Archive for the ‘Garden Design’ Category


Japanese Maples

I finally finished creating a new spot for the Acers. Well I suppose that’s not strictly accurate as they’re sunk in the ground in their pots … but more on that in a moment.

If you’d like to have a beautiful display of Acer’s but you’re worried if your ground is suitable, you can buy a soil testing kit, you’re looking for slightly acidic soil conditions but if like me, you know you’re gardening on chalk you’re going to have to find another way.

Here’s a pic of some Japanese Acer plants I bought as small plants for £6.50 each on EBay in 2013.

Young Acer Plants

I’ve potted them on each year and they’re now about 4 feet tall as you can see and make the most fantastic small trees. Incidentally I was looking in the garden center at the weekend and slightly similar sized plants were on sale for £85! Amazing what a little patience can do for the old budget!

Japanese Acers

Originally I planned to create an oval shaped bed and plant them in a random pattern. But then I had a bright idea, which doesn’t happen very often I must admit, and thought why not create horseshoe shape. It would certainly make it easier to tend to the weeds that’s for sure!

Making the horseshoe shape was dead easy to do.

All I did was take a string line and marked out a semi circle at one end, and marked a slightly smaller one for the inside border. I then ran a line from each end of the semi circle, down the garden and mirrored that line again so I had a strip about 2 ft wide in which to plant the Acers.

string-line

Then I removed the turfs and stack them in a corner of the garden. In few weeks they’ll produce the most wonderful loam.

Making a Japanese Acer Bed

Some of you may know our garden is on a chalk seam, which basically means we have about 5 inches of top soil after which you hit solid chalk and flint. Maples hate chalk but I’m not about to let that stop me .. after all I love Acers and if you mix the colours they make the most amazing display. No I wasn’t about to give up yet.

So I thought … why not sink the pots into the ground?  Thing is the chalk will eventually find a way into the bottom of the pot. So I came up with an idea to cut out a piece of matting, the sort you put down to stop the weeds coming through. If I put it into the bottom of the hole it should allow any water to get away and at the same time provide some protection from the chalk.

Line-the-hole

Having dug a hole slightly larger than the pot I added a 2 inch layer of Eracaceous compost to the bottom of the hole first and then the matting followed by the pot. I back filled with more Eracaceous compost and checked the pot were sitting nice and level. Finally firmed the pot well in and gave the Acers a good water. Job done!

acer-4

I guess time will tell if my plan works, but worst case if the Acer’s start to look worse for ware, I’ll just lift them out and stand them in a sheltered spot in the garden where I can still admire them.

How To Grow Acers On Chalk

Have to say I’m pretty pleased with the results and added bonus … there’s less grass to mow!

As always please feel free to drop us a note if you have any questions and we’ll get back you as soon as we can.

Back soon!

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box hedge 2

I’ve been planting little box hedge plants this week. I think they’ll make a great new edge to the walled border near the house.  I can see now they are not quite in a straight line .. but hopefully they will grow together over time and no one will notice. 😉

These are 2 year old plants. As you can see they’ve started to put on lot of new growth and are about 6 inches high, which is an ideal size for planting out.

I find April/May the best time to plant box as the ground has warmed a little and there is still plenty of rain around, which box hedge seem to love.

box hedge 1

Once the cuttings have rooted I pot them on and move them to the cold frame. If you don’t have a cold frame a sheltered spot in the garden should be fine.

Planting Box Hedge

Although box like moisture I find they don’t respond well if they are sitting in water, so I prepare the ground first by mixing in a good helping of well rotted compost, mixed with an equal quantity of sharp sand. They seem to like growing in our chalky thin soil.

Below are just a few of their 4 year old cousins which are growing away on the opposite side of the path, and as you can see they have put on a fair bit of growth in that time.

box hedge 3

I’ll start trimming them into shape next weekend and I’m hoping they’ll look like this one day. 🙂

Buxus

If you’ve never grown your own box plants from cuttings I urge you to have a go. I raise all my own box hedge plants in late September. If I can do it … anyone can!

Box Plant From Cuttings

Although it’s not the ideal time to take box cuttings now, I thought I’d share with you my method. Btw I’ve taken Box cuttings in June before and had plenty of success.

Buxus (Box) is a great plant to raise from cuttings, as they nearly always root and I think they make a beautiful edge to a path.

Propagating from cuttings - Box Cuttings

When you’re looking for plants to use as cutting material try to select healthy, strong looking plants with plenty of new growth. It’s the new growth that makes the best cutting material.

Although it’s not critical I find it helps if you ‘tear’ semi hardwood cuttings from the stem of the plant leaving the cutting with a slight ‘heal’. I don’t know why, but it just seems improve your chances of success.

You’re going to need about 4-6 inches of stem above the heal, so snip off the rest of the cutting with a sharp knife. Then plunge a fist full of cuttings into rooting compound to encourage the cutting to develop roots.

box-cuttings sitting in Organic rooting compound

I tend to use an organic liquid compound, for no reason other than it’s nearly always works for me. Also you’ll need a 4-5 inch plant pot with a mix of 50 / 50 potting compost and sharp sand.

As I raise several hundred plants at a time I use mostly sharp sand as there is a plentiful supply at the local builder’s merchant, so it works out a lot cheaper.

This next bit is really  IMPORTANT!

  1. Collect your cutting material early in the morning when the plant is bursting with energy and store them in a plastic bag until they are ready to use.
  2. Try to get the cuttings into the compost as soon as possible after it has been cut from the plant as it will continue to transpire moisture through the leaves and start to wilt, as it has no source of moisture.
  3. Finally make sure you keep the cuttings watered for the first few weeks, until they start growing away.

If you decide to have a go at growing your own plants from cuttings do let us know how you get on … and feel free to send is your pictures.

Back soon.

Best wishes,

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Brrrrr … Woke up to a hard frost this morning. Beautiful to look at …. but flipping cold! -4 degrees in the car and I had to scrape the inside of the windscreen.

Thank goodness I took the time to put the Acers in the polytunnel last Autumn.

I grow most of my Acers in pots for that very reason. I’ll take them out of the poly around mid-May by which time they’ll have grown a new set of leaves. I started my collection about 3 years ago with a dozen 8-inch plugs I bought on EBay.

I thought it was a bit of a gamble at the time, but just 3 years later they’ve grown into great little plants and are worth 5-6 times the original price.

acers.jpg

If you’ve grown Acers you’ll know what I mean when I say they are at their best in late Spring when the new leaf is at its most vibrant. In the winter, they look like dead twigs! … But in 3-4 months they’ll be back to their magnificent best.

While the weather is cold it’s too wet and miserable to get onto the soil my thoughts turn to garden maintenance. It’s just as important to keep on top of the jobs that don’t necessarily provide any immediate benefit. Stuff like painting the sheds mending any broken fences and anything that may have blown over or snapped.

I like to get these jobs done before the growing season starts to limit any damage to any plants that may be growing in the vicinity of where I’m working. They stand a better chance of recovery if you do it now.

The big job for the Spring has to be the fences. They’re in a poor state of repair which is reflected in the fact that the chickens are always escaping into next doors plot. It’s not fair on my neighbours so I need to do something about it.

mending-fences

As you can see from the pics the fence is your bog standard post and sheep wire construction, which is actually the responsibility of my neighbour as he put up the original fence. The posts were inferior grade and have rotted out of the holes, so I need to replace with better quality posts so it will last.

I’ll replace the posts with chestnut posts and then staple some chicken wire on top of the sheep wire to keep the escapees on the right side of the fence!

On the left side of the plot, my neighbour has recently taken up stock car racing and his plot is rapidly filling up with second-hand cars. Rather disappointingly what was a beautiful view across to the barley fields is now starting to resemble a scrap yard!

mending-fences2

I suppose I could get in touch with the local council but I’d rather not fall out with my neighbour and, to be honest, the fence is pretty grim anyway. I plan to replace it with a new 5ft. post and feather board fence.

The only snag is it the sun will be in The West essentially behind the fence which will create shade. It’s a shame but I can only see the car situation getting worse, and anyway, I’ll grow some shade loving creepers like a climbing hydrangea and stuff it with Hostas and anything else I can think of.

So that’s my Spring project sorted … Just need to work out the materials list and choose a sunny weekend in March.

I’ll ket you know how it comes together for anyone that might be thinking about building their own fence. I’ve done it before and it’s fairly straightforward but there are a few things to be aware of. Details to follow sometime in March.

Anyway is almost the end of Jan and although it’s freezing cold the sun has just come up and it’s looking gorgeous!

A few more weeks and we’re into March and the clocks go forward. Just the best time in the garden!

Back soon

Best wishes,

John And Tania The Rural Gardeners

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Planning A New Herbaceous Border

There is something quintessentially English about the herbaceous border that can’t be matched in my view. If you’re lucky enough to have a herbaceous border of your own you’ll know exactly what I’m talking about!

If you’re looking to create your own border then read on as we share our journey as we create a brand new border at Blackbirds.

Choosing a site
We  finally finished moving the polytunnel which has given us a much better outlook from the house and to be honest … it feels like it should have been there in the first place! As you can see from the photo below it’s left us with a fantastic space.

Planning our new herbaceous border

It’s approximately 26 feet by 16 feet which is simply crying out for a lovely mixed herbaceous flower border.

Planting a new border is great fun and I’ve been lucky enough to create two borders in the garden already. But there is something not quite right about them, so this time I’m going to do my research first before I attempt to plant anything.

After a brief consultation period with John (30 seconds from memory), I decided we’d use one-half for more fruit and veg and the other for the new herbaceous border. Should look amazing when it all comes together.

The new border will be on my neighbours side of the garden which is currently a large open space on which he stores a couple of caravans.

Planning our new herbaceous border

They’re not overly offensive, but I need to find a way to hide them without having to put up a massive fence. I’m not a fan of wooden fence panels and I prefer to use hedges if I can as it helps to bring in the wildlife.

I plan to grow a few evergreen shrubs at the back of the border to create a little more privacy and to provide a nice backdrop for the rest of the plants. We struggle to grow evergreens on our chalky soil so I’m going to need to be inventive when it comes to the planting. Probably sink a few large pots in the ground and backfill with ericaceous compost.

Designing the border
A couple of weeks ago we had a fabulous few days in Cornwall. We managed to grab the last of the late summer sunshine. Cornwall and St Ives, in particular, are simply gorgeous at this time of the year as most of the summer holiday makers have left.

While we were in the area we visited a fantastic garden at Lanhydrock House where I photographed this amazing border with a fabulous planting scheme. The colours are predominantly light shades of pink, purple and white with the odd rich orange crocosmia which make the border really pop!

Planning our new herbaceous border

What I noticed about it is firstly was the size. It just looks so impressive! Also, it’s planted with occasional evergreens which I think are for structure and to keep the border looking fresh in winter. (Herbaceous plants tend to die back in the winter and can look a little tired)

Fortunately for me those clever people at Lanhydrock left a few printed planting plans in a little cubby hole alongside the border to help visitors identify the plants. Just a brilliant idea … Each one numbered with the full name alongside.

We’re going to base our planting on the border at Lanhydrock House.

It is a simple basic oblong design that fits with my new space which will have a long path down the middle to add the sense of perspective. We’ll divide the area in half with one side for the border and the other for veggies. I’d like to incorporate a feature circle half way along to create a resting spot where we can simply sit on a summers evening with a glass of the fizzy stuff and watch the sun set as it drops below the tree line.

Planting A Willow Arch

We have some willow plants that were propagated from some plants I bought John for his birthday a few years back. I’ll use those to create a little willow arbour which will be trained up and over the circle to create some shade on those barmy summer days. For the moment, I’ve put my standard Bay in the middle as a focal point.

I wonder if I can find an old wrought iron seat to add a little style? …  I’m thinking an old bench like those wonderful old wrought iron benches we used to see at the local cricket field.

Constructing the border
When creating any new border I like to get the paths marked out first. Nothing fancy, just a modest gravel path edged with timber edges. All recycled of course!

All you need is a string line a tape measure, (to keep the width of the path consistent) and a few lengths of 3 x 1 timber. I’m using a few boards salvaged from a couple of old pallets.

The only snag with wood edging is it will rot after a few years … but all you do is replace them and recycle the old ones as compost. Alternatively if you can afford it then iron edging looks great and will last a lifetime but that’s not in my budget I’m afraid.

Timber path edging

I’ve made the path approx 900mm wide which is enough for two people to pass and plenty of room for a wheelbarrow. All I do is drive in a few 2 inch squared wooden pegs about 3-4 feet apart making sure they are on the border side using the string line to keep them nice and straight.

I leveled the edging as much as possible and nailed the edging to the posts. Try not to bury them too deep or the gravel on the path will simply disappear into the border which is really annoying! A minimum two inches above ground should do it.

As the length of the border is about 28 feet I thought it best to divide the other side (veggie side) in half with a couple of paths using exactly the same process with the tape measure and string. Just remember to step back and eye up the lines to ensure they are straight and square to the main path. Nothing worse than a wonky path!

I have some bricks left over from the house build which I plan to use to edge the circle and the natural material of the bricks should help soften the overall feel and at the same time provide a nice little feature.

Planning our new herbaceous border

I’ll need to buy some sharp sand and cement to finish the job.

Well, the new border is starting to take shape!  Next time I’ll share how I plan to approach the planting and make a start on selecting the plants.

Should be fun!

Best wishes

John And Tania The Rural Gardeners

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recycle2

I don’t know about you but it’s about his time of the year I start thinking about cutting the hedges. I was brought up in the country and I remember my dad used to take a lot of advice from a farmer friend when it came to hedge cutting. “When you see the farmer out with his tractor and hedge cutter then its time to cut the hedges” he used to say.

Well last weekend the farmer in the back field was out bright and early trimming the hedgerows  so I thought I’d get the step ladder out and start tidying up our mixed hedge. It’s about 60 meters of mixed hedge in total and has pretty much everything in it from lleylandi to hazel with the odd walnut sapling thrown in for good measure.

The hedge was here when we moved in and as each year goes with careful management it just gets better. Although it isn’t perhaps the most beautiful hedge you’ll find but it does host a variety of native birds and flora so it’s always best to wait until the birds have stopped breeding before cutting.

Every year I have the challenge of finding something to do with the waste material. Well this year a friend of mine gave us a small electric shredder. It doesn’t actually shred the waste, more like grinds the branches into submission!

recycle5

Having said that it is a great little machine and I’m immensely grateful for it, not least as it enables us to create a by-product from the hedge trimmings which serves several purposes.mulchFirstly it makes a great surface for around the entrance to the nursery which is soft under foot and when its had a chance to break down it turns into the most amazing springy compost material.

The great thing is its cheap to produce and lasts for several seasons and you can throw it onto the compost heap or simply lay it on top of the beds and wait for nature to do its stuff.

Last year we started to scatter the trimmings on the paths in the kitchen garden to create a more natural feel.  One year on and its turned into the most amazing mulch which is soft under foot and can be used for mulching the flower beds.  I simply spade it onto the beds and work it into the soil and worms do the rest!

If you’re thinking of buying a shredder then the bigger you can afford the better is my advice. I love my little shredder but do sometimes wish I had a little extra power.

Here are my tips for trouble free shredding!

  • Read and follow the instructions that come with your shredder.
  • Be patient and avoid stuffing too much green material in at once especially Leylandii as it has a tendency to clog the machine.
  • Resist stuffing large branches in or you’ll likely burn out the motor. My little shredder will comfortably take branches up to an inch in diameter. Anything larger gets stripped of its branches and either used for poles in the garden or for winter firewood.

Like most of the green waste in the garden hedge trimmings can be a pain to get rid of  but if you’re able to invest in a modest little shredder I’d say go for it as the by-product is can easily be recycled.

I didn’t manage to finish the job this weekend so will be shredding some more next weekend.

Best wishes

John And Tania The Rural Gardeners

 

 

Still living the dream …

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How To Build Your Own Out Building

Managed to get a fair bit done in the last week. Feels like we’re making real progress with the new plant shop and potting shed for the nursery.

We took advantage of the long Easter break and cracked on with building the workshop.

I can see us using it for all sorts of things but primarily it will be central to the plant nursery. We really are so blessed to have such a lovely space for the nursery.

I’ve purposely designed the building as an L Shape to offer some protection against the north easterly winds that can whistle across the neighbour’s fields in the winter time, but the position and orientation is also intentional to take advantage of the sun. Essentially it rises from the left of the building and passes right across the front. Perfect for capturing the suns energy.

L Shaped Plan

The left side will be the general workspace come plant store, come prep area and the right side of the building will be open at the front and to the right. As the right side faces south the sunshine streams in pretty much all day.

In fact this whole area to the front of the building is a sun trap and is crying out for a BBQ. There are some left over bricks which we’ll likely recycle for a little BBQ.

As you can see from the pics the build is mainly timber frame construction sitting on a two course plinth of house bricks, which are mainly for aesthetic reasons.

I have quite strong views when it comes to the appearance of buildings and more specifically our responsibility to the surrounding landscape. A view is not just the domain of the originator but something that is shared with the rest of the population and so it’s our responsibility to create something that sits well on the landscape.

Timber frame construction is simpler than it looks and just requires plenty of patience and a large helping of common sense.

Golden rule – Build it straight and true and you will always enjoy the reward of a job well done for years to come.

The wall sections went up ok, made from 4″ x 2″ lengths of treated timber cut to size and held together with 3″ screws. The reason I use screws rather than nails is in the event I’ve make a mistake I can easily take it apart and fix the problem.  When the building is finished I’ll go back and strengthen the joints with nails.

The frame is fixed to the brick plinth with 3″ screws and plugs. I think you can see from the pictures the base plate sits on a damp course membrane all the way around the building. This limits the amount of water permeating from the bricks into the wood. Not absolutely necessary but well worth doing all the same.

potting-shed-8

The eaves are 2.0m high from the concrete base and the ridge is 3.0m from the base which keeps the building within permitted development.

The ridge beam is 6″ x 2″ pressure treated and held in place by 3 sections of 4″ x 2″ timber with the middle piece cut slightly shorter to rest the ridge beam onto, while the side pieces hold it in. Hopefully the pictures explain how it came together but I do plan to offer plans in the near future.

potting-shed-16

I managed to start the roof joists but ran out of wood on Monday so will have to order some more this week.

If you’d like to know how to cut the ridge beams then read my post about building a wood store which you’ll find here.  All I would say is take your time to cut these accurately and in the same way as the wall studs position each upright every 610mm on centre. (It makes fixing 1220 wide boards much easier)

By the end the end of the weekend we’d managed to complete the main structure and start the right leg of the building. I’ll post my next project update when we’ve progressed with the roof structure.

As always any questions about this post or anything else drop us a line to ruralgardeners@gmail.com and we’ll endeavour to answer.

Quick note on the plans.

Thanks to everyone for getting in touch requesting plans … Unfortunately we don’t have any at the moment as it’s all in John’s head!  Just as soon as he gets a few spare evenings we’ll pull a set of plans together and post on the blog.

Hope this was useful.

Roll on the next bank holiday weekend eh!

Thanks all.

John And Tania The Rural Gardeners

 

 

 

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How To Design And Build Your Own Cut Flower Garden

I’m in the process of creating my first cut flower garden which I’d like to share so anyone thinking of doing the same can follow along. So far  I’ve been growing all sorts of Summer Annuals, Lupins and  Delphiniums from seed and taking cuttings of Chrysanthemums and Dahlias.  In case you missed the first 2 parts the links are below.

Creating a cut flower garden Part 1 – Planning

Creating a cut flower garden Part 2 – Pricking out

Over the weekend I’ve been busy planting up the beds and it’s actually starting to look more like a cut flower garden every day.

The area I’m using was mostly weeds and rubbish and not really being used for much, so I thought I’d try and turn it into something rather more pleasing on the eye, and at the same time create some scent at the bottom of the garden.

Planting Plan

As this is my first attempt I don’t have any particular planting plan in min, but I do know I’d like it to look as natural as possible, and produce as many blooms as possible in the space I have available. I’m thinking sweeping drifts of colour, nothing to uniform, growing in small compact little beds. This way I can get close to the flowers from all 4 sides and get even closer to all that gorgeous scent! But before I can enjoy any of that there’s some hard work ahead.

Layout

A couple of weeks ago I prepared 6 beds approximately 3m x 3m and dug in plenty of well rotted compost. The clever little worms have now done their stuff and worked all that compost into the soil, so now it’s time for the fun bit!

Each bed will have a mixture of annuals grown from seed in the polytunnel and an array of standard cottage garden favorites. I’m using Chrysanthemums, Dahlias and Lupins as the framework plants along with mixed varieties of Sweet Peas to create some height. For those who are regular readers of my posts you’ll know where possible I like to use hazel poles in my garden. They make great supports and give the garden a really natural organic feel.

I like to use Hazel poles for my sweet peas for a more natural effect

Preparing the ground.

We garden on chalky soil in Hampshire which means we have to work in lot and lots of organic material, at the same time trying not to dig too deep so as not to turn up too stones and flints that his area is famous for.

I think we must have shifted at least a ton of flint and stones  since we started the garden 3 years ago. All of which we’ve tried to recycle around the plot, either as post ballast or foundations for the many paths in the garden.

Softwood cuttings

Spring is the perfect time of the year to take Dahlia and Chrysanthemum cuttings so if you’re also thinking of using them in your garden I have a few tips which should help improve your chances of success.

Young Chrysanthemum cuttings

Young Chrysanthemum cuttings

I’ve been taking a succession of cuttings since late March and they’ve grown into great little plants, and apart from a little compost they were free!

Success with cuttings can be a but hit or miss, but you can increase your chances of success significantly if you’re able to provide a few basic requirements. I’ve created several posts on how to easily take cuttings, so if you’re never tried before  I’d say they are definitely worth a read.

The key to success with softwood cuttings

Commercial growers provide a fine spray of water at least 15-20 times a day onto the plants and manage to achieve almost 100% success. Of course we can’t afford such a system and we’re not operating at that scale. You can buy modest little kits that do the same thing, but with a little effort and for a small investment you can make your own, and it costs a lot less than shop bought.

Rather than go into the details of a misting system now I’ll put together another post on how to be successful with softwood cuttings along with a set of plans for making your own misting system. I plan to make my own and if that goes ok we’ll produce a short video for the RG YouTube channel.

Last autumn when the dahlias finished flowering I dug them up and stored them in boxes overwintered in the polytunnel, with a little soil covering the tubers (roots) over winter. Pleased to say they survived and in April I tried my hand at taking a few cuttings.  I managed to get a few to root, but all round a pretty poor show to be honest.

Despite the lack of success with my dahlia cuttings I still have the original plants that I’m pleased to say have put on loads of healthy new growth. Dahlias grow to quite a size and do need staking. They also need lots of water throughout the season so I’ve prepared the planting holes with plenty of organic matter to help retain the moisture. I’ve also thrown in some wet straw for good measure. It will rot down eventually which will help with improving the quality of our soil.

Protect your dahlias

Slugs and snails like to eat your lovely green dahlia leaves, so you will need to guard against them. We’re lucky to have the chickens to keep our slug population under control, but the only snag is the chickens are also partial to dahlia leaves! So we have no option but to net them or they will eat the lot in one sitting.

I have to net my dahlias or the chickens will eat them in one sitting!

Dahlias grow into fairly large plants and have a tendency to block the light out from everything else around them. To avoid any problems later I’m growing the dahlias in a single plot on their own.

I have fond memories of growing dahlias as I used to enter the dahlia category at my local summer village show with my dad when I was in my early teens.

Annuals

As well as the main stars of the show I’m filling in with annuals like Nigella (Love In A Mist), Cosmos, Calendula, and Brompton Stock. These are all what are typically called traditional cottage garden flowers, and they should provide plenty of cut flower material throughout the season and are really easy to sow and grow from seeds.  The seedlings I pricked out a few weeks ago have now grown into decent little plants so I planted them out over the weekend.

Newly Planted Cut Flower Garden At Blackbirds

The plants look a little sparse now but I’ve planted them with plenty of space so they have room to grow. In just a few weeks we should have quite a show, all being well. They will need to be kept watered over the next couple of weeks as the roots are fairly close to the surface and tend to dry out.

I’m planning on adding a few rose bushes into the mix, along with a few Delphiniums and Verbena, but they will have to wait until I have a few more penny’s.

Back soon,

Rural Gardener

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