Green Thumb Tip #12: Grow More Of That

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What grows well in your garden?  Well, grow more of that.

There are hundreds of thousands of different plants available for the inspired gardener to seek out and grow.  You can choose everything from lilies to Aloe, boxwood to basil, Magnolia to daffodils.  There are uncounted genus and species and cultivars of every imaginable plant, in abundance.  How to choose?

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Tri-color sage, a culinary herb, can take heat and dry soil.

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I enjoy experimenting with plants.  I bring home many flats of this and that, some planned purchases and some adopted on a whim.  And yet as I walk around, hose in hand, during this July heatwave in coastal Virginia; I’m brought up short by which plants in our garden struggle and which thrive.

Let it be said that my beloved roses struggle at the moment.

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Through the vagaries of climate change, they never had a good start this year; and I’ve been too busy with other matters to give them the attention they require.

In fact, my instinct this morning was to rip out of most of the pathetic little shrubs and be done with them.  Perhaps heavy pruning and heavy rain could bring them back to beauty.

I might whistle a different tune by October.  But in this moment, they aren’t earning their garden space.

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Trailing purple Lantana fills several of our hanging baskets this year. It can take heat and drought and still give consistent color.

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Even the geraniums look rather ratty this week.  In fact, as I look around and survey recent purchases, it is clear that some have clearly not lived up to their potential here.

Most of our perennial geraniums were heavily grazed by our resident rabbits.  They’re supposed to be fool-proof, aren’t they?  The annual geraniums struggle in their pots against the unrelenting summer sun and oppressive heat.

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Last year’s potted Hydrangeas, nipped by late frosts, never took off in early summer.  Add a few grazing deer and…. well, you can imagine the nubs without a photo, can’t you?

But on the other hand, the Caladiums, Cannas and Colocasias look great.  The Basil is taking off, and our sage, Thyme, Santolina, Germander, mint and Rosemary still look fresh and strong.  The Crepe Myrtle trees are beginning to bloom and our garden remains filled with bright Hibiscus blossoms.

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Echinacea can hold its own in July, attracts wildlife, and holds its color for several weeks.  It grows easily from seed, and may self-sow.

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It came clear to me earlier today, as I was watering our new shade bed, that while the ferns looked fresh and healthy, most of our newest Rhododendrons, right beside them, look terrible.

I’ll be very surprised if any of them survive.  I was calculating the dollars I spent on them and remembering my great confidence in their coming years of beauty….

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The first Rhododendron we planted this spring to stabilize a gorge caused by erosion over a vole tunnel. It doesn’t look this perky anymore….

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Let’s acknowledge, first of all, that we are in the midst of rapid climate change.  What ‘always worked’ before has become irrelevant in this year’s garden.  Every month is a record breaker as our climate warms.  Neighboring communities flood while our garden bakes and the soil hardens.

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Mahonia is one tough shrub. It looks great year round, blooms in winter, produces berries for wildlife, and require very little from its gardener.

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Weather aside, we all still face our own particular challenges based on our soil and where our garden is situated.  We deal with a virtual zoo of insects, rodents, and other creatures who dine in our garden.  Like generations of gardeners before us, we can either adapt or stop trying to garden.

I vote, ‘adapt.’ 

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Ajuga and creeping Jenny make a dependable ground cover throughout the year.

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Adapting means adjusting to what is rather than working harder to create some fantasy of what used to be so.  For us, that means finding better ways to care for our plants.  And it also means growing more of the tough plants that thrive in the conditions we can provide.

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This native perennial ageratum spreads itself around the garden. I used to ‘weed it out’ in spring, but have grown to appreciate its tough beauty.

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Mid-July is a good time to take a hard, honest look at one’s own garden.  What looks good?  What has already died this season?  Which plants are barely hanging on?

Whatever is doing well, then plant more of that!

We have a few self-seeding perennials we have learned to enjoy.  Black eyed Susans, Rudbeckia hirta, is a beautiful native perennial that conquers more of our garden real estate each season.  I allow them, while also digging up lots of spring seedlings to share with neighbors.

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This is our largest patch of black eyed Susans, bordered with a few Zantedeschia and other perennials..

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Another self-seeding native perennial, Conoclinium coelestinum, is a hardy Ageratum or mist flower.  While I used to buy flats of annual Ageratum in years passed, now I just allow the native form to grow undisturbed. Echinacea and Monarda return and spread each summer.

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I also allow our hardy Colocasia, Hibiscus and Canna to spread a little more each year; and invest part of our spring gardening budget in hardy ferns instead of flats of tender annuals which won’t make it through the hottest part of summer.

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Begonias hold up well in heat and humidity, so long as they have shade from the mid-day sun and consistently moist soil.

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Gone are my hanging baskets once filled with Petunias and ivy geraniums.  Instead, I planted some trailing Lantana, ivy and scented Pelargoniums that can take intense heat and dry soil.  Because Begonias hold up to our heat and humidity, if sheltered in some shade, I keep rooting cuttings and planting more of those, too.

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This ‘volunteer’ Crepe Myrtle tree is taking its place in the border. After several years of TLC, it has grown to about 10′ tall and is covered in blooms this July.

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Planting more of what has proven successful, instead of planting once loved plants which no longer thrive, gives us a fuller and more vibrant garden.  The butterflies and hummingbirds still visit.  Goldfinches appear once the Basil begins to go to seed, and hang around for the autumn ripening Rudbeckia and Hibiscus  seeds.

And, for the budget conscious, propagating more of those plants which grow well sure beats sowing or buying a lot of new plants each year, which might fail!

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Rose of Sharon, tree Hibiscus, attracts hummingbirds and butterflies. Dozens of seedlings pop up in unexpected spots in the garden each spring.

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Each passing season in this garden teaches me to ‘allow’ more and plant less.  Native and naturalized plants are winning out over showy annuals or the latest new perennial.

I’ve come to see that the garden hones the gardener, just as much as the gardener shapes the garden.  Struggle melts into harmony, and work becomes play.

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Phytolacca americana, common poke weed, fills a corner of our garden with spectacular berries during these ‘Dog Days’ of summer.

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Woodland Gnome 2017

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“Green Thumb” Tips: 

Many visitors to Forest Garden are amazing gardeners with years of experience to share.  Others are just getting started, and are looking for a few ‘tips and tricks’ to help grow the garden of their dreams.

I believe the only difference between a “Green Thumb” and a “Brown Thumb” is a little bit of know-how and a lot of passion for our plants.

If you feel inclined to share a little bit of what YOU KNOW from your years of gardening experience, please create a new post titled: Green Thumb” Tip: (topic) and include a link back to this page.  I will update this page with a clear link back to your post in a listing by topic, so others can find your post, and will include the link in all future “Green Thumb” Tip posts.

Let’s work together to build an online resource of helpful tips for all of those who are passionate about plants, and who would like to learn more about how to grow them well.

‘Green Thumb’ Tip #1:  Pinch!

‘Green Thumb’ Tip #2:  Feed!

‘Green Thumb’ Tip #3 Deadhead!

‘Green Thumb’ Tip #4 Get the Light Right!

‘Green Thumb’ Tip #5: Keep Planting!

‘Green Thumb’ Tip #6: Size Matters!

‘Green Thumb’ Tip # 7:  Experiment!

‘Green Thumb’ Tip #8  Observe

‘Green Thumb’ Tip #9 Plan Ahead

Green Thumb Tip # 10 Understand the Rhythm

Green Thumb Tip # 11:  The Perennial Philosophy

‘Green Thumb’ Tip:  Release Those Pot-Bound Roots! from Peggy, of Oak Trees Studios

 

 

Shade Haven

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As June fades towards July, we appreciate every speck of shade our garden offers.  Summer days in Virginia routinely heat up to over 90F.  And it’s a moist heat, here near the coast.  Some days we have nearly 100% humidity.

When I was growing up in Virginia, we somehow survived it, often without any air conditioning.  The first few schools where I taught didn’t have air conditioning, either.  Maybe that is why I love the shade and know the value of a cool breeze on a summer day.

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Japanese painted fern’s silvery fronds make it especially cooling on a sultry summer day.

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The lowest slope at the back of our garden enjoys a lot of shade.  It is steep, and erosion remains a concern.  This is one of the first areas where we began planting ferns in our first year of tending this garden.  A dense stand of bamboo grows just beyond, where our garden falls off into the ravine.

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Ferns emerging on our sloped fern garden in early April

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I add a few more ferns and shade-loving plants to this area each year.  I began a new planting bed around the stump of a newly fallen tree, at the base of the slope, several years ago.  It began with a transplanted Hellebore seedling and some  little autumn ferns, planted into a mound of compost poured in and around the stump.  Well, they  survived into the next year, and so I made the circle of compost a little wider and added a few more plants.

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Autumn Brilliance ferns planted are  in Leaf Grow Soil conditioner packed around a small stump, for the beginnings of a new garden in the shade.   June 2013

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I’ve added a few more plants each year, including some Sauromatum venosum, or  Voodoo Lily tubers, in 2015.

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I thought I might have ruined this ‘Voodoo Lily’ tuber when my spade hit it early this spring. Rather, it is better. Instead of one or two stems, it has sent up many, producing a much better plant.  July 2016

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We finally decided this spring to extend this whole area and give it a proper border.  This was very early on when I was studying rain gardens, and thinking about places on our property where we needed to do more to catch and use run-off from storms.

This shady slope has fairly good soil, but is ridden with roots.  So I simply outlined the new dimensions of the bed, laid an outline of landscaping bricks, and set to work eliminating the existing  weedy growth.

Some of the weeds, near existing perennials, needed pulling.  Some areas where moss was well established, I wanted to simply leave alone.  But much of the new garden could be covered with brown paper grocery bags, and topped off with a few inches of compost.  This is the best method I’ve found for creating new planting beds in this garden.

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I chose a selection of ferns and shade loving perennials to harmonize with the ferns, Hellebores, and voodoo lily already growing here.  Although I’ve planted mostly hardy ferns, there are a few more tender ferns that I potted up last fall, and returned to this bed after danger of frost.  Others are planted into containers and  displayed in this area.

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Bamboo leaves drift down on every breeze.  I clear them, occasionally, off of the larger plants in this bed.  One day, when I’ve nothing else to do, I plan to grab our leaf blower and blow all of the bamboo leaves away from the garden and back towards the ravine.  I’m sure the moss establishing here would be better for it, and so would my character.  How I admire fastidious gardeners!  Perhaps one day I’ll join their ranks….

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Ken Druse has written a delightful book entirely about gardening in shade.

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His The New Shade Garden is one of those beautiful books I lusted after for more than a year, before I finally ordered it this past winter.  The luscious photos and useful information and encouragement on every page left me wondering why I waited so long to read it.  This book is a treasure, and I highly recommend it to you if you share my affinity for finding cool haven in the shade.  You’ll find whole chapters devoted to shade loving trees, shrubs, perennials and ferns; along with useful lists and recommendations for plants for particular situations.

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All we need now, to complete this beautiful shade haven in our back garden, is a little patio and a place to sit.  That may still be a few years off, though.  Somehow I’m always more interested in plants than hardscape, and rarely find time to just sit in the garden.

There is always more to do…. something waiting for me to plant….

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Woodland Gnome 2017

Summer Garden: Shifting Focus

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“The beauty of that June day was almost staggering.

After the wet spring, everything that could turn green

had outdone itself in greenness

and everything that could even dream of blooming

or blossoming was in bloom and blossom.

The sunlight was a benediction.”

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Dan Simmons

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Allium

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“And so with the sunshine

and the great bursts of leaves growing on the trees,

just as things grow in fast movies,

I had that familiar conviction

that life was beginning over again

with the summer.”

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F. Scott Fitzgerald

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“There’s this magical sense of possibility

that stretches like a bridge

between June and August.

A sense that anything can happen.”

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Aimee Friedman

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Carrot flower and Coreopsis

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Photos by Woodland Gnome 2017

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Clematis

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“A flower blossoms for its own joy.”

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Oscar Wilde

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For the Daily Post’s

Weekly Photo Challenge:  Focus

What to Grow For A Rainy Day?

Colocasia ‘Pink China’

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Have you ever found a list of plants to grow for a rainy day?  Surely there must be such a catalog, somewhere.  There are lists of plants for sun and shade, lists for arid gardens, for rock gardens and for water gardens.  There are lists of plants for attracting butterflies and for repelling deer.  Why not a list of rainy day plants, too?

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Colocasia ‘Tea Cups’

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Their leaves must be thick and waxy; their stems strong enough to take a pounding.  And, of course, they should hold raindrops and show them off like fine jewels.

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Oakleaf Hydrangea

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Rainy day plants need a bit of glow about them.  They should sparkle and shine on the dullest of days.

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Colocasia ‘Tea Cups’

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And they can’t ever turn to a soggy mush when rainy days stretch into rainy weeks.  We are blessed with our share of rainy days in coastal Virginia.

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Caladium

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Some predict that climate change will bring us ever more rain, as warmer air absorbs and carries more moisture from the sea.   That has proven true these past few years, as coastal storms have brought us inches at a time.

Our soil holds it, too, like a soggy sponge.  And we need plants whose roots can luxuriate in this wet abundance.

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Muscadine grapes

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And mostly, we gardeners need some beautiful thing to admire on wet days.  Don’t you agree?

It’s good to walk out into one’s soggy garden and find it all looking fine.   To discover new layers of beauty when a plant is raindrop-clad brings us a little extra happiness.

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Daucus carota, a carrot flower

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Let’s make our own list of Rainy Day Plants.  Let’s consider what stands up well in our extreme summer weather, whatever that might be in our own garden.

For us it’s heat, humidity and rain.  Perhaps your own conditions are a bit different.  Do you have wind?  Drought?  Hail storms?  Floods?

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Crepe Myrtle

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Let’s be open to change.  Let’s plant our gardens to succeed in our current circumstance, whatever that might be.

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We can move beyond that tired old list of what we’ve always done before, and make new choices.

Let’s fill our gardens with beauty and abundance, no matter which way the wind blows, and no matter how many rainy days come our way.

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rose scented geranium, Pelargonium

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Woodland Gnome 2017
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“Live in moments that consume your heart and mind,

but be distracted by the music from the leaves,

birds, wind, rain, sun and people”

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Val Uchendu

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StrawberryBegonia

 

 

WPC: Reflecting

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On the grayest, soggiest day, what little light seeps through the heavy sky catches in jeweled raindrops.  Wet cabochons shimmer for a moment, before sliding and colliding into dripping puddles of reflected light.

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Oxalis regnellii ‘triangularis’

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Who would expect such exquisite beauty to come with the rain?  Light finds its way into the gloom, and multiplies itself in countless reflections.

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Heuchera ‘Melting Fire’

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This beautiful light surrounds us.  We only need to notice it, for it to penetrate our own hearts and minds, and then reflect again into the multiverse.

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Pelargonium

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Photos by Woodland Gnome 2017

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“The Sun will rise and set regardless.

What we choose to do with the light while it’s here

is up to us.

Journey wisely.”
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Alexandra Elle

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Geranium

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For the Daily Post’s

Weekly Photo Challenge:  Reflecting

Fabulous Friday: Lushness

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It is simply fabulous to notice winter’s bare vines and stems suddenly cloaked in soft new leaves.  Emerging leaves look soft and moist; their colors nearly translucent.

These grapevines cover the rails of our porch, and a Clematis grows entwined with them.   Soft and pliable now, these new green vines will harden by summer’s end.

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Even as much of the country still measures their snow in feet, spring melts into summer here in coastal Virginia.  It is fabulously lush and lovely here on this last Friday of April. 

If spring has not yet found your garden, I trust its lush beauty will soon touch you, too.

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Peony with emerging Monarda and rose leaves

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Photos by Woodland Gnome 2017
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I’ve  set an intention to find some wonderful, beautiful, and happiness inducing thing to photograph each Friday.   If you’re moved to find something Fabulous to share on Fridays as well, please tag your post “Fabulous Friday” and link your post back to mine. 

Happiness is contagious!  Let’s infect one another!

 

“Why Does It Always Rain On The Iris?” and Other Gardening Conundrums

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Our Iris are in full, glorious bloom, and its raining…

Ironic, that just as soon as these gorgeous blooms open, they are inundated.  Petals turn to mush; stems fall over under their waterlogged weight.

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Same with the roses, if you must know.  The first gorgeous buds began to open on Saturday morning.  The rains started on Saturday, too, with more on the way.

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Now, I am always grateful for rain, please don’t misunderstand.  It is much easier to garden in rain than drought.  But I can’t help but noticing these beautiful flowers, with such a short period of bloom, blooming in the rain.

How many of us gardeners plan with the ‘worst case’ scenario in mind?  Very few, I’d bet.

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Gardeners must be optimists.  Otherwise, we’d be living in rented flats in a tall building somewhere, enjoying the local parks instead of puttering in our own unruly gardens.  We tend to expect the best and overlook the rest.

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Our stump garden has finally taken off from bare mulch, four summers ago.

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But real life is full of quirks and challenge.  We must make long range plans and then hope that we get to enjoy them.  Like the Iris, which take nearly a full year, or more, from when you plant their rhizome until they bloom.  We just plant them with a sprinkling of faith that eventually we’ll enjoy a few days of their delicious flowers.

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I have a packet of ‘Ten Free Flowering Trees’ from Arbor Day which arrived in Friday’s mail.  They arrived late in the day, while I was finishing up other projects, with no energy left to plant them.

They are still lying there in the garage, waiting for me.  We may still get a break in the rain, at least enough to get some of them in the ground today, I hope.  We have room for only a few.  The rest I hope to give to friends.

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Our front garden, yesterday in the rain, filled with blooming Mountain Laurel.

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It takes faith to plant a rooted twig, only a foot high, and envision the tree which will eventually manifest.  If one stops to consider the many things which may happen along the way, one might never even consider planting a tree of one’s own.

Two Live Oaks I planted last spring ended up broken off by something over the winter.  A very hungry deer, maybe?  (I gathered up the broken tops, and thrust them into pots hoping they might root.)

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A new Live Oak ended the summer at around 15″ tall, but was broken over the winter. It has begun growing again this spring.

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But consider our wild Scarlet Buck-Eye, Aesculus pavia.  This lovely tree began life as a volunteer seedling, before it was crushed by fallen oak trees four summers ago.  It was broken to a 4″ stump, and we could only hope it would recover.

I think that its strong roots helped it come back so quickly.  What you see is four years of growth, and its best bloom yet.  A gift of nature, it draws every eye in our garden this week.

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Scarlet Buckeye, also called ‘Firecracker Tree’ grows wild in our garden.

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A gardener learns to suspend judgement after a while.  Calling a happening ‘good’ or ‘bad’ proves one short-sighted, all too often.  Better to keep an open mind, and find ways to work with events as they arise.

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But that still doesn’t explain why this rogue, self-planted ‘Firecracker Tree’ looks stupendous today, even in the pouring rain, while our expensive and carefully tended Iris are melting before our eyes.

Maybe all of those purists who urge us to plant more native plants have a point, when you look at things dispassionately.  Did I mention that hummingbirds love those gorgeous red flowers?  Should any find our garden, their buffet lies waiting for them…..

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A gardener’s life comes filled with conundrums.  So many choices, so little time…. And yet, we get a fresh go at it with each passing season.

I’ve come to look at life in our garden as some sort of ongoing science experiment.  We try this, we try that.  When something succeeds, that is very gratifying.  When something fails, we have learned something new.

I’ll try it differently next time.

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And does that mean I’m going to rip out the Iris and plant something else; something that will stand up to our rainy springs?  Not a chance.

I’ll just grab my jacket and a hat and enjoy our garden in the pouring rain, and perhaps even find spots to add a few more Iris ….

Virginia Historic Garden Week April 22-29

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Photos by Woodland Gnome 2017

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“When you find your path, you must not be afraid.

You need to have sufficient courage to make mistakes.

Disappointment, defeat, and despair

are the tools God uses to show us the way.”

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Paulo Coelho

Sunday Dinner: Water Is Life

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“Brushing the clouds away from my eyes,

I see clarity in the raindrop

and beauty in the first ray of morning sun… 

Life is strange and wondrous…”

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Virginia Alison

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“On the fifth day, which was a Sunday,

it rained very hard.

I like it when it rains hard.

It sounds like white noise everywhere,

which is like silence but not empty.”

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Mark Haddon

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“The sky mingled with the Earth infinitely

in the tenderness of rain drops.”

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Meeta Ahluwalia

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“Sometimes enlightenment descends upon you

when you least expect it…”

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Dean Koontz

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Photos by Woodland Gnome 2017

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“Mist to mist, drops to drops.

For water thou art,

and unto water shalt thou return.”

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Kamand Kojouri

Fabulous Friday: Virginia In Bloom

Narcissus ‘Art Design’

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Springtime in Virginia is simply fabulous.  So fabulous, that garden clubs all over the Commonwealth open public and private gardens to celebrate Historic Garden Week while our dogwoods, azaleas, daffodils, tulips and redbuds burst into bloom.

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Newly opened leaves blur in a haze of color around the crowns of tall trees and the stately boxwood, a fixture in so many historic and public gardens, glow with new, green growth.  It is a sight worth celebrating.

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Our garden on Wednesday morning

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We are celebrating April in our own Forest Garden as dogwoods and azaleas bloom and the landscape wakes up for the new season.  Our Iris have produced scapes covered with buds, seemingly overnight.  Leaves emerge from bare branches.   Perennials keep breaking ground with new growth, reminding us that they, too, survived the winter.

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Brunnera

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Historic Garden Week traditionally falls the week after Easter, here in Virginia.  With a late Easter this year, Garden Week gets an  especially late start.  Combined with an early spring, gardening friends and I have been wondering what may still be in bloom by then to entice visitors.  Surely there will still be Iris, and probably Rhododendron.  But tulips, dogwoods and azaleas are coming into their prime, at least in coastal Virginia, right now.

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Tulips and daffodils blooming in a public garden in Gloucester Courthouse for their Daffodil Festival last weekend.

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One of the strangest sights to celebrate this Fabulous Friday is our blooming rhubarb, Rheum rhabarbarum.  Rhubarb is best known as a tasty filling in spring in pies.  Its long petioles are stewed with sugar and spices to make a tart seasonal treat.  But I’ve noticed Rheum used as an ornamental, especially in Pacific Northwest gardens.  I decided to give it a try in our garden, especially since its poisonous leaves leave it impervious to grazing.

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Rhubarb in bloom

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This is the second year for this plant, which I grew in a pot last summer and planted into the garden in September.  I’ve enjoyed watching its progress, but was amazed to see flower buds emerge a few weeks ago.  I’ve never before watched rhubarb bloom, and thought you might enjoy its unusual flowers, too.

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We are still enjoying daffodils as the late season varieties continue to open.  These hybrids all carry interesting names, and I keep my Brent and Becky’s Bulbs catalog handy to look them up and try to remember them.  Handily, we received the new fall catalog in the mail last week, so we can begin penciling in a fall order, while this year’s crop still fills the garden.

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Every tree and shrub in our garden dances in the wind as a cold front blows through today.  Often, a particularly strong gust carries flower petals as it blows spring flowers from the greening trees.  We expect temperatures back into the 30s tonight, and a much cooler day tomorrow.

We find ourselves ‘dancing’ back and forth, too, as we move pots and baskets in and out of the garage with the fluctuating weather.  We keep telling ourselves it’s good exercise, but I will be quite happy when we can finally leave everything out in its summer spot.

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Aralia spinosa, a native volunteer in our garden, looks rather tropical as its first leaves emerge this week.

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But even if we weren’t carrying our pots back and forth, we would still find excuses to head back out into the garden.  We eavesdrop on avian conversations as they happily build their nests and find their mates.  They are as energized as we feel with the warmth of spring and the fresh opportunities it brings.

We watched lizards skitter across our back porch for the first time on Wednesday, a sure sign of the garden’s awakening.  Butterflies dance with one another in mid-air before floating off for another sip of nectar.  It is good to live in Virginia in the springtime, when it seems the whole world is in bloom.

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Woodland Gnome 2017

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I’ve  set an intention to find some wonderful, beautiful, and happiness inducing thing to photograph each Friday.   If you’re moved to find something Fabulous to share on Fridays as well, please tag your post “Fabulous Friday” and link your post back to mine. 

Happiness is contagious!  Let’s infect one another!

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Dogwood, our state flower

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Soil Security

Saxifraga stolonifera, Strawberry Begonia

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Gardens offer endless surprises and seemingly endless challenges.  One hopes to discover most of the challenges in the first year or two.  Better to address them right off and be done with it, right?  But that’s not how this business works…. things change….

Ours is a very steep property.  Our bit of James City County spreads across ridges and ravines.  We happen to live and garden on the slope of a ravine.  Water drains down across the yard to a creek running through the ravine, which flows to a pond and then out to College Creek.   Managing all of that water during a heavy rain remains a challenge for us.

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This area suffers serious erosion in heavy rain, and is frequented by voles.  It is hard to get anything much to grow here.  We have just added the stones to offer some protection and planted a dozen seedling Hellebores to help hold the bank.

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Our county’s division of  storm water management staff advise:  “Plant more plants!”  I take that advice to heart, regularly, and have struck up a working relationship with one of the staffers.  They work with the local Master Gardeners to help homeowners design rain gardens to catch some of the run-off after a heavy rain, and offer grants for those who install them.

I like that proactive, cooperative approach.  This spring, I’ve done a bit of reading about how to construct a rain garden.  And one of the first things I realized is that steeply sloping land isn’t a very good place to site one, unless you are prepared for a major project of earth moving and engineering to construct a berm on the down slope side.

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This was our steep, eroding slope before our work began this spring.

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As I thought about rain gardens, and walked our property looking for a place to catch run off and use it in a new planting bed, my partner pointed out a new erosion problem on the very shaded and inaccessible slope beside and below our driveway.

This is an area we’ve largely neglected over the years.  Towering, mature Ligustrum shrubs cast deep shade across this slope.  Their leaves drop here year round, and the ground has been covered in a tangle of Vinca vines and wild growth.  Where there is bare earth, it has been covered with fallen leaves. I planted  some Mahonia and Hydrangea in this area when we first took over the garden, and they have expanded, but never bloomed.

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Daffodils have replaced Caladiums here at the base of our driveway, where a great deal of water runs off when it rains.  An Autumn fern has thrived here for five years or more, and I decided to expand the planting last summer.

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But last summer, I began clearing some of this strip, nearer to the drive, and planted it in Caladiums, Zantedeschia, Ajuga, Oxalis, some transplanted Liriope and a few ferns.  We enjoyed it enough that when we dug the Caladiums in October I planted Daffodils and Arum in their place.

Below this planted area, we noticed a new area of erosion a few weeks ago.  Storm water had found its way into a vole tunnel, and a whole piece of the bank had collapsed.  There was a gorge, partially filled with leaves and other debris.  Finding that bit of erosion sealed the deal that we would invest our time, energy, and gardening dollars in fixing this neglected, and now crumbling, bit of the garden.

Too steep for a single ‘rain garden,’ we decided to create several terraces to catch and slow the flow of water down the slope, directing the run-off from one planted area to another.  We found several Rhododendron shrubs to anchor each terrace, and planted the first right into that nasty gorge to stabilize it.  We found some sturdy trapezoidal concrete blocks for building the terraces.  They fit together snugly to make a secure wall.  We installed the first ones below that Rhododendron to hold it in place.

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The first Rhododendron we planted to stabilize a gorge caused by erosion over a vole tunnel. We planted in the hole and stabilized the area with two concrete blocks.

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We trimmed up the lowest Ligustrum branches to let in light and make the area more accessible and raked back the leaves and debris.  Then, we studied the area for several days to decide where to place our blocks to form natural terraces.

After building the terraces, and planting three more of the shrubs, I began filling each terrace with plants.   I selected a variety of perennials which will thrive in shade, tolerate a lot of moisture, hold and cover the soil by spreading, put down extensive root systems, and stop voles with their poisonous roots. Oh, and did I mention they also must repel deer?

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The terraces before today’s torrential rain.

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Remember our mantra:  “Plant more plants!”  It was going to take a lot of plants to fill these spaces.  Luckily, we have a pretty steady supply now of a few perennials which fill these criteria.  They are ours to dig, divide, and transplant as needed.

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Divisions of Strawberry Begonia transplanted from another part of our garden. Each division will send out numerous stems, with a tiny plant growing at the tip of each.  They will form a thick mat over time. 

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I was able to transplant Hellebore seedlings, Ajuga and Saxifraga stolonifera in nearly unlimited quantities from other parts of the garden.  The Hellebores have  poisonous roots, and so I planted them around each of the Rhododendrons to protect their roots from curious voles.  I also planted them below the lowest row of blocks to form an additional vegetative barrier for any run-off.

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This Rhododendron is ringed with seedling Hellebores.

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I purchased holly ferns, Japanese painted ferns and Autumn Brilliance fern.  Although the Japanese painted ferns aren’t evergreen, they spread wonderfully and give about 7 months of presence here.  I also purchased some little 2″ Columbine and Heuchera and a couple of quart sized Tiarella .

I prefer to buy the smallest pots of perennials I can find to  minimize the size of the holes we must dig.  Living on a slope, we dig as little as possible.

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Tiarella is a shade loving native perennial which runs and spreads over time. It blooms each spring, feeding hungry pollinators early in the season. It resembles Heuchera, but proves more deer resistant.

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Heuchera is the only perennial in our palette for this new bed which may be grazed from time to time.  I am willing to take the chance for its beautiful foliage.  The rest of these plants have already proven themselves in our garden and I have confidence in using them here.  They are tough and thrive in our climate and soil.

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Heuchera ‘Melting Fire’ and Athyrium niponicum ‘Pictum’ anchor the end of this terrace. I will add Caladiums next month when the weather is settled.

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And this was surprisingly good soil!  While we have clay in other parts of the garden, this was good, rich dirt.  Although I had stocked up on compost, I was able to build these beds without adding a great deal.

The key to planting on sloping ground is a good gravel mulch.  We’ve learned over the years to minimize digging, top dress and even out the ground with compost, and then mulch heavily with gravel. Finally, we pack this all down firmly with hands and feet.

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Columbine and Tiarella anchor this terrace. Two tiny lady ferns, grown from bare root starts, will one day flourish in this moist bed.

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We discovered that the first gardener on this property often used a large stone or hunk of concrete or brick to anchor shrubs he planted on slopes.  I’ve followed his lead and often anchor a newly planted shrub or perennial with something heavy to hold it in place until it establishes.

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Dryopteris erythrosora ‘Brilliance’ will eventually grow to three feet. This evergreen fern has interesting spring color on new growth. We have anchored it with stones as it sits at the top of the slope.

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We’ve been working on this new area over the past week or so.  We have been trying to fix the erosion ahead of the heavy weather forecast for this week.  The rains have shown us the weak spots, and where more work was required.  We had to go back and re-pack the area around the first Rhodie’s roots, for example.  And we also placed some stones above it to divert the flow of water around it from the slope above.

A front came through mid-day today, with torrential rain, about an hour after I finished the last of the planting and gravel mulch.  We were pleased that the terraces held.

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Additional erosion after today’s rain left roots exposed. It showed us additional engineering was needed where water pours off of the driveway.  The terra cotta pots helped anchor plastic bags to protect the Hydrangea on the right during freezing weather in March.  It is slowly recovering and finally pushing out new leaves.

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There were only a few spots of erosion, and only one Hellebore partially washed out on a terrace this time.  But the path along this slope was badly eroded.  Ligustrum roots were exposed where the path was washing away.

We studied the path the water took from driveway to ravine, noted where the gravel had washed out, and re-engineered parts of the project.  Translation: Back to Lowes for more concrete blocks, a few more bags of gravel and a bag of topsoil.

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Additional engineering should slow the run-off flowing into the path from heavy rain.  My partner placed the blocks to divert the water’s flow.  We’ve added topsoil and gravel over the Ligustrum’s exposed roots in the path.  Sadly, some daffies may be sacrificed in the process….

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We aren’t quite sure why the erosion on this bank suddenly got worse in the last year.  We must have made some small change in how the water flows, without even realizing it, when I planted the Caladiums last summer.  But whatever the cause, the problem was getting worse with each heavy rain.

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“Soil security”

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When you live on a slope, stable soil is a measure of security as heavy weather blows through.

We’ve created terraced beds throughout the garden, planted lots of shrubs and perennials, and dumped hundreds of bags of pea gravel on this property over the years.   We rarely visit our favorite garden center without adding a bag or two of gravel or compost to our order. It is an investment in holding the soil in place and keeping our home’s foundation stable.

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We trust that these new terraced beds, and the reinforced path we’ve created for water to flow down our sloping garden, will meet the challenge of heavy rain and the run-off it generates.  But more than that, we trust they will grow into beautiful additions which bring us many years of enjoyment.

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Woodland Gnome 2017

 

Note: I don’t often like to show parts of our garden that aren’t ‘beautiful.’   We have a lot of rough edges here in our Forest Garden.  It is a work in progress. I hope the techniques we use to hold the slope and garden on uneven land will help others trying to garden in similar circumstances.

I’ll show you this bed again as the plants grow in.  We trust that it will soon be one of our most beautiful areas, filled with photo-worthy foliage and flowers.  We expect it will attract the attention of our turtles, lizards and toads as the season progresses, too.  

For the Daily Post’s

Weekly Photo Challenge:  Security

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Columbine

 

 

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