Category: Dear Walter – letters/info from Old School Garden


To Walter de Grasse

Dear Walter,

Well another New Year! It’s been rather mixed here, weather -wise, of late. Today is windy and cold with some squally showers, but it looks like it will clear a bit later, so that’s when I’ll get outside…

In the last week I’ve been re -erecting the trellis panels in the Kitchen Garden, with a mix of old and new posts (this time concreted in), to provide a clear boundary to the main garden. I’m pleased with the result, though yesterday, in an attempt to refix one post (in a metal clamp) to some concrete, I managed to burn out my electric drill, so that little adjustment will have to wait until a new drill arrives in the next few days.

I’ve also fixed the posts to hold the rope swags I’m planning along the entrance to the Kitchen Garden, up and along which will be trained the six ‘Compassion’ climbing roses I put in last year. The whole thing looks a little unkempt at present due to its original cream paint being covered with mildew. Once Spring arrives I will clean off the woodwork and repaint (in a light grey). I’ve also relocated and tied up the Blackberry to run along the back of this plot (which was previously the home of the raspberries). Here are some pictures of how things look at present…

I’ve also bought seeds for the Kitchen Garden as well as some annuals with an eye on flowers for our eldest daughter’s wedding in July; and some Early Potatoes are chitting (‘Swift’ and ‘Charlotte’).

Having had a satisfying day yesterday tidying up and burning off a lot of the debris from last year’s garden, planting a new Blueberry in a sunken pot and a few other bits and pieces, I feel that I’m making progress…still a lot of major structural work has yet to be done as well as continuing the tidy up.

In my regular visits to Blickling Hall I’ve enjoyed the company of fellow volunteers and the gardening team. Our jobs have included cleaning out the Shell Fountain and pond  where the Irises had invaded the pool and over grown the lilies, requiring a major job of cutting out, splitting and replanting (I’ve brought home a few spares for my own pond). Here are some pictures taken on the day…

Most recently I went in early and worked with fellow volunteer Rory  to clear leaves in the Secret Garden and then with a few other volunteers to mulch the main borders in the Parterre…it was a lovely sunny day and the Orinental Planes looked especially impressive in the winter sun…

I’ve continued my small voluntary input to the local High School allotment project where, with the students, I’ve finished creating some new raised beds and begun the process of mulching all of these with some rather rich compost and farmyard manure. A number of projects are underway here and I’m pleased to have helped arrange a visit of the local Orchards and Apples project to provide some advice about the orchard.

And speaking of orchards I’ve just been sent my data and other guidance to carry out a survey of historic and other orchards in the parish by the project Orchards East. This same project is also visiting the Grow Organisation in Norwich where hopefully they can help establish a new orchard as part of a wider ‘Fruit Forest’ area, complete with underplanting of fruit bushes, ground cover and other plants. The aim is to create ‘plant guilds’ to help establish and develop this important part of the master plan for the site. I’m popping over to them next week to help with designing a strip next to the Hub Building as a wildlife garden, sensory area etc.

Well, that’s about it as far as the past month is concerned. As we are spending a couple of weeks away towards the end of February (including four days in northern Iceland!), I think it will be a month of pottering and odd spells of tidying up rather than anything more major. I think I will also hold off sowing seed until early March….and then things will begin to take off big time!

Old School Gardener

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To Walter de Grasse

Dear Walter,

I hope you and yours have had a great Christmas! We have here with immediate family and some friends to help us celebrate.

As you will appreciate the last month hasn’t seen much action in the garden; mainly clearing leaves (the oaks have yet to give up all their leaves), and planting out of a few choice plants bought (on offer) recently; including some Verbena rigida and a white form of ‘elephant’s ears’. I’ve also managed to get hold of some Monarda (spares from Blickling), some of which I’ve planted out alongside the Kitchen Garden, others potted up for planting later.

I’ve been buying the wood needed to finish the Kitchen Garden so if the weather allows I shall get out and put up the trellis and other structural timber work in readiness for the new growing season.

I mentioned that I’d cleared back some trees along the western boundary and have since planted out a mix of native hedging (Beech, Dog rose, Hawthorn etc.) to fill gaps in the slowly forming hedgeline here.

As there isn’t much to show of Old School Garden, here are a few shots from Blickling taken over recent months. We finished off the year here with lovely party for the garden volunteers and I’m looking forward to another productive year here, especially as the Walled Garden is now pretty much into full production.

So, old friend, we now look forward to lengthening day light and the chance of increasing activity outside. Here’s wishing you, Ferdy and the family all the very best for 2018!

Old School Gardener

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To Walter de Grasse

Dear Walter,

Having finally completed this years work at the local church I can now turn my full attention to Old School Garden. But I’ve been feeling a bit tired and lacking strength recently, perhaps a hang over from the chest infection I couldn’t seem to get rid of, or that and all the physical efforts at St. Peter’s?

The restructuring of the Kitchen Garden is progressing, albeit rather slowly. I’ve completed the boxing in of the oil tank, and in the last couple of days have dug up the remaining old raspberry plants and cleared away a site and replanted the blackberry bush….this will now be positioned to run along the edge of the wood on our northern boundary.

I’ve also laid the remaining slabs at the rear where the new shed will go (I’ve made a start on cutting the wood for the base and frame for this, but I’m thinking it may be the Spring before this is completed). I’ve also repositioned the compost bins so that they take up less space in the working areas of the garden.

The ‘great leaf collection’ has begun too..a job that seems never-ending as the last trees to lose their leaves (usually the oaks) continue to shed their golden foliage.

The western boundary has been fully cleared and there are just a few bits and pieces of wood etc. that need tidying up, this will open up the edge of the garden to more light so opening up new planting possibilities.

I hope that if the weather is kind, I might get the trellis work relocated in the next month or two, which will also enable me to prepare the old raspberry bed for a new planting of potatoes in April.

My input at the local High School continues and even though the lunchtime sessions are short we manage to get a reasonable amount of things done. Last week  I  joined two lads in constructing a low raised bed which will expand the planting possibilities at the Allotment Project.

I’m still doing about a day a week at Blickling Hall, and am conscious I haven’t posted much about this of later. needless to say there is a lot or repetition as the seasonal jobs roll around. I’m looking forward to visit the gardens nearer Christmas, having seen the enormous effort being put in to lighting up the grounds- it should look spectacular.

I’ve run my two shredders over the Grow organisation as I think they will make better use of them than me, and it wa pleasing to see that the project is really taking off now that it has a steady set of staff and a good number of volunteers and participants on its ‘green therapy’ sessions.

As you were there you know how successful our Remembrance Day event at the church was, with nearly 300 people attending and wide range of activities and features. You can see photos a report and also an ITV Anglia News item on this on my sister site www.haveringland.wordpress.com. Having realigned a few of the trees in the ‘Avenue of Remembrance’ the setting of the church is much improved and the ornamental pears ‘Chanticleer’ have begun to turn a cockscomb red as their name suggests.

Well Walter, as the days shorten and the weather worsens I guess it will soon be time to curtail my gardening activities, but hopefully we will still have some days when- if other activities allow- we can get out and continue the restructuring of the Kitchen garden so that its ready for the finishing off in the spring.

I hope that you and Ferdy are getting prepared for Christmas. we visit my mother in Law shortly in devon for a few days and after that we will be into December and the preparations can seriously begin!

Old School Gardener

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To Walter de Grasse

Dear Walter,

It’s been a busy month, but not much has been going on in Old School Garden.

though I’ve planted out onions and sowed Broad Beans as well as some hardy annuals, scarified and fertilised the main lawn areas, I can’t claim to have moved on much on the home patch. Still, today I plan to spend a good time putting up fencing to hide the oil tank and possibly also laying the final slabs where the new shed is going. And hopefully I can at long last make a start on that this week, before the bad weather sets in. Despite a cold start today we’ve had things quite mild here recently and it looks like the rest of the week is also going to warm up a bit.

I spent a couple of short sessions over at the local High School Allotment project helping to cut out grass and weeds from around the orchard trees, and I hope to get back there to help in the next couple of weeks. It will be good to get the orchard into some kind of managed state.

Well, having said what I haven’t been doing at home, I can move on to report some major progress over at the local church, where you’ll recall I and others are gradually taking the churchyard and surroundings into more active management, including the churchyard itself as a meadow habitat.

Over the last three weekends (plus a surprise session on Saturday) the ‘Community Payback Team’ have been over to help us tackle some major projects. These are people who have broken the law in some way and have been sentenced to giving time back to the community for free. They, plus a few local volunteers, have put in a tremendous effort and the result is a transformation of the church surroundings. Here are some pictures which illustrate the key achievements, including planting an ‘Avenue of Remembrance’ to commemorate the closure of RAF Swannington (Haveringland) 70 years ago in November, the cutting and raking off of the churchyard, clearing the ‘French Drain’ that surrounds the church walls, strimming the perimeter of the church and the nearby access road and car park, planting many narcissus bulbs (donated by local businesses) and plenty more.

I have been very impressed with the effort and good-natured attitudes of those who have helped us and we have achieved so much more than I was expecting. Things look very promising for the major Remembrance Day service on Saturday 11th November; and I’m especially pleased that you and Ferdy can join us.

Old School Gardener

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To Walter de Grasse

Dear Walter,

Another month goes by and some major steps forward at Old School Garden.

I think the biggest change has been the considerable lopping operation on our western boundary, where the trees and shrubs have been progressively closing in the view. Once more we can enjoy the sunsets from spring through to autumn as the distant horizon is visible! I was slightly worried about how far to go with this, but on the whole taking down a few old conifers which were crowded together as well as raising the crowns on some other trees is a big improvement…

I’ve also been reshaping the kitchen garden, replacing some old raised bed edges and realigning paths. We’ve continued to harvest fruit and a few other things like ‘New England Sugar Pie’ Squashes (shown ripening below). Here’s next  year’s planting plan with the new fruit areas shown…

Oh, and I mustn’t forget the major effort our neighbour and us have put in on the ‘no man’s land’ that is the boundary (very soft) between us. Having cut back and cleared unwanted growth and weeds I’ve filled out the planting and added quite a few spring bulbs for good measure. I look forward to seeing how things develop in the coming year…

Now is the time to get on with the replacement shed, something I’ve not got round to for a couple of years. Today I’m finalising the design and working out a cutting list which I’ll then check against the spare timber I already have…and then it’s a trip to the local sawmill for the rest, and work can begin…

In my gardening work beyond home it’s definitely been a month of great progress. As I told you last month, the ‘Grow Organisation’ have received funding from the local Mental Health Trust to run a gardening therapy programme for people with mental health issues. This is now kicking off and is a great step forward; and hopefully will lead to other agencies stepping up to fund similar programmes. And the trees have been ordered for the ‘Avenue of Remembrance’ to be planted on the path up towards the local church as part of our commemoration of the airfield closing 70 years ago. 29 in total and all a reasonable size with planting kits supplied; all courtesy of the Norwich Fringe Project, so a big thank you to them!

The Remembrance Weekend is going to be a very special time as we welcome relatives and dignitaries from across the country to celebrate the airfield’s contribution to the War effort. in the next couple of weeks  we’ll be putting in a community effort alongside a group on the Community Payback scheme to prepare the ground for the trees as well as the annual cut and rake off in the church yard etc. I’m looking forward to seeing the church and it’s surroundings much improved for the  big weekend.

Next week I’m going over to the local High School to help out with a group of youngsters involved in the Allotment Project that I’ve told you about before. I’ll be helping them prune the orchard trees and develop ‘plant guilds’ around the trees, a key feature of permaculture design.

It was good to see you and your good wife Ferdy, the other week. You both look very well, and I was interested to hear about your new diets which seem to be having a great impact on your general health and wellbeing.. I’ve just read an interesting article about how important 7 hours sleep a night is, even for us ‘oldies’, so….. eat well, sleep well and keep fit..obvious really? To finish here are a few shots of the garden picking up the newly planted containers and some other interesting early autumn colour..

Old School Gardener

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To Walter de Grasse

Dear Walter,

Well, old friend, back in blighty! It’s been a month of trying to get some semblance of ‘order’ in Old School Garden, having left nature to itself for six weeks whilst we were away in Australia.

The weather this month has been rather dull for August, so much the same as we left Victoria in mid winter! I won’t say that I was ‘pleasantly surprised’ at how the garden looked on our return, for many areas had been overrun with annual weeds, and of course the grass was pretty long…. but not as long as expected.

However, after a mammoth grass cut and several sessions of ‘speed weeding’- especially trying to get out those weeds that were in flower and going to seed- everything of course looked better.

Since then its been a case of turning my attention to various construction projects; initially repairing windows on the house (at the time of writing I’m just about to fit three new openings that replace those that had rotted beyond filler) and repainting, and more recently dismantling the old shed in the Kitchen Garden, laying an extended base of flagstones and soon to begin constructing a new potting shed from floorboards and other salvaged timber…quite a project. As you might remember, I purchased a number of cedar shingles a year or two ago in order to give the new shed a more ornamental appearance.

Extended shed base …job done (but a bit of a clean required)

I’ve also continued the restructuring of the Kitchen Garden. I’ve already moved some of the fruit bushes to new plots. More recently I replaced the rather scruffy paved path next to the courtyard sheds wall with a topping of pea shingle, in keeping with the other paths in this area. Here are a few pictures of the Kitchen Garden…a work in progress!

Once the shed is built it will be  time to replace some of the edging boards to the various raised beds and relocate the various trellises to provide a visual screen to the front edge of this area, plus a new entrance (I plan to use an old metal gate) and creation of a Rose-lined path from this into the Kitchen Garden (using posts and ropes as swags along which to train the six ‘Compassion’ Roses that I planted earlier in the year and which have established themselves very well). I think I’ll go for a grey colour scheme on all these new wooden structures. Here’s a gallery of some good floral interest in the garden at present…

You may also have seen that I’ve been going along to the Aylsham Roman Dig nearby- I got involved in this last year. This has been a fascinating and rewarding experience. We’ve (re) uncovered not only the two Roman kilns we excavated last year- these are now thought to be of national significance- but new areas have been opened up which suggest that the site has been in pretty much continuous occupation for two thousand years! There are decades of futther work to be done here and my hope is that this community project grows year on year so that the story of the site- complete with Roman villa, iron working as well as pottery making and occupation for 2,000 years- can be fully explored.

I was also pleased to hear the ‘The Grow Organisation’ in Norwich (you will recall I’ve been advising and helping them develop a hub for horticultural therapy?), have been awarded funding by the local NHS Foundation Trust to get the project going, with an emphasis on preventing male suicides. This is great news and will really keep the fantastic momentum going on this site where Forces Veterans and others are already making a difference.

Turning back to Australia, I wonder if you think it would be interesting if I did a series of posts delving into the Green Spaces I visited there a little more? As you will have seen I’ve done a few posts with some selected pictures to broadly illustrate where I went, and was conscious that I didn’t want to bombard you and others with all my ‘holiday snaps’, but at least one blog follower has suggested that I could share my reflections on what I discovered…what do you think?

Perhaps I’ll post an initial item on the first green space I visited just as a trial run- I promise it won’t be too wordy, just a sort of  ‘Cooke’s Tour’ with some of the better photographs I managed?

I was delighted to hear that you’ve overcome your recent bout of ill health, and no doubt you and Lise are enjoying the summer….I can just picture you sitting out on the terrace, a glass of Pimms in hand, looking at the butterflies and listening to the birds…Here are a few general shots of the garden to finish with, hope you enjoy them…

Old School Gardener

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To Walter de Grasse

Dear Walter,

Here we are on our last couple of days in Australia. Six weeks on and what a trip it’s been. Grand daughter Freya is a month old and doing well. We’ve seen some wonderful places and met some lovely local people.

The weather has been very kind, even though it’s midwinter here. Bright sunny days and on occasions warm enough for shirt sleeves- though many of the locals have remained well wrapped up and think we’re crazy!

I won’t attempt to cover everything we’ve done, but suffice to say that I’ve found much of horticultural interest here along with all the other famous landmarks we’ve visited. Though there wasn’t much colour (with the notable exception of a superb, huge, vertical display of leaf and flower colour at Sydney’s Botanic Gardens), there was a lot of plant interest, often well presented by some very knowledgeable and enthusiastic guides. It was also great being able to compare botanical gardens in the local area as well as in the three cities of Melbourne (very large and beautifully presented), Sydney (smaller but with some impressive focal points including a garden featuring vegetables grown- several unsuccessfully- by the first colonial settlers) and Canberra (the National centre which is striving to present a wide range of plants from across the country and is pursuing an exciting Master plan to renew and expand its collections).

In addition, many public parks and gardens are very well looked after. I especially enjoyed the Chinese Garden in Sydney and I was pleased to see at least one Green Flag flying- at the fabulous Fitzroy Gardens in Melbourne. There is also a very impressive Community Gardens in St. Kilda, on the edge of Melbourne. And, as I mentioned last month, Aussies are very proud of their domestic gardens, especially those on public display in small town and suburban streets.

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As we adjust towards our return home in the next couple of days I’m wondering what Old School Garden will look like. The grass will certainly be long and I dread to think what carnage the moles have reaped in our absence, though our neighbour did kindly offer to try to ‘get them to move elsewhere’…we shall see.

Hopefully you’ve had some good weather to enjoy your own garden. With some of the summer to go- at least in theory- I hope that we too can get out in the warm sunshine and see the colours of the flowers.

Old School Gardener

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To Walter de Grasse

Dear Walter,

Hello from Australia! We’ve been here about 10 days, staying with our eldest and her partner just outside Melbourne. Having finally got shot of the effects of jet lag, yesterday we found ourselves getting little sleep as daughter was in hospital delivering our first grandchild..a lovely little girl (name tba)! As you can imagine the build up to this has meant staying relatively close to home, but this hasn’t prevented me from finding some places of horticultural interest to share with you.

We left the UK in something of a heat wave, and despite my efforts to provide a supply of water to many containerised plants, and even with a very diligent neighbour, I was expecting some casualties on our return in a few weeks time; especially in the kitchen garden where I’ve planted carrots, runner beans and squashes alongside new potatoes and onions (and a whole lot of fruit). I heard yesterday that there’s been heavy rain in East Anglia, so maybe the position isn’t entirely hopeless.

Turning to matters horticultural ‘a la Aus’, we’ve visited a nice little botanical garden in nearby Williamstown (a quaint little place with lots of interesting old houses), as well as a  a rather  a grand old mansion with some beautifully kept gardens and parkland at Werribee. I’ll do a more extensive piece on these, and other, yet to be visited gardens, in due course, but for now here are a few pictures to whet your appetite..

Apart from these largish spaces I ‘ve found a lot of interesting examples of domestic suburban gardens round abouts, best summarised as an eclectic mix of contemporary, cottage and tropical styles, usually nicely complimenting the architecture of the associated houses. Here’s a sample…

I’ve also noticed how tidy the grass verges outside these properties are. I gather it’s considered a civic duty (and maybe there’s a legal obligation too?) for householders to take care of their immediate strip of what is usually springy turf, including not only keeping it close mown, but also the edges cropped to neat straight lines, usually using a ‘whippersnipper’ (strimmer) to achieve the desired finish. The overall effect is one of quiet orderliness, rather like the atmosphere of these suburban streets, where there are few people out walking…well it is winter I suppose.

Having said this, and being aware of movements in the USA to allow such grass strips to be used more imaginatively, creating wildlife friendlier spaces and even food production, I was heartened to find one attempt to turn over the grass to a community garden in nearby Altona..

Well, old friend, hopefully I’ll be able to share some other Aussy horticulture with you next month, as we shall still be here, and maybe have visited some of the gems in Victoria and possibly further afield…oh, and of course doting on my new grand daughter!

Old School Gardener

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To Walter de Grasse

Dear Walter,

As you know I’ve a busy time coming up, travelling about the UK and to Australia, so this may have to be the last letter for a couple months that comments on my gardening life at home. Still, I hope that I can feature some of the places I’ll be visiting – I’m especially looking forward to seeing the many wonderful parks and gardens in Melbourne, Victoria.

Looking back over the past few weeks, a few things stand out. Despite large areas of ground elder remaining in Old School Garden  (it has been so dry I haven’t dared to try to remove any more – along with the plants of course), the garden areas immediately next to the house aren’t looking too bad. Some recent rain has also perked up the large number of plants that I’ve replanted.

In the last few days I’ve also added a few new specimens; two varieties of Veronicastrum (White and pale Pink)  and a Ligularia and Rodgersia in the pond garden. the kitchen garden is also starting to fill up, although, due to being away I’ve limited my sowings and have also gone for a green manure- Phacelia- in some of the beds. I’m especially pleased with the Courtyard Garden , where the Hostas and Candleabra Primula are doing their stuff. Hopefully the garden will survive a number of weeks without weeding and grass cutting and that we get enough rain for things- especially potted plants – to make it through.

Further afield, you may have heard about our latest ‘Groundforce Day’ over at the local churchyard. The new management policy of mowing paths though blocks of longer grass and wildflowers seems to be coming together nicely and a few days ago a few of us started to tackle the weeds and grass that has grown over the drainage strip of cobbles surrounding the church walls; it is satisfying seeing a tidy edge to the rather mole-ridden grass.

And I mustn’t forget that I’ve been spending quite a few hours online studying permaculture, via a course put on by Oregon State University and apparently being studied by over 10,000 people worldwide! This has been fascinating, with a good mix of videos, podcasts, online links and design exercises to put me through my paces. It’s been interesting comparing the Permaculture Design process with the more conventional process I’m used to, and having revisited the Concept Design for the Grow Organisation which I developed a few months ago as the focus of my study, I can see now ho permaculture principles and design processes have enriched my assessment of the site and helped me develop new angles on my earlier design; in putting greater emphasis on water harvesting and management for example.

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I was sorry to hear about your lingering ill health, old friend and wish you better soon. As the weather warms, try to get outside into that lovely garden of yours; it is bound to lift your spirits.. All the best for now and my next letter will come to you from somewhere in Australia!

Old School Gardener

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To Walter de Grasse

Dear Walter,

I hope you and Lise are well. I’ve had a good month in Old School Garden…though having neglected the weeding for a year or two, I’m now paying the price.

I’ve managed to put in a good few hours digging up the borders nearest to the house, removing ground elder and replanting (as well as dividing) the plants. It’s been a bit late I know, but most of the re-plants seem to be recovering from the shock of being dug up. I’ve planted up the two front-door pots with a purple-leaved Hebe called ‘True Love’…and I’m pleased to see the first flowers on the Candelabra Primulas I’ve grown from seed, a nice purply-pink..

 I’m about to plant my second early potatoes (later than usual to try to time them for our return form a long trip to Australia), and the Phacelia I sowed a few weeks ago, as a green manure, seems to be coming on.  I’m also pleased to report a good lot of blossom on the fruit trees, some of which I gave a heavy prune a few months ago. Let’s hope the bees do their job and we don’t get caught by a late frost. Tomorrow I’ll be putting the potatoes in and netting the strawberries, before the deer get in and nibble off the tops.

Plot for potatoes dug over..

I’ve also been doing  a little hoeing, and as one of my blog followers was interested in what my Wolf hoe looks like here’s a picture…definitely one of my favourite garden tools.

The Wolf hoe

We’ve just returned from a very enjoyable trip to the North west to visit our friends Nick and Felicity, and part of this was spent on a very enjoyable visit to Tatton Park, where I was blown away by the quality of the place and especially the Japanese Ggarden…I’ll post a few pictures on this trip soon.

I’m also pleased to report practical progress at the Grow Project in Norwich, where an enthusiastic team is getting some growing beds in place by using straw bales in what will be the Trials area in due course.

The next few months (through a combination of Green Flag Award judging, Jury Service, holidays and a six week trip to Australia) will see me with little time in the Garden, but hopefully I’ve done enough to keep it in reasonable shape until another burst of clearing and tidying (as well as my major push on restructuring the Kitchen Garden), towards late summer/autumn. Hopefully we can get over to see you at some point!

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Old School Gardener

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