

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She was hiding under a very large sage plant.  At least I hope she was hiding, and had not dug a nest to lay her eggs.

The turtles like our garden.  We find them resting in the greenness of forgotten places, and try to always give them their peace.  They repay us by eating their share of bugs each day.

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But just as I settled in to re-plant another pot or two with Caladiums, the brief sunshine was blotted out by another passing, rain soaked cloud.  Large cold drops of rain splattered down much quicker than I expected, leaving me all wet once again.

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And so there is nothing to do but enjoy the luxury of a rainy afternoon indoors.  The coffee is made, and I’ll soon be off to enjoy a good book with the cat curled up by my feet.

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Woodland Gnome 2018

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Fabulous Friday:  Happiness is contagious; let’s infect one another!

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