no dig gardening tips for spoonies

Spoonies are people with energy level issues, eg ME/ CFS/ MS/ fibromyalgia/ adrenal gland issues, parathyroid and thyroid issues, but the tips here might help anyone enjoy a garden – less effort, more enjoyment is the goal!


I love my garden andSTA42981 positively droop when weather or illness keep me out, so it has been lovely to spend a few hours over the last week pottering around. I had a false alarm for flu, just a fibro thing I think, though I have tried to be extra vigilant on pacing since, and luckily it is now warm enough to sit in my rollator for longer breaks and gloat over how different the garden is… I found photos from when I moved in, when Ben had cleared a jungle to make a badminton lawn…incredible to look back on :)



Ben and now David enjoSTA45160y bbqs and the occasional big project in the garden, and Ben is keen on container gardening. The badminton lawn is his major commitment and he mows and waters it and the other 3 flats all play whenever the weather and mood agree. I am the only one who really likes flowers and making a feast for eyes and nose and ears (if you count the many more birds and bees we have ;) )


With my horrible fall soon after I moved in, gardening tasks are even more difficult than when I gave up the allotment, so I have had to get very serious about no-dig and low maintenance gardening within the permaculture/ landspirit productive woodland glade I am aiming for.


I like planting containers to go by the front door and then spreading the love ;) yes, this does mean two sets of planting, but I get twice the enjoyment, so personally it’s worth it ;)



The easiest way to guarantee success with bulbs I’ve found, is to transfer them ‘in the green’. This means I know the bulbs I may have bought up in end-of-season sales etc are actually viable, and I automatically space better. If possible, get someone to do the heavy work and collect your tubs and some spent compost eg containers that held things that have gone over now, to top up what you have. Fresh compost is very rich and nearly all bulbs like a poorer soil to flourish. Best of all is if you can collect some leaves each autumn and leave a bin bag full to mulch down :)


I have a workbench that helps a lot as I can only just kneel again, so David lifted the well watered tub (previously by the door with violets, daffs and hyacinths, mmm) up onto the bench, next to a bucket of compost. If you’re doing this alone, water AFTERWARDS, to keep the weight manageable, yes? I carefully cut the withered flowerheads off (if the flower sets seed, the bulb will die off) and ease the trowel under the roots loosened by watering. Trying to make sure no roots get snapped, gently lay the plants one by one into a seedtray or pot. Now take a break! Coming back, carry your tray to where you want to plant out. Tete-a-tete daffodils manage the superdry shade on the ivy bank well, so using the point of the trowel I scraped a very shallow drill between two ivy trailers, just enough to make a flat edge on the sloping bank. Arrange the bulbs with their roots on the drill and leaves all laying flat on the uphill slope. Break time?


Fetch a bucket of runny mulch/compost and water, and scoop/pour over the roots.


Press the mulch in gently, enough to be sure it won’t all roll down hill, but not hard enough to squash the bulbs. In two weeks time, water really well and then leave them to settle.



This technique works for grape hyacinths, narcissi, crocus, snowdrops. Tulips are a bit more fussy, but the next technique works with them ;)

Meanwhile, make your tubs, do double duty – spring is springing faster than we can keep up, so if you are planting into cleared grounded, lay some cardboard down and stand the tubs on top to keep it from blowing away – giving the tubs a water AFTER you move them ;)

DSC_0120DSC_0124Personally, I don’t find cardboard mulch ugly, because it is so useful to me, keeping the weeds at bay until I can get to that task, and with some soils, it even improves the texture (sticky clays) but I do understand beauty is in the eye of the beholder!

I will go back and snip the heads off the muscari/ grape hyacinth later. Only cut the flower heads off, most propagation strips the foliage right back, but as the leaves on bulb plants die back, all the necessary nutrients go back into the bulb. If you want it to grow again but hate the sight of the dying back, a good tip is to put it next to a plant that will fill out fast now that we are heading towards warmer nights, maybe a sedum or foxglove.


Early colour is very cheering and one of my new favourites are bellis perennis, perennial ornamental daisies, I love that deep cranberry pink edging when so much is pastel in the spring.

DSC_0013DSC_0016This technique is more like planting out a squash/pumpkin plant. Make a mound, flat and shallow, or more heaped for something like tulips, with a dent where you are putting your seedling/ bulb/ in the green/ cutting. The dent for tulips has to be a lot deeper, they like to be a hand span down. Again the mulch should be moist on a wet day through to really wet on a dry day – and it helps if you do it on a drier day, as the idea is to make the worms till/turn your soil for you. On a dry day when the worms have gone further underground, pouring soggy mulch on drier soil will bring them up and the action of turning the soil helps integrate the two. All without use of a spade/ shovel/ fork/ implement of agony for your back/ wrists/elbows or drain on your energy – yay!

Lots more planting will be happening in this area, now the laurels and brambles have been cleared, I want to put in more bee friendly plants, hyssops, sedums, agastache, foxgloves…last year a huge forest of feverfew came up from the dormant seeds, so I’m hoping they will have survived the necessary trampling.


Something I can’t get a great photo of is the violet lawn, it is utterly beautiful and something I’d never seen before moving here, my favourite granny was Violet, named by her brother because they had just come out the day she was born – 110 years ago, amazing…I love the connection ;)

And final gift from the garden,  a very violet/lilac rather than purple/ blue Peacock butterfly was sunning itself on Thursday…






I’m steadily making more progress on the Wasting Waste installation, and trying to write about the piece feels really like wading through mud. Being in a very visual/ tactile space with all the fabrics and yarns is far more exciting! Forget words for now, then, eye candy it is ;)

































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landspirit gardening: raised bed, raised awarenesses

Exciting times in the garden!


and now:


- which made my day yesterday and will be such a joy over the summer!

There were a lot of stages – Spade and Sparrow did the heavy clearing

STA46094and left it to overwinter and settle. All I’ve managed to organise since has been replacing the cardboard mulch and a little pruning back. I had a couple of ‘seeing’ sessions where I took time to sit and think about what I wanted, but also what the land wants – this is why I call my approach landspirit rather than permaculture, though I use permaculture techniques. Being still and seeing what happens in a space is really important if you want

STA45688to work with the existing patterns and bring out the best in a situation.

The new bed is very central, at a crossroads between different kinds of leisure, growing food, growing flowers, badminton, with paths on two sides used by us and the posties, a slabbed area for the bbq and container garden, access to the carpark, access to the drying yard…

Something I feel the whole garden lacks is a good place to sit and chat. This is a lot to do with being in a city, people stealing garden furniture and not wanting to encourage the sex workers already using our garden and yard…Lots of houses on our street have electronic gates and I get why, but the truth is the more we use the garden, the less others will.

STA45091The constant difficulties and obstacles to getting the raised bed in motion had made me question if it should happen at all (the phrase ‘pushing the river’ came to mind :) ) but every time I am in the   garden and feel the joy of its return to colour and


bounty (wildlife and harvest and enjoyment) I feel sure it wants more human presence, not less.. more domestic everydayness anyway!

This is the kind of thing that you either get or you don’t!  And the truth is, you can be a great steward of the land without feeling this. But some extra layer of ‘happening’ tends to occur when listening to the spirit of place, some bonuses come in as though on rails when I engage this process. I feel very convinced by it, because after a lot of work turning round my derelict and poisoned allotment, I saw the results, bushels of healthy fruit and veg, herbs for tea and scent or strewing, bees galore, the pollination rates of the allotmenteers near me shot up… Even the old guys had to concede my ‘messy’ ways worked ;)

STA45096Coming back to the garden here, there needs to be an acknowledgement of the transition from kitchen garden to purely ornamental/badminton lawn. The rockery is huge, as long as a tennis court and a couple of metres wide at the narrow end. It has beautiful mature trees and lovely rocks with fossils in and interesting marbled chunks and then a lovely array in July of foxgloves, feverfew, spirea, liquorice agastaches and flowering stonecrops, with alkanet and lush foliages… So looking from my rollator along the curving length of the bed towards the drive, seeing only logs on the raised bed edges would jar.

DSC_0018-001Instead we went on an expedition rounding up materials from all corners to make a bed that can be a heart centre. Ben suggested pulling some of the rocks lost under ivy from the super dry shady bank that is the front boundary, David found a huuuge sandstone boulder on the edge of the drive and I found big chunky pieces of tree trunk in the wood pile.

DSC_0032David then worked really hard, digging postholes and a channel to support yorkstone slabs on their sides, wedging and shuffling rocks, logs and slabs until it all looked really harmonious. I had suggested that the biggest log, which gets used as a seat on bbq nights became the edge of the bed nearest the slabbed area, and that the boulder made the corner between the rockery and the badminton lawn, and the upright slabs next to it echoed the path, but David had lots of fun choosing where to mingle rocks and tree trunks and big branches ;) Yes, he ached all over when he stopped!

DSC_0050DSC_0042DSC_0040DSC_0061DSC_0063Called back to view progress I was so touched: a big seawashed chunk of chalk we had used as the top of a miniature quoit in the garden in Hucknall has been put at one corner and the copper, steel and stone mobile that hung near it were fitted in to the corner! So lovely of David to think of this! I put an amethyst and some hyacinths (Andy’s favourites) there too. They had emptied compost from the bin round the corner and the empty container garden over the cardboard and horse manure, so with a bit more topping up, I’ll be all ready to plant :)

There will be rose bushes and hyssop for the bees in the centre and then beans, squash and tomatoes roundabout, though I might sneak beetroot and lettuce in to catch crop :)

Being able to dream gardens again is so satisfying! And with all that sorted I feel more connected and committed to tending the rockery, which has been possible but not an attractive option when it meant walking past all the  looming ‘beyond my strength’ reminders. It has been a gap, a lost friend even…I feel gardening to be an integral part of my life, my healing, my politics, my art, being at home in the world, a place where the balance finds itself and energy flows… paying attention to my changed capabilities means I have to listen even harder now. Working  with neighbours who have never worked this way before was a challenge! This garden that is a woodland edge in a city needs to be a place where we can play to all our strengths, and yesterday, we did :)


What’s in a Name?

So I’ve been interviewed 4 times in 2 months, and two of the interviewers were reluctant to accept Singing Bird as my action name. As an agoraphobic, this is an avatar that helps me be somewhere that sets off panic attacks, so their attitude lands very badly. One accepted it but his editor called it my pseudonym, my false name, and this annoyed me excessively until I thought about what I’d said during my interview with Kristina, that this is my ‘true’ name, expressing a part of me that has struggled for a long time to come out. And as the editor has no idea about that…no blame…


Interview by Kristina Lewis-Shipley for her forthcoming book on Street Artists and their handles:

KLS: Please ignore ‘SprayCan’ throughout the message, (hahaha) Ok, so the two questions are really simple:

Why did you first pick up a SprayCan? Where does your Street Name/ Pseudonym come from?

SBA: I feel the tiniest bit intimidated, but I’ll just pull my big girl panties up and speak loud ;)

The two questions you put are 30 years apart in my life, and why I feel like my life is finally making sense – a big wound has started to graft :)
I first made a piece of guerilla paint and fibre art in 1983, but it was a street action for peace. I was used to making peace flags for the barbed wire fences at the MoD missile sites or the Trident base at Faslane, but when I suggested doing it in Newcastle upon Tyne, the other activists were really snobby about it. They didn’t want to be accused of vandalism :( Luckily my best friend and my boyfriend were supportive, because on the day I was down with a stomach virus, and they had to execute the designs. I’d made pieces to hang in a tree and a piece to write on the walls and pavements in chalks, and after they’d done those, they added some of their own, which made me sooo happy :)
Why did I want to do it?
I dreamt it.

A lot of my art comes to me that way, now that I am an artist, but at the time I was a bit lost, my parents had refused to let me do art at A Level, they were abusive in many ways, including physical and sexual, but looking back the biggest damage was withholding my way to be in the world. How is that possible, that a parent refuses to buy their child even super cheap felt tips? And pours scorn on everything that might encourage her?
So I grew up very bent out of shape and this was my first experience of genuinely needing to make MY mark in the world, and my new people, the activists did not like it, but I did it, and when I was up again, I added to what the others had done for me – it had been made for Valentine’s Day, so it couldn’t wait…it was a message of love to the precious earth and to her humans to stop the trashing…
I loved it and one of the ‘real’ artists I knew (he could draw!) decided it WAS effective after he heard about it and we should do some street art/ performance art and we did… ;)
But it was interesting to see how flyposting was political and ok, and heartfelt messages and pictures chalked on walls, bedizeners hanging from trees…not so much…


My street name has been Singing Bird Artist SBA for five years, since my husband died and I could no longer paint, so since 2008/9. (er, long relentless optimist story, broken collarbone and ribs trying to save him, permanent damage, learning Machine Embroidery as a new skill to keep sane through staying creative…)
City and Guilds courses are REALLY tough, super structured and meticulous, I was an “interesting” student ;) but I found myself needing to express my wild side/politics and myself more freely, more directly…


So I started with hanging freeform fibre art in bus shelters etc and public crafting/freeform crochet and leaving bedizeners/happy makers in public spaces ;) My husband was an artist/poet and we would do this together before, we made environmental art in the woods too, so art for people to find has been important to me for a long time.

SBA was definitely a response to him dying and me having to work without his support – I have agoraphobia and can’t be out alone after dark, or in isolated places. Then I mixed in with Nottingham yarn’bombers’ for some joint blitzes. I prefer yarn ‘tagging’, cos I’m a pacifist, but I understand the excitement of saying yarnbombing, and also the backing off from the guys within graf (def NOT all, waving at you, lovely Popx!)  who are hostile to using tagging for yarn/fibre work.
I have had fibromyalgia for over 4 years now (following the neck injury) and use a rollator, so can’t action very often, but am blurring the lines where I can, I have 2 fibre art installation pieces in a gallery in London in February and they want me to make a ‘live’ piece for the private view. What they don’t know is that with the help of the friend I’ll be staying with I will yarntag across London while I’m there – coming to a railing near you, people  ;) [Due to the injuries following installation, I couldn't actually do this, but made it into art for the Anti-ATOS/WCA protest on February 19th and Robin Hood's Rally against Budget Cuts on March 19th 2014]

I chose to use my yarntag name as my ‘fine’ artist name (big thanks to Banksy for showing the way) so I can link the two sides, legal, illegal. It also frees me to work a different way – the art world is full of puffed up entitlement at one end and genuine heartfelt making at the other. I have struggled with writing those pompous post-modernist windy statements, and then last spring I cut through it all and declared I would only use Singingbird Artist/SBA  for ALL my art/social justice/permaculture activism. It comes from a Chinese proverb “If you keep a green tree in your heart, maybe the singing bird will come.” To me it means that if we are true to our deepest calling to make our mark in the world for what is needed (to cut through the mindless consumption junky culture capitalism demands, at the cost of the earth and all her peoples) then we each become a singing bird for those around us who need to hear that things can be different, change is possible, every *small* act counts.
Since I got my ‘right’ name, amazingly, loads of doors are opening for me, so your question about the name strikes home!

As Singingbird Artist, I make what I like, as fast as I can ;)

Which is not very fast, grrr,  I have permanent damage to the deep tissue in my hands, but all the joy that pours out into the work and the world makes me really happy. I even like it when people steal the work to take home, if it speaks to someone that much, great, I’ll make another, keep spreading the song ;)


re photo, I need to be anonymous – the Dept of Worry and Persecution will stop my disability benefits at this prioritisation of my energy to art not hoovering ;) so I like to use this one as a thumbnail- the rollator makes the point that physically disabled people can still make art/actions ;)

Well, back to making! I have been working on the brown – blue water waste piece, some tricky freeform knitting, but first there are some garden photos to edit :)

a time for community action

A very ugly truth is that the British Government thinks it can continue to deny FOI Freedom of Information requests on the deaths of disabled people dying within 6 weeks of being refused benefits (to which they have contributed through national Insurance, remember) or moved from the support group to the work-seeking  group. This guy wrote a great post:

Meanwhile pigs in troughs are continuing to thrive…

that’s 5 POINT 5 million, not 55 btw, but plenty bad! who are the scroungers sucking the country’s resources?

I’m too angry to write a proper post, but you can see where I’m heading…

We need to honour the dead

We need to say NO!

We need to help the people thrown into despair and hunger and homelessness…

What if everyone in the country wrote to Nick Clegg asking him to do the honourable thing and stand down and break the coalition? Is he so far sunk in selfishness that he would ignore it? EDITED TO ADD: someone else had the same idea!

It’s getting very hard to imagine how any of them look themselves in the mirror…I put that on Facebook and someone pointed out they have no reflections (ie they’re vampires) and it’s hard not to agree…

Meanwhile, my necessary YES! to cope with all this is:


i) working on a piece about water waste, mmm, blues and browns and now pearl blue-grey Opium yarn with Katia ruffle yarn cascading off it…this is pure indulgence as the next in line should have been Wool Against Weapons, but with all the bad news, I can’t be knitting pink, I need something to make me smile!

ii) teaching my friend in Flat 1 catering and sending protein bars and soups and stews to the new free cafe (first event is tonight, at Crocus Cafe in Nottingham, we think it’s fortnightly ;) I’ve managed to lose the original info, eek!)


iii) helping People’s Assembly against Austerity with a post Budget speech protest rally. I hate making assumptions, but it seems pretty likely that the cuts to necessary services will continue and the rich will be let off more tax…if not we can turn it into a celebration ;)

I’m upcycling leftover placards and the body politic silhouettes from the ATOS protest and also felt tips and crayons…need to buy some more bubbles though ;)

Ok people, I’m back in relentless optimist mode now, bubbles and sequins and knowing people will be eating tonight and tomorrow thanks to the protein bars they can take away, and the two big boxes that went to the cafe only made a little dent in the Approved Foods mountain, plenty more where they came from! So, yes, we can bring the heart back to our communities, yes, this tide will turn…there ARE simple things we can do that will make all the difference :)


Heart truths

“The root of the word courage  is cor – the Latin word for heart.  In one of its earliest forms, the word courage had a very different definition than it does today. Courage originally meant ‘To speak one’s mind by telling all one’s heart.’ Over time, this definition has changed, and, today, courage is more synonymous with being heroic. Heroics is important and we certainly need heroes, but I think we’ve lost touch with the idea that speaking honestly and openly about who we are, about what we’re feeling, and about our experiences (good and bad) is the definition of courage. Heroics is often about putting our life on the line. Ordinary courage is about putting our vulnerability on the line. In today’s world, that’s pretty extraordinary.” -Dr. Brene Brown

TRIGGER WARNINGS: Discussion of hate speech, hate acts, internet abuse, bullying and oppression, sexual abuse, violence of most kinds.

Apology to dyslexics, I hardly ever post this many words with no photos, and the backdrop gets really hard for this much reading :(

I was on BBC Radio Nottingham on National protest against ATOS and the WCA [work capability assessment] Day (Feb 19th). After being taunted by a Tory MP that I was “to be congratulated on my ability to organize the local protest and perhaps I had a future in Events Planning?” I responded by explaining what an experienced organizer I had been before becoming ill and now doubly disabled, and then I heard myself say: “This is a shadow of what I’ve done, I’m a shadow of who I used to be.”

And that went very deep for me.

In so many ways I am more than I used to be, so many less too…but this expression that all the colour had drained out of me…ouch! That hurt!

Since becoming interested in being part of the Nottingham protest I have had to endure a lot of trolling, betrayal, backstabbing and mean-mindedness. I find hate speech ineffective and alienating, and some levels of it are triggering for me, and I know, many others. As I choose my facebook contacts pretty carefully, I’d always been able to avoid a lot. Now I am able to ‘unfriend’ people and pages I have been struggling with, I can feel the relief.

I find it disturbing how demeaning speech is insidiously becoming acceptable in campaigning, and is promoted by many anarchist groups. I have become a target to be discredited because I objected to swastikas and Nazi imagery on posters, gory images and what I consider to be sexualising  and rape culture speech – I really can’t figure out how to tell you the terms I mean without saying them and risking triggering lots of other survivors, and I don’t want to do that…

Suffice it to say that when I was accused of “playing the victim” and needed to pull myself together, stop being offended by words and be a survivor who tackled the ‘real thing’…I found myself furious, as an ex-campaigner who has done a ton of awareness raising work, and also deeply sad.

This was from a survivor saying they were fine with the term and so was everyone else. Where is their connection to their authentic self? Where is the permission to be vulnerable AND effective?

Don’t worry, I did point out I existed despite them trying to negate me! And I know, even if I was the only one, it would be wrong. I have done that work. I can be vulnerable AND effective. But how is it to be around people who lack respect for that? Triggering, wounding, unsafe, draining. Greyness. Shadowed.

Language matters. Language opens and closes doors. I write how I like on my blog, but I use ‘crystal mark/simple English as much as I can when campaigning. Language creates permission and gives presence and frames of reference within which we examine what we want to build and how we want to build it. How does a person who has been abused rebuild and keep their respect when terms of abuse are used to humiliate? Non-physical but pointed insults attacking the right to acceptance and pride in sexuality, race, gender self-definition, difference of ability, choice of work, whatever the bully chooses to demean, these all create spaces where respect for the person is blurred. And once that has gone, then abuse is possible and condoned, and protected from reporting by the targeted individual or groups.

Thus the rise in use of terms relating to sexual abuse is very worrying, survivors of violence (whether random or targeted) and sexual abuse, bullying, hate crimes and hate speech are definitely a majority in industrialised countries. And yet survivors of abuse are not respected the way we need to be.

Remembering intersectionality, these circles of oppression overlap and isolate, with vocational and financial opportunity offsetting for some, but further disadvantaging others. Class is now becoming a really tangled issue  with the complication of working and unemployed members of each class holding very different experiences of how these systems oppress them : a wealthy Hindu family who work in skilled manual trades, but who have no idea how desperate a sanctioned disabled but originally middle class white person in dispute with the Department of Work and Pensions might be…And a victim of abuse in the wealthy family might still be at greater suicide risk than the person enduring sanctions, if they are very sure they will win their appeal (eg ex solicitor, knows the loophole to argue).

It’s so complex – but so simple: anyone, anywhere deserves to be treated with respect. And if they are being oppressive, their mind will not be changed by being insulted, it will have to relax to let new information in.

The great Audre Lorde said it best:

“For the master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house. They may allow us to temporarily beat him at his own game, but they will never enable us to bring about genuine change. Racism and homophobia are real conditions of all our lives in this place and time. I urge each one of us here to reach down into that deep place of knowledge inside herself and touch that terror and loathing of any difference that lives here. See whose face it wears. Then the personal as the political can begin to illuminate all our choices.”

My response to all that has happened and all I feel is to create a space where inclusive, creative, compassionate campaigning can take place without hate speech.

So I have! ;)


An unfortunate truth  is I have to be prepared to check out every contact seeking to join the new group, and proofread every post/comment for at least the first month. I know from friends how draining being an admin of a Facebook group is, I now know how grey I feel after reading pages of hate pretending to be effective invitations to people to change their minds, hearts and actions. I want to be colourful again! I don’t want arguments! Spits dummy on floor!

But I have to honour my hurt, and the truth that if I want a disabled- friendly, non ‘hating’ group where anyone can rely on finding a peaceful, positive, constructive place to create small acts of protest, kindness and change…then it will take that. The shadow will shorten as a particular group of activists loses interest, the burden is already lightened by finding so many amazing things to post, my personal page has long been a relay point for loads of inspiration :) Any of you who read Sustainable Man will know how many brilliant initiatives are out there.

I have called it anyone everywhere inspired by this wonderful quote from Martin Luther King:

“Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny.

and also to reinforce the reasoning behind my refusal to bow down to the bullies: as a disabled person, I have the right to be allowed safe space at a protest about disability benefits. Many people require safe spaces to be able to make our positive and valuable contributions. We are not weak, we are strong when we declare we will work in positive ways, refusing to be divided against the others oppressed by the systems in power. Being inclusive matters, honouring ourselves, staying focused on being the change we want to see matters … speaking our heart truths… being vulnerable AND effective

garden: signs of spring

While lots of the country is under water, we are having heavy winds and rain, but nothing dangerous yet – and I hope it stays that way! I’m taking the ATOS protest flyers down to Speakers Corner tomorrow to share with groups and to hand to passers by, and then on Wednesday we have the protest itself, at the moment both are forecast to be dry, but cold because of the wind, which is a lot more manageable than heavy rain ;)


Meanwhile, the garden is beginning to liven up – before the high winds started I could hear some robins battling for territory – a squeaky wheel/gear sound that I enjoy because it means we will be having an early spring!

More signs are the daffodils, and the buds coming on the ribes (ornamental currant.) The blackcurrant sage has stayed green so far, and the violas and the poor confused violets have been flowering almost all the way through, which I can’t be sorry about, as they make me smile every time I go in and out. I am looking forward to getting in the garden again!





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