Our Garden Tour

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All of our doors lead directly into the garden and now that summer has arrived they are permanently open and the garden has become an extension of the house, a space to be enjoyed and lived in. It is in fact a series of rooms, and it occurred to me that I haven’t taken you on a tour of it for quite a long while.

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It was such a strange start to the year with the incredibly mild winter and with some of our fruit trees starting to blossom in January that we all wondered how the plants would react. There were no insects or other pollinators around so early and as a result the fruit crop has been dismal across the entire Charente Maritime; we had a few cherries but nothing like the quantities of last year and with such slim pickings the birds beat us to most of them; they took up residence in the trees at dawn and got first dibs. It was a similar story with the plums; a few are ripening on the trees but again we have nowhere near as many as last year. In addition I hear the apricot harvest throughout the department is a washout as well. In contrast, however, our grapevines are already smothered with young bunches of fruit.

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April was cold and May unusually chilly, so despite the early start to the gardening year things then got held back and it’s only now starting to come into it’s own. The garden was a major factor in our desire to buy the house; the moment we came through the gates into the driveway we were smitten; it was like entering another world and it drew us in. It is dominated by many ancient trees, several well over 300 years old and it’s simply nothing we could ever plant; it’s been here for generations, and for now we are just the current custodians of the garden, taking care of it in our lifetimes. It’s fascinating to imagine the people that must have left their footprints in its soil over the centuries.

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The driveway is one of my favourite parts; the gates swing open and the view greets us with a smile every time we pass and say hello. It is flanked on one side by a flowering hedge. It is looking fantastic already but it gets even better once the hibiscus comes into flower; in a couple of weeks it will be spectacular and our thousands of visiting bees will be happy for several weeks – it is a huge source of nectar and pollen for them.

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The other side of the driveway is bordered by a tall evergreen hedge that is smothered in honeysuckle; the scent is quite intoxicating.

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Walking down the old cobbled path in the lower half of the garden can take less than a minute, but I tend to get distracted and will often stop to pull up a weed or see how things have grown. Plants and gardening have an immense capacity for repairing and enhancing our minds and bodies, and horticulture is a great healer – a fact that has been proven scientifically. Researchers have found that smelling roses and pulling up weeds can lower blood pressure, increase brain activity and produce a general upbeat feeling.

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Even just looking at a garden can give you a positive boost. Horticultural therapists say gardens produce the most positive effects on mental health and gardening reduces stress levels.  The evidence is so compelling that horticultural therapy  is being used to treat hospital patients and even becoming part and parcel of city planning.

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But we are not the only ones who enjoy the garden. It’s so exciting to feel it is being used by all kinds of creatures; it is after all their garden as much as ours. As you know we don’t use pesticides or herbicides, and so this is a totally natural space with as much ‘organic-ness’ as I can put in it, and I long ago gave up the war with the weeds, they were always going to win anyway. Instead I have decided some weeds are good, and I now let some areas remain au naturel as it encourages the butterflies and bees, and lessens my workload a little.

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This is a garden perfect for wandering around in; there are no ‘hard’ edges and it’s certainly not manicured perfection. It evokes a gentle sense of softness, it’s a place to stand and stare; a place to relax and regenerate the soul.

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Down in the potager the old wall is now free of ivy but the stone remains where it has fallen; dealing with it will be another job but it’s one we will take our time with over the coming months; there’s no hurry, the emerging wild flowers and self-seeded poppies are enjoying the sunny aspect and the cracks and crevices are home to many a lizard and other creepy crawlies.

The vegetables are starting to grow, and one of the first things I do each morning is run down the garden to check on them, as if willing them to get a little bigger. I can’t wait until we can start to pick tomatoes again and eat them straight from the vines, warm from the sun. We are already eating fresh salads but I am impatient for everything else to develop and ripen. We have French beans and aubergines, courgettes and peppers, potatoes, carrots, cucumbers and melons, and oh so many tomatoes, we can never have enough of them and any surplus I make into sauces and ratatouille and freeze for the winter months ahead.

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The chicken garden is flanked on one side by a long boundary wall between our neighbours and us, and on the other by a row of established hazel and cobb trees. I mow in here regularly along with the rest of the garden but we have deliberately left a small section of meadow grass and also the wild plants which grow amongst the trees. We haven’t seen a tick since we got our chickens for example, and I think in general they feed on anything that crawls or flies – I would hate to come back as an earthworm in a chicken-run.

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Our courtyard garden has been the biggest success story as it’s quite unlike anywhere else on the property. It’s dominated by the huge old fig tree and the old stone walls are flanked by an equally old grapevine which is going to produce a significant crop of sweet white grapes this year, already the branches are showing many bunches of young fruit. It’s a favourite place for guests and friends to sit and wile away an hour or two with a good book.

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Whatever the weather and whatever you are doing this weekend, I hope it’s a good one x

80 thoughts on “Our Garden Tour

  • Absolutely beautiful. My own front garden was trampled by the contractors, who have not yet left. Plus the hundred-year-old chestnut trees, a major factor in my own decision to buy my particular house, were found to be utterly rotten in the center and had to be cut down. I still have a back garden and you are so right about its calming effects. Anyway, beautiful photos. Thanks for reminding me that this project will have an end and that the next project, the garden, will be so much more fun.

    • Hi, the next project will be so much fun! I wonder why it is contractors just don’t seem to understand how much damage they can do underfoot, I’ve been in that situation before, I don’t envy you, but it will come to an end and gardens do bounce back quickly. It’s so awful when old trees get diseased and have to be cut down, just tragic. I remember when Dutch Elm Disease killed so many of our trees on our farm in the UK, it was devastating. Onwards and upwards! Hopefully you can enjoy your back garden, Susan x

  • “Smelling roses and pulling up weeds can lower blood pressure, increase brain activity and produce a general upbeat feeling” – that’s the best news I’ve had in ages and it must be true because my blood pressure is low and I am generally an upbeat sort of person!!! Lovely blog Susan – thank you and look forward to seeing it in the flesh (so to speak) again soon. Penny at Maison Mauricexx

  • Oh how I loved wandering around your lovely garden with you. Just my type of natural garden, I always say flowering weeds are welcome in my garden, it’s just that sometimes they pop up where they might spoil a lovely rose bush in bloom. So many of the fruit trees blossomed too early this year so it’s affected such a lot of the fruits. I did notice a lack of apricots at the market this weekend.
    Enjoy your weekend.

    • Hi Barbara, thank you, flowering weeds are welcome here too! In fact there were two huge yellow ones in the courtyard garden, I left them, weeds or not, they were so pretty and so colourful, they looked wonderful! Proof that a weed is merely a plant in the wrong place, or in this case the right place! Hope you have had a lovely weekend, Susan x

    • Thanks Anita, the photos I have seen of yours on IG make yours look so gorgeous. As I said ours is far from perfect, but it has a wonderful peaceful atmosphere and an aura of complete calm, that’s what I love the most. Susan x

  • What a delightful read for a Sunday morning. It has left my wife and I feeling much the same colour as your lawn! Here in Perthshire our tomatoes have a couple of flower trusses, but it will be some time before we see any fruit, let alone be eating them. Although we have just had two weeks of exceptionally good weather, it has now reverted to type – 11 degrees, and dull grey cloudy skies. We can’t wait to move to P.C., but can’t at present because of frail and very elderly parents. One day!

    How big is your garden? It is very hard to judge from the photographs, but presumably it’s a fair size, given that you have a ride-on mower.

    We really enjoy your posts – a little piece of French sunshine to brighten our too often dull days.

    Best wishes,

    Ian

    • Hi Ian, the weather was not so much better here today! AFter a beautiful week it dropped to 19C and endless showers. Where is P.C.? I have tried to work this out but I have drawn a blank, do fill me in! The garden is about 1.25 acres, so not overly huge, I think the fact that there are so many areas is what makes it appear larger than it is. Hope you get some sunshine soon. Susan x

      • Hi Susan,

        P.C. = Poitou Charentes, so my apologies for any confusion!

        We regularly check the weather forecast for the area, and you are generally about ten degrees warmer than here in Scotland. It’s a classic case of magnificent scenery, shame about the weather. Add in the infamous Scottish midge, and doing anything in the garden after about 4pm becomes insufferable, if not impossible, even in the best of summer weather. We have noticed in our visits to Poitou Charentes that you seem to have far more hornets than over here, but they seem to work on the basis that if you leave them, they leave you. If only midges were as considerate!

        We haven’t yet finally decided where in Poitou Charente we would like to live, but being so used to the hills of Scotland, we would prefer an area that is not too flat. More research will be required. One of the (many) things that appeals to us is that properties with a reasonable amount of land seem much more common than over here. More land, plus better weather, should mean two happy gardeners in due course.

        Best wishes,

        Ian

      • Hi Ian, thanks, now I understand, don’t know why I never thought of that! I know the Scottish midges well, we have family there and it is a place I do love. You would miss the hills here for sure, but the scenery is just as beautiful, just different! We do get hornets but you are right they do leave us alone, they have never been a problem. The weather this year has been most odd it just cannot settle down, last week it was so hot and lovely and now it is raining again and much cooler, normally by now it has settled into a rhythm but this year that is sorely lacking. I think you would certainly be able to find a property that would suit with land and great gardening! Come by and say hello when you are next over doing some research. Susan x

  • Your garden is very beautiful. We also love eating berries and tomatoes straight from the plant, warmed by the sun. Our trees aren’t as old as yours, but they are the reason we bought our home. We saw them and decided to buy, before we even set foot inside the house. You can easily renovate a building, but to have big trees, it takes a lifetime. Or more.

    • Hi, thank you so much, anything edible warmed by the sun straight from the tree or plant always tastes so much better! I didn’t actually see our house, my husband bought it without me, I only saw photos and videos! But he said he knew we had to have it, like you, before he had seen the inside. Likewise when I finally saw the house, I knew I didn’t care how bad the interior was and how much renovation was needed (and it was a lot) I just knew that this was home. Susan x

  • Beautiful, beautiful french garden! I do wish I had one, I only have a terrasse, but filled with plants in pots. Have a nice day, and thank you for the look inside your garden!
    Inge

    • Hi Inge, I always think with even a small terrace or balcony you can still make it wonderful. I also saw someone the other day hanging cherry tomatoes which they had planted in a hanging basket. So the tomatoes tumbled down, how about that for space saving? Such a brilliant idea. have a lovely week. Susan x

  • What a lovely, pastoral setting. Can’t imagine leaving our doors open in summer…way too many bugs, along with heat and humidity, so it is nice to imagine your setting. Birds have taken over our cherry tree, so not much chance of a crop for us. We can usually tell when they have knocked a lot of cherries to the ground (where they ferment) by the number of birds flying just a little too crazily because they have become intoxicated.

    • Hi Mary, having lived in Florida, it was so nice to come back here and fling the doors and windows open without the need for screens or air conditioning! It seems the birds have had a good year this year! I think we managed to eat about 30 cherries and the birds had all the rest and it is huge tree, as I said there just weren’t enough to go around! have a lovely week, Susan x

    • Hi Adam, thank you, I really hope that I have inspired one or two people just to go out and wander around and enjoy themselves, then it’s all worthwhile for me! When I see other peoples gardens and photos it always makes me want to get out and do more in mine, although sadly today it has been pretty showery and chilly all day, so absolutely no gardening! Have a lovely week, Susan x

    • Hi Linda, thank you so much, I think we all need a little inspiration from others at times, trust me, there are many people who inspire me; I like to think of it as we are all helping each other. If only life were just that simple! Susan x

  • I’ve enjoyed reading your posts…and love you the pictures posted. Thanks for adding these images to my Sunday!

  • What stunning insect photos! Your pond is also so lovely, did you create it yourselves or did it come with the house? The old stones are spectacular.

    • Hi Helen, thank you. We made the pond last year. We had a local come in with his digger to make the hole, it is shallow one end and over a metre deep at the other. We then filled it with water and left it for a year to settle. At the beginning of May we bought our first plants for the pond and our neighbour gave us the lilies, they seem really happy as we now have flowers coming. We bought some fish and the whole pond is alive with insects and frogs and newts. Everybody who comes into the garden stops a while by the pond, just watching, it’s fabulous. Susan x

  • You seem to be quite the gardening expert Susan! The French version of Ken Burras, you could easily run your own little version of Gardeners’ World if all else fails! It all looks so tranquil and well tended to.

    • Hi Lily, thank you so much! I think Gardeners world would lose all of it’s followers and everyone would turn their tv’s off and their gardens would go downhill rapidly! I am nothing but a very very amateur gardener, I just love being outdoors and at one with nature, because, as you say it is so tranquil and it is very calming. But it’s also the children’s playground too, they play Badminton and swing on the swings and so it is a real family garden. Susan x

  • What a lovely garden and beautiful photos. How lucky you are to have trees more than 300 years old! Our house was a farmhouse and the only trees when we moved in were plums and indigenous oak, ash and walnut. I love your courtyard garden, too. A tranquil place to while away a few quiet hours. Summer arrived down here for 3 days and then went away again. I took my first swim on Thursday but it may be some time before I go in again…

    • Thank you, the weather has been so odd hasn’t it. We have had a lovely week, really warm and lots of sun. We were swimming all week. Friday was a bit dire but yesterday was nice again and then today it all went rapidly downhill! It just cannot seem to settle into normal summer weather. Fingers crossed it all gets better soon. Susan x

  • Oh Susan…I envy the lushness of your garden. We are on waterig restrictions if you can imagine that…..and this is supposed to be a temperate rain forest.
    Looking forward to siting under the fig tree.

    Ali xx

    • Hi Ali, we were watering like mad last week, but the weather has been so strange, today lots of rain, oh well I suppose it saves me watering! I think our climate has gone completely off track, it just doesn’t know what to do, but we are lucky we have escaped the floods and the really bad weather. This time last year it was all parched and dry and the lawn looked awful! Susan x

    • Hi Ellen, thank you so very much. Now if only the weather would decide what it wants to do and stay the same I might get out in the garden even more! After a really warm nice week today it turned cooler with rain again. Not a typical June at all, but after the heat and now with rain everything is growing like mad, the weeds too I’m afraid! Susan x

  • Breathtaking! The iron fence with roses is so French! Your description of going to the garden & willing the readiness of the veggies is something I also do every morning!

    • Thanks Jeanne, how funny that you should go and will your vegetables to grow too, I am glad I am not the only one! I didn’t take much notice of them yesterday, the day went by in a blur, with friends arriving from the USA, and today I am sure everything had grown by a few more inches, so exciting!!! Susan x

  • It’s not the weeds so much as the snails this year!! Does anyone else think there are more this year? Pesky things, eating my lupins! But I find it hard to kill them or even the slugs. Any suggestions out there for deterring them kindly but successfully?! Your garden looks lovely and those hens are such lucky ladies!! Thank you for sharing your garden and enjoy your week.

    • Snails and slugs, ugh! They are all over my garden, too. However. The flower beds were left with a layer of embedded rocks, little rocks with sharp edges. The snails won’t go near them. I guess it hurts their little slimy bodies. Anything growing in those beds is in great shape.

      • Perhaps that is the answer! Our neighbour eats them, she keeps them for 8 days in a special unit and then cooks them, just regular garden snails, she says you don’t need special ones and she is French! Perhaps this is a solution

    • Hi Marian, we have so many snails, but I am not sure if we have more than last year, well ways seem to be inundated with snails. I don’t put down chemicals, I hate them, but I do pick them off and I take them down to the far end of the garden to the compost. I don’t know if it helps or not, each day I must pick 50 or so from the wall of the house by the wisteria, and they also love the Arum lilies and any form of Lilly and the hollyhocks. I tried feeding them to the chickens, but the chickens rejected them! Susan x

      • I’m not eating them and I’m glad to hear the chickens agree with me. I used to feed them to my box turtle, Walter. He loved them. I can still hear the crunch of their little shells as he dove into his feast. I’d try another turtle but they live so long. I’d want to be sure someone would agree to take the little guy, should he/they outlive me.

      • I couldn’t eat them either, I cannot think of anything worse! But it has become quite a joke in our family as I head off down the garden each day with my hoard of snails, big, small, babies, there are so many of them. Only one is safe – last summer the girls painted his shell silver with a green stripe on it. He is still thriving, he spent the winter in the fig tree, but this year he has ventured nearer the house! I haven’t got the heart to take him down to the compost!!! I think a turtle sounds like great fun, I am sure someone would happily take a turtle, but I do know what you mean, animals, other living creatures, they are a huge responsibility. Susan x

  • Oh I just love your garden, it’s so pretty, I would love to be able to walk around and wander in amongst the plants, it looks so peaceful. Thank you for making my day get off to such a good start.

    • Hi Lisa, thank you so much and I hope you have continued to have a lovely day. It is really a lovely garden to just potter in, there is something so terribly peaceful about it, even though we are in the heart of the village, it is so quiet and peaceful and private, we do all love it! Susan x

  • I want to have a garden like yours, serious garden envy here, but as always your blog post was fantastic, an inspiration to so many of us, thank you

    • Thank you Jane, it is such a lovely garden just to wander around in, there are many days when I simply never want to leave, it is one of my happiest places to be and I am happy to say the children feel the same. It’s a real family garden. Susan x

    • Hi Nadia, not as long as I should, this year I’ve really had far less time than ever before, but although it looks like a lot of hard work it doesn’t need constant attention, now that I have let some of the weeds remain!!! Susan x

    • Thank you! Wish I could say the same for the weather, it just doesn’t know what to do, hot one minute and raining and chilly the next! Hope you had a great time in Florida. X

  • Oh the gardens………..I’m so relaxed that I may have to have a nap in the shade!

    Your flowers and roses are stunning! I know you are organic – so please tell me your secret to aphid-free roses. My grandmother swore by a sprinkle of soapy dishwater everyday. What’s your secret? (And I am really hoping for more than ……….. it’s the glorious French air……as that may be a bit difficult to replicate…… being on another continent and all.) I know I’m being cheeky……and I apologize…..but the soapy dishwater has not worked as well for me in Kentucky, as aphids thrive here, but it did work well in the not-so-humid summer conditions of Oregon. Or………on second thought……. possibly the rains just knocked them off the plants there…….

    You have done soooooooooo much!! You must keep your clever and industrious husband chained somewhere within the stone walls with nippers in hand!
    Seriously – wow – truly Your (and all of Our) French Oasis.

    ps – I had forgotten that chickens snack on ticks. That is an extremely compelling reason to have chickens!!!!

    • Hi, thank you! I wish I had a cure for aphid free roses, but alas I don’t. I have tried the soap and it doesn’t really work at all. Now I am afraid I just go around with a pair of cotton gardening gloves on and just gently squish them and wipe them off. It seems to be the thing that works the best. The gardens are hard work, but I love the work, it’s a real pleasure for me to find time to get out into the garden and pull some weeds and ride on the mower! Susan x

  • What a treat to be invited in to your garden! I love the planters in the first picture!! I wish my No. Georgia garden looked like yours!
    My paternal roots are in the Charente . . . further inland . . . Barbezieux, to be exact. I went there once . . . hoping to go back at least one more time.

    • Hi Vicky, I hope you get back to the Charente, the entire region is lovely. The old stone planters we inherited with the property, we have so many of them lieing around, I guess they were way to heavy to move so we were lucky! We have another one full of succulents, it is very simple and pretty, but terribly hard to photograph! Hope you have a lovely week, Susan x

    • Thank you Paulita, it’s a very calming and peaceful garden, if ever I am feeling as if life is getting hectic and on top of me I take a wander around the garden, it always seems to put everything back into perspective. It’s a great place to think! Susan x

  • Thank you so much for these pictures. We have just moved to a small patio home in the upstate of South Carolina. It’s very different from our other home with a huge yard and many garden “niches”. We are trying to establish a city garden but the extreme heat is a challenge. Our hydrangeas in large pots are lovely though. We shall persevere!

    • Hi Sheran, I can imagine just how you feel, having lived in Florida for a few years I know how challenging the heat can be. I actually think small city gardens are such fun, you can do so much even in a tiny space and the upkeep is so much easier! Have you tried hanging baskets filled with tiny cherry tomatoes, they don’t take up so much space and are both pretty and edible. Have a wonderful week, Susan x

  • I am always shocked when someone says they have too many tomatoes – do they not cook or freeze food? Slow-roasted tomatoes from a bounty can easily fit in my freezer – can’t have enough of those.

    • Hi, I totally agree, one can never have enough tomotoes, we made endless sauces last summer and enjoyed them all winter, if anything we didn’t make enough and this year we need to make more! There is always space in my freezer. Have a lovely week, Susan x

  • Love all the buggie photos. We also leave a large part of our garden here in France untouched by humans. On a walking tour yesterday we saw that something large (probably a deer I imagine) has been sleeping. The garden was also a large part of why we chose our particular home here in France. Hoping the weather turns shortly!

    • Hi Renee, houses can be renovated, houses can be fixed, but it’s impossible to plant 300 year old trees! I can quite see why you would have chosen your house for the garden too. I so hope the weather changes, apparently by the weekend it is looking good! Hope we can then meet up. Susan x

    • My nephew, Chris, is commencing his first adventure Saturday AM when a friend, on his way to England for his weekly pickup of items to bring back for Brits, is stopping by LeMans to see the races and invited Chris. Since Chris had already mentioned “LeMans” 3x (as in “is there any chance of going?”), he is thrilled. Husband arrives Saturday and Chris will be back Wednesday. Let me know how your schedule is going. You’re welcome to come here or we can stop in. I’d love to go to Rochefort. Also Ile de Re or Oleron on list.

    • Thank you so much, I am glad you enjoyed it, as you know I love our garden, it has far too many weeds and is far from perfect but it’s calm and peaceful and a great place to spend some time and so I wanted to share it with everyone. Hope you have a lovely week, weather is quite quite awful here at the moment, it all changed on Friday! Susan x

  • My husband will be delighted I have found your blog, he has a dream to move to France! Your life looks an idyllic one, the garden is stunning. Do you have a tennis court I can see you are a family of tennis lovers? I would imagine life in New Zealand was pretty good to bring up kids as well!
    I am happy to be your latest follower.
    Wren x

    • Hi Wren, and I am so happy to have you as my latest follower, welcome to the blog! Life is indeed excellent, we are really lucky, of course nothing is ever perfect, but it’s a good life for both ourselves and the children. I wish we did have a tennis court, my husband often jokes that we should turn the largest lawn area into a grass court, but it would ruin the garden! We are very fortunate in that we have a court in the village, all-weather, that hardly anyone ever uses and so we play there several days a week. We are indeed a family of tennis lovers with two of the girls playing quite seriously in a number of tournaments. New Zealand is wonderful, loved every second of life there and our youngest daughter was born there, but it is just too far from home and family. France is very much closer to the UK! Susan X

  • That one dusky pink rose really made me catch my breath; it’s so gorgeous. I love your garden, and especially the courtyard. Amazing close-ups of the insects, and I love that pale butterfly too. I don’t see any of my blog followers amongst your comments, but I’m sure that will all change soon if they see you pop up in mine. That seems to be how it works here on WP. 🙂

    • Thanks so much, it’s rather fun to take the time to observe the insects at work, I only get one decent photo for every fifty or so I take of them, but it’s fun to try! Roses are out in force here at the moment, they are terribly popular in this part of France. Great to have you following along, Susan x

  • Lovely post as always, Susan. You certainly are reaping the rewards of not doing very much then – if you insist you don’t do a lot! Very interesting you have newts already in a one year-old pond, it must be a special little puddle of water for sure!

    • Hi Phil, I wish I could do far far more in the garden, I would happily spend all day and every day there, but alas a few hours a week is all I manage, that’s why I have so many weeds! But they are happy weeds and for the most party pretty weeds! The pond does seem very happy, we now have lots of lily flowers about to open which is very exciting. Susan x

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