Posts Tagged ‘sweet scented flowers’

 The garden is providing plenty and the nursery continues to generate a lot of interest, but it was a particularly special month for us for two reasons.

Tania had a very important birthday, one of those milestone events that happen about every 50 years 😉 and we also had our 29th wedding anniversary which we celebrated with the most wonderful garden party with  friends and family.

We’ve actually been together for over 30 years which is almost a lifetime I guess, but it’s been a very special time and we’re both great advocates of the institute of marriage.

The garden and nursery were a hit and we had some really nice comments so thank you to everyone that came and made it such a special day. We are both hugely grateful.

That’s the thing about growing plants and this lifestyle we’ve adopted in particular. It helps remove the stress of every day existence, makes you smile more and at the same time gives you an enormous feeling of self worth. Sounds a bit ‘trippy’ I know but it’s difficult to explain other than life is much easier now and we’ve learnt to appreciate a simpler less stressful existence.

As well as taking care of the celebrations we’ve also been hard at work in and around the garden. The nursery continues to grow and we have high hopes for our little venture in the future.

The new outbuilding is really starting to come together with the roof now on and pleased to say is now water tight!  Such a relief as one of the roof windows was leaking slightly which actually was down to a tiny hole in the roofing felt can you believe!

Originally we were building the structure for a work shop and potting shed, but we’ve decided to offer weekend courses later in the year and to do that we need to have a few more ‘amenities’. We’ve started cladding the outside and first fix electrics are in. Still much to do but John is taking a few days off work at the end of the month to finish so should be complete by mid  August. We’ll post an update and some pics on the blog and Tania’s Pinterest channel.

We’ll also be posting details of the courses later in the year.

It wasn’t all good news in June I’m afraid.  We lost all our chickens to the fox one night. 😦

Anyone that has kept chickens will understand what it means to have these wonderful characters wandering around place. They give so much pleasure as well as providing us with the most wonderfully fresh eggs for breakfast, but I guess the temptation was too great for Mr Fox and the little bugger tunnelled under the door and took every last one!

I can only think he must have made several visits in the one night unless he had an accomplice? Either way no sign of any chickens the next day other than a few feathers in their run. Cheeky so and so took the eggs as well can you believe.

We always used to shut the chickens away in their shelter at night, but recently we’ve been leaving them out in their pen as the nights have been so warm. We have a large dog so we really didn’t think the fox would have the nerve, but how wrong we were.

Advice for anyone thinking of keeping chickens. Build a fox proof run, or install an electric fence around the premier, or make time to shut them away at night. It was a very sad day and I have to say it’s not been the same around here since they were taken.

On a slightly happier note it’s July and the first of the summer raspberries are fruiting. Two things I look forward to most at this time of the year. Walking through the garden at the end of a busy day and seeing the gorgeous red colour of the first raspberries contrasting with the rich green leaves and plucking the fruit from the bush leaving that little cream cone in the centre. The taste is sublime and there really is nothing quite like it.

The second event we look forward to is the emergence of the first of the sweet peas. You live without that distinctive perfume for almost a whole year and now you get to experience it all over again. Truly intoxicating!

If you’ve never grown your own sweet peas then do have a go as it really is one of life’s pleasures.

No need for expensive air fresheners, simply cut a bunch of fresh sweet peas and fill a vase full of cold fresh water.  Plunge the sweet peas in as deep as possible and enjoy as they don’t last very long once cut.  Put a vase in the kitchen and the next morning when you sit down to breakfast you’ll have the most gorgeous scent filling the room to accompany your coffee and croissants. I don’t think it can get much better than that can it ?

We’ll be back soon but that’s it for June.

If there any aspects of gardening that you’d like us to cover in the future please do let us know, in the first instance at

Thanks all!

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It really does feel like Spring is in the air this last weekend. The weather on Sunday was gorgeous and the sunshine was just enough to dry the ground out enough to get into the garden.

We had a really productive weekend  which was a mix of manual labour and a slightly gentler activity sowing the first of this seasons Sweet Pea seeds.

It's Time To Sow Sweet Pea Seeds

Had To Relocate The Compost Area …

First priority was to move the compost heaps as we’re constructing a new potting shed and area in the Spring to support the new nursery venture. As you can see from the pics below the new heap is a pretty basic construction made from four posts sunk into the ground about 2.5 meters apart. The sides are made from a few odds and ends of timber we had stashed around the plot.

I think I made my heap too small last time as it never really got that hot, but this time round I’ve made it twice as big and eventually close in the front and add lots of straw into the mix. Should warm things up nicely!

Why Not Build Your Own Compost Heap

First Of The Sweet Pea Sowing’s…

I’m going for a slightly different approach this year with my sweet peas as I’m going to try selling a few bunches on the produce table at the end of the lane. Might also branch out to a view of the local florists if I can grow enough flowers. Something tells me we’re going to need to find a bit more space though.

Brian, one of our avid readers asked what varieties we think make good cut sweet peas? Well I’ve been growing them for a few years now and despite trying various varieties I always come back to the following as they never let me down.

  • Winston Churchill (red)
  • White Supreme (creamy white)
  • Chatsworth (soft purple)

This year I’m also trialling a new variety called Purple Pimpernel which I think could be a winner!

I plant 6-8 seeds on top of the compost in a four inch pot and push the seed in about 1/2 an inch below the surface.  I give the pot a good watering and then leave on the windowsill or in the polytunnel. If you want to speed up the germination add a plastic bag over the top of the pot. I’m not a lover of plastic and try and keep away from the stuff.

The seeds should be through in about 6-8  days when they may need some additional support until they can go out into the ground when all fear of frost has past.

Spring Sweet Pea Sowing

Other sowing’s this weekend …

We’re bulking out with a couple of new Peony  plants, variety is ‘Celebration’ along with a couple of new globe thistles, variety ‘Echinops Nitro’ and Delphinium ‘Pacific Giant Mixed’.

I’ll also sow a few Cosmos and Night Scented Stock later in the year which should produce a wonderful spectacle of cut flowers.

I thought about starting my dahlias off but I think it’s too early as the night time temperature in the Polytunnel can drop quite considerably. I think I’ll wait until early March when the temperature has climbed a tad and we have a few more daylight hours.

My chosen Dahlia varieties for the cut flower garden this year include:

  • Dahlia  ‘Snowflake’ – White Pompon variety
  • Dahlia ‘Bergers Record’ – Deep Red
  • Dahlia ‘Natal’ – Deep red Pompon variety
  • Dahlia ‘My Love’ – White

Sunday evening came around so soon and so ended another busy weekend in the garden.

Next weekend we’re preparing for the arrival of the digger… But more on that later. 😉

Best wishes


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Learn How To Create A Wildlife Friendly Garden With The Rural Gardener

My bat box I put up last year in the beech tree is home to at least two bats.

Ever since I came to Blackbirds I wanted to create a wildlife friendly garden and having been gardening this way for nearly 5 years now I must say we don’t seem to have half as many problems with pests and diseases.

That is apart from the cabbage white caterpillars which are the pain of my life, so much so that I’m thinking of ditching brassica altogether! I won’t spray and don’t much fancy spending an hour each day collecting the little buggers.

Oh and the cheeky pheasants that sneak into the garden looking for any stray corn the chickens may have left behind, lovely to look at, but the males give out the loudest shrieking noise … usually when you least expect it.

The secret is to create balance in your garden between the planting and the creatures.
I’ve found the best way to encourage wildlife into the garden is to achieve a balance between the more orderly parts of the garden and the more natural spaces.

When you get the balance right, then you will significantly increase the bird, amphibian and insect population in your garden, which in turn will help you to deal with your pest problems. It’s like magic, I can’t explain how it works, it just does.

Take the dreaded cabbage white caterpillars as a point in case. I encourage the robins and blue tits by putting up next boxes in the hedge close to the vegetable patch next to the compost heap.

They help me with my caterpillar population and in exchange they have a ready made takeaway practically outside their front door

I understand robins are quite territorial so it’s unlikely you’ll attract more than a single pair, but my garden just wouldn’t be the same without my little companion.

That’s basically what encouraging wildlife is all about,  creating a balance, a harmony between the gardener and the natural world that isn’t always obvious, but rather creeps up on you the longer you garden in this way.

Take the humble Hostas as a point in case. Such a majestic looking plant, but I used to have problems with slugs and snails eating the fresh shoots in early summer.

Then a  a couple of years ago we built a small wildlife pond, and since then we’ve had no slug problem!  I suspect the frogs were attracted by the water, and in turn have taken care of the slug population.

Poor slugs …  lucky frogs!

Out of the chaos we have order
I don’t know about you but I’ve always tried to maintain a tidy garden but since I’ve adopted a more ‘organic’ approach to my garden I’ve begun to make changes and it’s producing tangible results.

For example,  I no longer close mow all of the grass, instead I leave some areas to grow long. As a result  wildflowers have seeded in the grass and are now well established attracting loads of bees, which in turn pollinate the fruit trees. A simple principle and very effective.

I purposely leave piles of logs and branches around the place to help bring in the insects for the birds to feed on. Wood piles are particularly effective around the pond as they provide habitat for the frogs and toads, especially when it’s sunny and they need to shelter from the sun.

Learn How To Create A Wildlife Friendly Garden With The Rural Gardener

This is were Dave and Trigger my adopted frogs live!

If you’re  planning to start a wildlife garden of your own, or perhaps you just want to try out a few ideas here are a few of the changes we’ve made at Blackbirds that we feel have  made a real difference.

1. Build a pond, or water feature.
Having water in the garden will always encourage all manner of new visitors into the  garden, but if you really want to score highly with the local amphibian population running water is even better!

How To Create A Wildlife Friendly Garden

Water will bring in all sorts of wonderful creatures and insects.

Try to leave at least one side of the pond to grow away undisturbed. A tidy pond is better than no pond at all, but if you want to encourage slow worms, newts  and frogs, then natural is best! If you’d like to see an example of a wildlife friendly pond I’ve posted a short video on YouTube.

2. Plant a hedge.
I like to grow hazel hedges  for the foliage in the summer, nuts in the Autumn and we coppice the hazel every other year. The poles are really handy for all manor of things. Hazel is probably my most favourite tree of all, its just so versatile.

Another favourite of mine is willow. Really easy to grow and you can so much with it. I’m going to have a go at creating an arch next year.

Learn How To Create A Wildlife Friendly Garden With The Rural Gardener

Willow makes a perfect lush green screen

3. Build a compost heap.
Really easy to build your own compost heap and can be built out of pretty much anything. Try to keep it open on one side so the robins can get at the worms and they’ll repay you many times over.

4. Grow plenty of scented plants.
Grow lots of scented plants, the bees will love you for it and the smell is intoxicating late in the evening when the sun has warmed the flowers. In turn the bees will pollinate your fruit and veg. This year we planted a small cut flower garden and the amount of insects that came to visit was unbelievable.

Learn How To Create A Wildlife Friendly Garden With The Rural Gardener

Next year I’m planning to plant more cut flowers, so easy and so little maintenance required and the house had flowers pretty much from June onwards.

5. Don’t be too tidy.
Leave a few upturned clay pots around the garden for the toads to shelter and the odd brick pile. Position them anywhere you have a slug problem and the toads will come in to shelter and clean up your slug problem.

6. Keep a few chickens.
Chickens can be quite destructive but they will seek out bugs and grubs in the garden and dispatch them with consummate ease. The other good thing about the chickens is they will provide ready made feed in the form of droppings.

The girls enjoying their favourite passtime, having a dust bath!

The girls enjoying their favourite pass time, having a dust bath!

Just remember to put them away in the evening, or you may attract an unwelcome fox into your garden. I love foxes, but not if they plan to dine out on my girls!

7. Grow a tree …  better still grow lots of trees!
If for no other reason than they are just the most majestic of plants. We have a mature Walnut and a Beech and they are home to so many creatures, like bats and owls.

We put up a bat box last year and I’m pleased to report the bats have taken up residence.

I like to encourage bats in our garden to keep the midges under control. We like to have family BBQ’s in the summer without fear of being bitten by the little buggers! so we’re doing all we can to encourage the most interesting of our native mammals.

If your garden is too small for a tree, never fear, then try a small espalier fruit tree in a pot and get the best of both worlds, gorgeous fresh fruit in late summer and gorgeous blossom in the Spring. The bees will love you for it!

8. Mediterranean herbs.
Great for attracting pollinating insects … Plant thyme, marjoram and lavender near to your fruit trees and tomato plants. The bees will do there stuff and you can look forward to the sweetest tasting autumn puddings.

Learn How To Create A Wildlife Friendly Garden With The Rural Gardener

My herb bed is a tad overgrown now, but the bees just love the flowering marjoram and thyme.

9. Wood piles.
Build a few wood piles around the garden, mainly for the insects and creepy crawlers which the wrens and hedge birds tend to feed on, but also they make great shelters for the frogs and toads.

10. Bricks and Tiles.
We have a few bricks and roof tiles left over from the build chucked into redundant corner of the garden. I’ve noticed frogs and toads use the pile to hide from the direct sunlight.

Learn How To Create A Wildlife Friendly Garden With The Rural Gardener

Nice and cool for small mammals to hide in.

In the last 5 years that we’ve been living at Blackbirds I’ve found the secret to attracting wildlife is not one particular measure but essentially a combination of lots of different things that together produce a balance with nature.

Yeah, not everything will work for you but if you get the balance right, then you’ll notice a difference in the way you garden. Pest control will be managed by nature and you’ll have the most wonderful natural space, and all just outside your back door.

If you have any other suggestions for how we can make our garden more wildlife friendly we’d love to hear them.

Best wishes

Rural Gardener

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How To Start Your Own Plant Nursery

Firstly … so sorry we haven’t posted for a while … it’s Sunday evening and John and I have just come in after a very productive day working on our new little nursery venture. It’s going to be our main focus for this year as it offers a real opportunity to make a little extra money for my garden budget.

It’s soooo exciting to see all the plants all laid out all in neat rows just like a real nursery 🙂

I’m beginning to realise people just can’t resist plants!

We were out to dinner with friends last night and eventually we got onto the subject of our gardens and I happened to mention our new venture. Well, … you’d think we’d won the lottery!  “We’ll be over on Monday to pick out some plants”.

Not quite what I expected … but I have to say that’s pretty much the reaction we’ve had from most of our friends and family.

If you’re considering growing your own plants from cuttings you should read this first!

If you’re thinking of starting you’re own little back garden nursery venture then you need to research something called Plant Breeders Rights.

Basically it’s a law that was introduced to protect the rights of plant breeders … a sort of patent for plants if you like. Essentially it made it illegal to propagate plants for profit … but the good news is there are loads of plants out there that were around before Plant Breeders Rights were introduced that you can propagate.

My advice is:

1. Always read the label on any plant that you buy. It will clearly state if the plant is subject to Plant Breeders Rights.
2. Look for the older varieties and you should have no problems with propagating them.
3. Propagate these older varieties so other growers can access these unprotected varieties.

The more ‘protected plants’ that are introduced to the market the more demand there will be for the unprotected varieties.

June is the time for softwood cuttings
We raise most of our plants from softwood cuttings … except the Japanese Maples which we buy as one year old seedlings and grow them on for the garden.

Acer - Orange Dream ... one of my favourite plants.

Acer – ‘Orange Dream’ … a gorgeous variety … one of my most favourite plants.

I’m so pleased with the roses we raised from cuttings last year. The blooms are not huge, but the plants look really healthy and seem to be growing true to the original old variety.


So wish you could smell these Roses

The most gorgeous perfume is filling the Polytunnel at the moment … and to think these gorgeous roses were all grown from softwood cuttings last year.

The idea of starting a little plant nursery happened quite by accident. A couple of years ago I was growing a few Rosemary and Lavender cuttings for a scented hedge for outside the back door. I realised I was growing far too many  and needed to find a place for my surplus plants.


One year old Lavender plant ready to go into the nursery.

Then one weekend my friend Sarah was round for coffee and she was admiring my new lavender hedge and asked how much it cost to plant.  Absolutely nothing! I grew them all from softwood cuttings … and they all came from the one plants!

I offered Sarah the eight or so I had left over … to which she said … “You must let me pay you for them”  Of course I said no … but that was my eureka moment!

If Sarah was prepared to offer me money for my little lavender plants … perhaps the public would do the same?

Since then I’ve grown over 400 cuttings, from Roses, Philadelphus (Mock Orange and different species of Weigelia, Viburnum and Variegated Dogwoods, to Honeysuckle, Clematis and Blue Fescu Grass.

What’s so great about this whole back garden nursery thing is you can get started with virtually no investment … all you need is a plant pot, some compost and a plant from which you can take the cuttings. The rest you can learn … there are so many growers out there willing to share how you can make it work … and You Tube is also a great source of inspiration.

If you’re planning on having a go at starting your own little back garden venture I’d recommend reading my earlier posts on growing plants from softwood cuttings. It will help you get started and dramatically improve your chances of success.

Until my next post … please enjoy these few photos with our best wishes.

We’re planning to record a short video tour of the garden tomorrow (weather permitting) which I’ll try and post to the You Tube Channel tomorrow evening.

As always please leave any questions or comments below and feel free to drop us an email if you’d like to know more about any of our projects.

Best wishes.


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How To Grow A Rose From A Cutting

It’s National Gardening week this week and to celebrate I’m planting one of last years rose cuttings!

I didn’t know how to take rose cuttings until I came across a video from a gentlemen in the US who demonstrates in the video how to take cuttings from roses and grow them on into the most fantastic roses . It’s well worth a watch if your interested in growing your own roses. (I’ve included the link at the end of the post)

I’ve had a reasonable amount of success with my rose cuttings in the past … but I have to confess this last winter 3 out of 10 didn’t make it through the winter. Not sure why but the stems turned black and they withered away. 😦

If you’re considering growing your own plants from cuttings you should read this first!

If you’re thinking of growing roses from cuttings then you need to research something called Plant Breeders Rights.

Basically it’s a law that was introduced to protect the rights of plant breeders … a sort of patent for plants if you like. Essentially it made it illegal to propagate plants for profit … but the good news is there are loads of varieties that were around before Plant Breeders Rights were introduced that you can propagate.

My advice is:

1. Always read the label on any plant that you buy. It will clearly state if the plant is subject to Plant Breeders Rights.
2. Look for the older varieties and you should have no problems with propagating them.
3. Propagate these older varieties so other growers can access these unprotected varieties.

The more ‘protected plants’ that are introduced to the market the more demand there will be for the unprotected varieties.

Do rose cuttings need any special treatment?
Not really …. I generally plant my softwood cuttings in sharp sand as a rule, but for my rose cuttings I prepare a slightly richer mix of sharp sand, spent compost and a little bone meal. Reason for the bone meal is to provide a little sustenance for when the roots start to grow away.

Also it means they can stay in the pots longer and I don’t disturb the delicate fibrous roots until they’ve had a chance to grow nice and strong.

After that I take a few stems in June approximately 9-10 inches long and plant them around the outside of a 10″ plant pot and leave them at the back of the polytunnel. The secret is to keep them moist and spray the leaves at least 4 times a day until they show signs of growth.

How can I tell if my cuttings have roots?
I don’t use any particularly scientific methods to be honest. The tell tale signs are the stems remain green and healthy looking and the cuttings show signs of new growth … alternatively carefully turn the pot upside down and ease the contents out and examine the roots.  If the roots are bursting to get out of the pot then you know it’s time to transplant it to a bigger pot.

Here’s a picture of my small collection of rose cuttings I took last June still in their pots, in a sheltered spot outside the polytunnel. They cost me virtually nothing to produce and with any luck they should give me some lovely blooms this year.  Now how cool is that!   🙂

Last Years Rose Cuttings

What potting mix should I use for my rooted cuttings?

Not sure if you can spot it from the picture…  but the compost mix I’m using is a light and free draining compost I make up myself just for potting on my cuttings. I’ve been experimenting with composts for a few years and I now feel I have a winning formula.

Do I need to protect them in any way?
Rooted cuttings are not keen on the wind, so best to keep them in a sheltered spot … at least until the worst of the weather has passed.

I plan to post another piece about rose cuttings in June so you can see exactly how I go about it, by which time I hope to have my new home made 5-star mist system installed! 🙂  More on that little baby a little later …

In the mean time if you’d like more information on taking softwood cuttings there are loads of really good content out there, and I’ve also written a post all about taking rosemary cuttings which you might find useful.

Now I’m off to raise a toast to National Gardening Week!

If you’d like to know more about National Gardening week you’ll find loads of information about the scheme and some of the fantastic stuff they’re up to this week at the NGW web site.

Best Wishes,


By the way here is the video I refered to earlier … Rose propagation video (Just love the beard sir)

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Planning Your Cut Flower Garden

How does the Meadow flower its bloom unfold? Because the lovely little flower is free down to its root, and in that freedom bold. – William Wordswort

Growing your own cut flowers

One of my many new years resolutions for the garden is to spend more time growing cut flowers. Every year I have grand plans to do bigger and better things but end up planting everything in the herbaceous borders as usual. They do just fine, but the downside is they never really get the care and attention they deserve, and are pretty much left to get on with it. Well, this year it’s going to be different as I’m planning to create a new cut flower garden at Blackbirds.

I consider myself very lucky to have plenty of space to indulge my favourite pastime, but you can also grow cut flowers in the smallest of spaces. In the past I’ve grown chrysanthemums, and sweet peas in pots. Just make sure you plant nice and deep in the pot and don’t let the roots dry out. Sweet Peas in particular hate to dry out, so my advice is to keep them well watered, or add moisture retaining gel to the compost.

How do I plan for a cut flower garden?

On large projects I like to design a little plan on paper first. I find it helps if you have an idea of what you’re trying to achieve before starting too much heavy lifting!  I also like to take a few photos of the space, and print them out so I can doodle a few ideas. I tend to print in black and white as it helps me to focus on the colours of the planting rather than the surrounding area.

The area I’m planning to use is in what we call the kitchen garden. One half is dedicated to growing vegetables and the other had the chickens on it until we moved them last year. So I have a sizeable piece of rough ground that is well manured (thanks to the chucks) that with some work should make a beautiful cut flower garden.

Plan to turn this into a gorgeous scented cut flower garden

Hard to believe now, but this will become a beautiful scented cut flower garden later this year.

On a separate note, it’s not recommend to keep chickens in the same place for too long, or they can develop problems with their feet, which in turn is passed around the rest of the flock.

When is the ideal time to start a cut flower garden?

As with most of my garden projects I find the best time is late winter or early Spring. The weather tends to be a little kinder to you, and the ground is a bit easier to work. Also a lot of the cut flower varieties like sweet peas and chrysanthemums grow through the Spring and early Summer flowering in the latter half of the summer when the sun is at its peak, so best to start the prep well in advance.

So I’m going to do all the ground work over the next few weeks and then start planting out in early April, Can’t wait!

I’ve been using the spare ground as a holding bed for various plants I’ve inherited from friends and family over the last 2 seasons, so they’re going to have to be moved before I can start planting.

Although there is nothing to stop you moving plants at anytime in the year now is a good time as it’s the dormant period and most plants are still hibernating, but in a few weeks they’ll start to put on new growth, so best to move them now.

Ideas for a layout

We went to visit the Eden Project last summer where they had the most amazing looking veg beds that looked like giant moon crescents. If you ever have an opportunity to visit the Eden project then I urge you to go. Along with the gardens at Heligan it’s one of the most inspirational places I’ve ever been.

For my cut flower garden I’m going to create 4 small beds in sort of parterre style, pretty much like the kitchen garden really. I’m going for a little symmetry to give this area of the garden a sense of balance.

Planning to turn this into a beautiful scented cut flower garden

I plan to create more flower beds so this whole area is filled with all sorts of scented varieties, if I can keep the girls off that is!

Inspiration for the layout came from Monty Don’s garden at Longmeadow, which is another of my favourites. Planning the garden around a series of rooms creates interest and encourages discovery. Hidcote in Oxfordshire is a another fine example of creating secret gardens within gardens, definitely worth a visit if your in the area.

What shall I plant in my new cut flower garden?

Well they say the start is everything, so now I’ve finally got around to making a start I guess I’m going to need to start thinking about what I’m going to plant. Apart from the usual suspects I’ve really no idea what to plant, so would really appreciate any suggestions.

My list so far …

Sweet Peas, Chrysanthemums, Dahlias, Bush Roses and night scented Stock.

Not much of a list as you can see.

Next time…
I’ll be putting the finishing touches to the beds and starting to prepare the ground ready for the plants. I should have my planting plan finished by then which I’ll share with everyone.

Best wishes


Take me to Part 2.

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