Plan the perfect path

Adam Frost

Adam Frost

TV gardener Adam Frost shares his expertise on designing garden access to give a sense of movement and destination

The design, materials and shape of your paths all directly impact your garden, visually and practically. As well as being a way of getting from A to B, a path can help divide up the garden, enhance the drama and geometry of a scene, gently wend its way to far-flung corners, or even create a visual ‘pull’.

The most important aspect when designing a path is its purpose. Think about the path’s destination, how quickly you want people to get there and how heavily used it will be.

Paths determine the way people navigate a space. They’re also a way to direct people around your garden and steer them towards focal points or views, or slow them down to enjoy a feature.

Without a path, people tend to move haphazardly through a space. Think about how you’d walk through a wild area such as a woodland; most likely you’d be looking down for trip hazards rather than enjoying the views. Adding a path gives a sense of movement and destination.

As soon as you provide an access route you don’t have to think about where to put your feet and your head can come up instead, allowing you to look around.


The style of your path has a massive impact on the overall design of your garden. Look to use materials that suit the age and style of your house and choose a path type that fits with the garden colour scheme and planting style. 

You’ll also need to decide what kind of edging to use where a path meets other features such as borders or a lawn. For instance, gravel paths may need edging to prevent gravel spilling into flowerbeds; using flush edging no higher than the lawn makes mowing easier.

Simple brick edging gives a classic, timeless look. You can create different effects by the way you lay the bricks – such as the classic, timeless stretcher bond or more visually exciting herringbone.

Timber edging is cheap and cheerful and can be used straight or curved, while steel edging gives a smart edge to a lawn, but needs to be installed carefully, especially if it’s used to go around bends or sharp curves.

Small units such as granite setts are hardwearing, easy to use, and you can obtain them in various shades of grey. They’re particularly useful for situations that require tight curves.

Stone edging is a good way to tie in with, for example, the stone used on a terrace and helps to give continuity of materials around the garden. 




1 GET THERE FAST Are you just going from A to B or is the route more convoluted? Is the path to be used every day (primary path) or only occasionally? A primary path should be roughly 1m (3ft 3in) wide so it’s practical to walk along, although paths used less often can be narrower. Primary paths that are heavily used need to be made from hard-wearing materials. Tie them in with the overall look of the house and garden by colour or texture etc. Use focal points to invite people to travel along the route.



While the quickest route from A to B is a straight line, it might divide the garden in a way that’s not useful to your design. Curved paths can slow people down and bring a sense of movement into a garden. A focal point encourages people to linger midway along a path, while arches or a pergola provide interest and a sense of mystery. Edge your path with planting to stop people from cutting the corner.




Add seating along a path to encourage people to pause as they move through the space. This will invite them to enjoy different views, slow down their journey and get more out of the garden. Use different materials and paving  patterns to make your pausing points distinct from the path. Irregular paving, with planting to the side, will soften the path lines. If you’re adding seating, remember to provide a good view or focal point for people to look at.




Paths that are only used occasionally can still become part of your overall design. They lead the eye, invite possibilities and tap into the power of suggestion. Vary the materials or match the primary path to help integrate the diversion into the design. Stepping stones might not be heavily used, for example, but they provide a real focal pull and, practically, they help prevent wear and tear on your lawn.

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Adding a bench invites people to sit and pause awhile, enjoying the planting around the seat and views up or down the path. Be sure to offer a good view to look at from the seat. A decorative pot, urn or small water feature can be positioned at the far end of a straight path, acting as a focal point to draw people along, even if the path leads ‘nowhere’.


This is an edited extract from RHS How to Create Your Garden by Adam Frost (£20, DK), available at all good book retailers and garden centres


Make an autumn statement

Ceratostigmata plumbaginoides

Ceratostigmata plumbaginoides

Fill your garden with late flowers and flamboyant foliage. Val Bourne sets the garden ablaze…

No one can pretend that November is the greatest gardening month of the year, but there are flowering plants that linger on. They’re poignant reminders of summer past, whether it’s a late rose, a heavy-headed dahlia, an aster with tiny flowers about to turn to thistledown, a jaunty salvia or fuchsia managing to defy the weather. Sometimes these fading beauties are rimed in frost and on misty mornings, dripping with dew.

There’s still plenty of colour, because deciduous trees and shrubby plants are about to shed their leaves. The fading foliage comes in warm shades of butter yellow, marmalade-orange and lipstick red and these colours really stand out as the days get shorter, cooler and greyer.

November is the month when specimen white-stemmed birches and Japanese maples take a giant leap forward, just when everything else is in retreat. The low light picks out every bump and ragged edge, making shiny upright dogwood stems glow. Give them a well-lit place to shine – don’t tuck them away in a gloomy corner.

Although it’s a month of gentle decay, on warm afternoons honey bees still forage before their winter sleep, so it’s important to include some late flowers. Hardy nerines, autumn crocuses and cyclamen are clinging on; later there could be a touch of fragrance when the lemon-yellow flowers of Mahonia media ‘Winter Sun’ and ‘Charity’ appear. These two shine now and both tolerate some shade.

You’ll also get the strongest hyacinth scent from Viburnum bodnantense ‘Dawn’ in late autumn. The fragrance carries on damper days and drifts through the garden, even when planted on a boundary edge. 

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Discover the plants that grow old gracefully


As autumn arrives, choose plants that fade with elegance and architecture. Val Bourne suggests some cultivars to go for

October is a warm month, full of seasonal riches. There’s still heat in the afternoon sunshine, but the colour palette has definitely begun to drift; there are plenty of browns, khakis and beiges among the late-flowering jewels.
As days get shorter, the sun sinks a little lower, backlighting plants and revealing textures. This is when sun-bleached blonde grasses come to the fore. Stipa gigantea has changed from a golden summer fountain to a harvest-brown veil and it’s getting a little more translucent and golden every day. Miscanthus, molinia and cortaderia also start to shine now, so plant them where they can bask in the low-angled afternoon sun.
Foliage is beginning to blush warm tones of red and pink and plenty of shrubs still cling to their leaves. The smoke bush, Cotinus coggygria ‘Royal Purple’, has leaves that look like wine-red lollipops that develop shocking-pink edges as night-time temperatures dip. Cornus and euonymus provide a flash of decadent lipstick-pink and plum, while witch hazels and Japanese maples offer an opulent glow of marmalade gold. Now’s the time to capitalise on this natural bounty, teaming nodding blonde grasses with blushing foliage and architectural seedheads. Fading plants never looked so beautiful.
Taller grasses begin to fade to shades of honey, parchment and mink, adding movement as they shimmy and shake. The most useful is Miscanthus sinensis, whose cultivars vary widely in terms of flowering times, depending on how warm your garden is. For colder parts of the country, towering ‘Silberfeder’ (silver feather) has lots of upright parchment plumes that fade to silver-white. Slightly shorter ‘Ferner Osten’ (Far East) produces wine-red plumes that mature to mink-brown. The plumed heads persist through winter, but make sure you cut them back in February because they spurt into growth early on. 
Upright Calamagrostis acutiflora ‘Karl Foerster’ gives a vertical whoosh. Piet Oudolf uses it to create a trembling backbone in his prairie gardens, but a lone clump can also work well. In contrast, Calamagrostis brachytricha produces low mounds of foliage and very fluffy heads that emerge mauve-pink in late August, picking up the colour of asters really well, before maturing to silver-white.
Taller molinias can reach 1.5m (5ft). They need less space than miscanthus and tend to be airier, although their heads disintegrate by midwinter. Molinia caerulea ‘Karl Foerster’ colours up to gold by October and, despite its height, can be grown at the front of a border because it’s so gauzy. ‘Transparent’ is even finer and its beaded heads darken as autumn days shorten. It’s very good with tall yellow daisies.
Seedheads also come into their own and the papery, domed heads of hydrangeas die beautifully. Easy to grow Hydrangea arborescens ‘Annabelle’ was found in Ohio so it’s used to cold winters and dry summers. Its large ivory-white flowerheads, which turn to shades of green, can get blown about by wind. ‘Strong Annabelle’ has more robust stems and bigger flowers; there’s also a new ‘Pink Annabelle’. Late-summer- flowering H. paniculata ‘Limelight’ and lacier white ‘Kyushu’ both fade into winter gracefully too; paniculatas generally tolerate woodland shade.
Lots of stiff-stemmed perennials can be left to endure in winter. Veronicastrums have slender tapers above whorled foliage and, as the flowers wane, the green bobbly heads begin to turn pale brown. Veronicastrum virginicum ‘Erica’ is a good pink form and the reddish buds add extra drama. You’ll also get good verticals, blue flowers and dark stems from agastache ‘Blackadder’ and Salvia nemorosa ‘Caradonna’; both fade with utmost elegance.

Miscanthus ‘Silberfeder’ Ornamental grass with tall, airy, silvery plumes. Needs full sun and a moist, well-drained soil. H2.5m (8ft) S1.5m (5ft)

Hydrangea ‘Annabelle’ Large globes of dense white flowers July-Sept. Sun or part shade in any soil, even dry conditions. H and S2.5m (8ft)

Veronicastrum ‘Album’ Slender white spikes July-Aug. Sun or part shade in moist, well- drained soil. H1.2m (4ft) S45cm (18in)

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Discover your planting style

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In this extract from his new book, Adam Frost explains how to discover your planting style

The planting in your garden doesn’t need to be complicated. If you do a little research and prepare a moodboard you’ll be able to create a garden that captures your personality.
There are lots of defined planting styles, but for me a garden should reflect your personality. So, as you’re drawn around your space, don’t just think about planting styles, but also consider mood or emotion. Planting shouldn’t be dictated just by how it looks, but how it makes you feel.
The best way to identify your planting style is to build a moodboard specifically for your soft landscaping (planting areas). Books, magazines and Pinterest are a great starting point for planting inspiration, but don’t forget to head outside too.
Check out a local garden centre to see what’s on offer; head to a park or a local garden open day and take a look at the borders. Whenever you spot something you like, try to work out what it is you like about it exactly. Are the plants tumbling into each other? Do vibrant colours catch your eye?
Wherever you go, take photos and make plenty of notes. Write down words that describe the atmosphere you’d like the garden to evoke and how you want it to make you feel when you spend time in it. You might notice one underlying theme shining through your notes or perhaps a few themes that could influence different areas of the garden. For example, you might want to create a quiet contemplative space that links to a lively area for entertaining. The theme(s) that you finally settle on hopefully reveal a little of your personality.
You don’t need to be familiar with well-known planting styles in order to plant a garden, but you may find it useful to research a few online, such as romantic; formal or informal; minimalist or maximalist; Contemporary; traditional (eg cottage garden); exotic; coastal; wildlife friendly.
As you start building a wishlist of ideal plants for each layer, keep your moodboard handy to help you focus on your garden’s overall theme and identify anything that doesn’t seem to fit. By referring back to your moodboard when choosing and sourcing materials, you can avoid becoming overwhelmed by all the various different possibilities on offer.
Create a moodboard to establish the type of atmosphere you want to create. Gather source materials from books, magazines, Pinterest, paint swatches, natural objects and photos from garden visits as a starting point. It might be a texture, colour, pattern or shape that catches your eye. Add words that describe the feelings or emotions evoked by these items.
Assemble your favourite images on a sheet of card to work out your preferred colour schemes and planting styles (eg formal/informal). Bear these in mind as you build your wishlist of plants for each layer – trees, shrubs, perennials and bulbs.

This is an edited extract from RHS How to Create Your Garden by Adam Frost (£20, DK), available at all good book retailers and garden centres.

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Create a moodboard to establish the type of atmosphere you want to create in your garden. Use books, magazines, Pinterest and photos from garden visits as a starting point. Assemble your favourite images on a sheet of cardboard to work out your preferred colour schemes and planting styles (eg romantic, formal, minimalist, wildlife-friendly etc). Bear these ideas in mind as you start to build your wish list of ideal plants for each layer – trees, climbers, shrubs, perennials and bulbs

Must-have kit for bulb planting

Planting bulbs is an autumn activity that will reap rewards next spring. Don’t miss out: make life easier with these helpful tools and accessories


De Wit hand bulb planter £19.99 Crocus 01344 578111; 

Kent & Stowe long-handled stainless steel bulb planter £24.99 Primrose 0118 903 5210; 

Niwaki Hori-hori knife £24 (holster £28) Niwaki 01747 445059;

Squirrel-proof cloches £37.99 for two, Crocus 01344 578111; 

Bulb planting kit £27.95 and planting trays from £7.50 Sarah Raven 0345 092 0283;

Ladies’ groundbreaker spade £44.99 and hand held bulb planter £17.99 Burgon & Ball 0114 233 8262;

Spring bulb flowerpot collection £242 for four Whichford Pottery 01608 684416; 

Bosmere small round bulb baskets £4.74 for three (26cm) Littlefields Farm 01455 393000;

Get creative with layers

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Planning a new border? In this extract from his new book, Adam Frost explains how to make your planting scheme look balanced and natural, with layering

 For me, layers make planting look and feel right. They bring structure and seasonal interest, but most importantly they create atmosphere. Nature is the best place to learn about planting design,
and plant layers occur in all climates, from tropical rainforests to temperate oak woodlands.

Layers usually consist of bulbs, perennials and shrubs, with the lower canopy and upper canopy of trees above them. But in reality, layers are seldom as clearly separated, so you get blurring of lines as things intermingle over time. It’s a really interesting way to look at gardens and it doesn’t take long to notice when something is missing in a planted scene.

Below I’ve focused on a typical shady border as an example of how to plant in layers, using a selection of my favourite plants for shade.

When you have shady conditions, the choice of plants that will thrive becomes more limited than if you’re working with a sunny spot. That said, there are still lots of beautiful examples you can plant to create a lush little oasis.

This planting scheme combines texture, green tones and light-coloured flowers that can really enhance a shady area. All the plants I select have to work hard, and that’s particularly true for shady parts of the garden.

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Take each layer in turn, picking out textures and tones, and weave in pops of colour and seasonal interest

1 Consider the canopy

Here I’ve gone for a multi-stem cercidiphyllum to create dappled shade. Its leaves have a lovely shape and look crisp and fresh in spring, have a warm hue through summer, then fill the air with the scent of burnt sugar as the frosts arrive.

Underneath is Cornus mas – a small, hard-working tree whose bark has scaly orange brown plates, giving great winter interest. Small clusters of yellow flowers appear very early in the year, followed by dark red fruit in autumn. 

2 Create the shrub layer

Mahonia ‘Winter Sun’ has a strong architectural shape with its dark spiky foliage. As a bonus it also has good winter flowers and scent. Evergreen Buxus sempervirens provides a visual link with the mahonia; in a bigger border, you could use several to create rhythm. 

3 Plant perennials with texture
It’s not all about colour in a shady border, so in the perennial layer I’m adding ferns for texture. Matteuccia gives height and exciting lime-green foliage early in the year; dryopteris is a robust old thing that never seems to let me down. Planted apart, they’ll start to create a rhythm through the border.

4 Now add a shot of colour

The long stems of Euphorbia amygdaloides robbiae have round sprays of acid green flowers that will really lighten up this shady area. I’m also adding astrantia for its pin-cushion flowers – which are mainly white and fade to green; its palmately lobed basal leaves contrast well with the ferns. Geranium nodosum has small pink flowers and can be semi-evergreen. It has a sprawling habit with light green foliage and is very long-flowering – it starts in late spring and is still going in autumn.

5 Add vertical form and movement

Grasses are great for this, and here I’ve gone for bright green, mound-forming hakonechloa. It has light airy flowers in midsummer and it offers decent autumn colour, contrasting really well with the evergreen buxus. Digitalis works well as a strong vertical that can also bring a sense of freedom to the planting. I want the border to feel natural, and these biennials start to travel as they see fit, which, frankly, always works better than me doing it!

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This feature is xusudchnnc an edited extract from RHS How to create your garden (£20 DK) available from all good bookshops

Top 10 plants you can't kill

These robust plants will fill your garden with flowers and fragrance and ask for little in return. Author Jamie Butterworth nominates 10 of his favourites

Hydrangea paniculata  ‘Limelight’

Hydrangea paniculata ‘Limelight’

 1 Hydrangea paniculata ‘Limelight’ The bold and impressive flower heads of this hydrangea can’t fail to add theatre to the garden. Despite looking flamboyant and blowsy, they’re actually very easy to grow, performing reliably year after year. ‘Limelight’ produces large flowers like giant ice cream cones that last well throughout winter. Grow them in dappled shade, which helps keep the plant cool in summer. The clue to growing really good hydrangeas is in the name: hydor is Greek for water, so make sure they don’t dry out. Prune back to the old wood in late winter, cutting back the previous year’s growth to two buds from the main framework. H2.5m (8ft) S1.5m (5ft)

Pittosporum ‘Tom Thumb’ (black and green shrub towards left)

Pittosporum ‘Tom Thumb’ (black and green shrub towards left)

2 Pittosporum ‘Tom Thumb’ Pittosporum is a hard-working, easy-to-grow shrub that’s evergreen so ideal for year-round structure. It’s a superb alternative to box, and can be tightly clipped to make a topiary focal point or grown as low hedging. Its foliage is small, dense and waxy – new leaves emerge fresh green in spring and fade to a deep purple. These slow-growing shrubs love a sunny, sheltered, free-draining site, and their slow-growing nature means plants require next to no maintenance, just very infrequent clipping to keep the foliage dense and compact. Spread a thick layer of mulch around the base of the shrub during winter to help protect its roots from frost. H and S1m (3ft 3in)

Clematis armandii

Clematis armandii

3 Clematis armandii A reliable cottage-garden favourite, it’s possible to have a clematis in flower every month of the year. The delicate-looking flowers of evergreen climber C. armandii are breathtakingly beautiful – belying the fact it’s incredibly resilient and easy-to-grow, ideal for covering an ugly wall or adding height to a border. It can tolerate some shade, but for best results plant it in a sunny spot against a south-facing wall. Varieties such as ‘Apple Blossom’ don’t need regular pruning, but if it does start to become too big, prune it back just after flowering. Keep it well watered, mulch and feed during spring with a balanced, slow-release fertiliser. H8m (26ft) S3m (10ft)

Verbena bonariensis

Verbena bonariensis

4 Verbena bonariensis Verbena is loved as much by bees and butterflies as it is by us gardeners. Despite its gracious and airy appearance, it’s incredibly tough and will withstand the hottest of summers. Flowering from the end of June to the first frosts, even when it’s finished flowering, the silvery seedheads provide architecture throughout winter. Verbena adores a south-facing sunny spot with good drainage; gravel gardens offer the perfect planting location. Water them to get established and then again when the weather gets very hot (July to August), then just leave them to it. Cut it back in late winter. H2m (6 1/2ft) S45cm (18in)

Alchemilla mollis , frothy acid-green flowers in foreground

Alchemilla mollis, frothy acid-green flowers in foreground

5 Alchemilla mollis Lady’s mantle is quiet, understated and extremely hard-working. It comes into its own just after rain, as the droplets of water bead on the foliage and create the most mesmerising effect. Its foamy mist of butter-yellow flowers splays from the finely serrated foliage, this is one of the best foliage plants you can use in a garden. Make sure it doesn’t dry out during summer – although it loves full sun, it also thrives on moisture. That aside, it’s a reliable plant that’s relatively maintenance-free. If it starts to spread, dig up some clumps and share them with a friend. H50cm (19in) S75cm (29in)

Euphorbia characias wulfenii

Euphorbia characias wulfenii

6 Euphorbia characias wulfenii The spurge family is a huge group of plants and although most are succulents, the herbaceous varieties offer an exciting array of textural foliage in vibrant blue, green and gold. E characias wulfenii is one of the most popular: drought-resistant and practically pest and disease free. Its whorls of attractive, blue-green evergreen foliage last all year and in spring are joined by huge clusters of acid-lime flower bracts on stiff stems. They’re unfussy and tend to thrive in any soil as long as it’s well drained. Grow in full sun or part shade and take care not to get the milky white sap on your skin as it’s a toxic irritant. H1.5m (5ft) S1.2m (4ft)

Salvia ‘Caradonna’

Salvia ‘Caradonna’

7 Salvia ‘Caradonna’ One of the most spectacular salvias, ‘Caradonna’ features majestic purple flower spires that rise over a compact mound of foliage. Flowering from May through to the first frosts, salvias keep on giving long into winter when their skeletal flower stems catch morning dew and hard frosts. They’ll tolerate dappled shade, but the sunnier it is, the better they’ll grow. The key to success is to ensure it doesn’t sit too wet throughout winter. Though it’s hardy, it doesn’t like the damp so avoid growing it in clay soil, if possible. In February cut the plant back to ground level, mulch with rotted organic matter and watch it spring back to life. H50cm (19in) S30cm (12in)

Cosmos bipinnatus

Cosmos bipinnatus

8 Cosmos bipinnatus Cosmos is the princess of the cut-flower garden and queen of the container. It’s a fantastic annual that will bloom relentlessly from June through to the first frosts. Rapidly growing into large clumps, they can quickly fill gaps in borders while maintaining their elegance and chic composure, taking the form of a cloud of flowers. No summer garden is complete without them! Sow seeds indoors from March to April and plant outdoors once the last frost has passed. Keep deadheading and feeding throughout summer for continuous blooms. As cosmos can grow quite large, it can often be good to stake the plants with old birch stems to prevent them collapsing in heavy rain. H1m (3ft 3in) S30cm (12in)

Lonicera periclymenum

Lonicera periclymenum

9 Lonicera periclymenum ‘Graham Thomas’ Honeysuckles are one of the most iconic, sweet-smelling climbers and are a brilliant addition to any garden. They’re the perfect solution to most vertical dilemmas; they grow fast and produce impressive displays with minimum effort. The colourful tubular flowers are a brilliant attraction with an incredible aroma. They’re reasonably unfussy about soil type, location or aspect, although they won’t grow well in deep shade. Manage their size by cutting back hard after flowering; they have a tendency to become bare at the bottom. With an extra mulch and some controlled-release fertiliser in spring, they will keep rewarding you. H8m (26ft) S1m (3ft 3in)

Erigeron karvinskianus

Erigeron karvinskianus

10 Erigeron karvinskianus Every garden, no matter how big or small, has cracks and crevices where it can be difficult to grow anything. These are the perfect places for small alpine plants and the dazzling daisies of Mexican fleabane. This amazing perennial produces hundreds of tiny, daisy-like flowers from May to October, drifting and dancing through walling and paving, and creating a delicate froth of flowers along path edges. Grow them in full sun with good drainage; these plants will thrive in a tricky hot spot or suntrap, but won’t do as well in shade. H30cm (12in) S1m (3ft 3in)

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• This is an edited extract from 50 Plants you can’t kill by Jamie Butterworth (£16.99, RHS Books)

Create a slice of paradise

Combine flappy leaves with grasses and ferns; large, lush leaves create a range of shapes and textures, says Naomi Slade


Structural specimen plants with architectural stems, dramatic evergreen leaves, height and poise provide a year-round framework. If you have room, plant a tree with dramatic leaves such as Eriobotrya japonica (loquat), Liriodendron chinense, Catalpa bignonioides (which can be pollarded so its leaves grow even bigger) and Albizia julibrissin rosea with ferny foliage and rose-pink flowers.


For small gardens consider structural shrubs including Fatsia japonica, Tetrapanax papyrifer ‘Rex’ or hardy palms such as Trachycarpus fortunei (Chusan palm), slow-growing Jubaea chilensis (Chilean wine palm) and Chamaerops humilis (dwarf fan palm). Strappy-leaved yuccas and phormiums, with dramatic pink or yellow variegation, are a superb addition to an exotic-style garden, while half-hardy abutilon has evergreen leaves and handsome red and yellow bell flowers.

Bamboo creates a fantastic vertical accent, but it can run riot. Either choose well-behaved fargesia or bambusa species or sink the plant in a large pot and remove any shoots making a break for freedom.

Strappy, vertical grasses such as Miscanthus sinensis are useful and can persist through winter. Smaller, but no less striking, are Anemanthele lessoniana (pheasant’s tail grass), Imperata cylindrica ‘Rubra’ (Japanese blood grass) and shade-loving Hakonechloa macra ‘Aureola’.

With structure in place, layer in soft, lush, deciduous plants. Dicksonia antarctica tree ferns are magnificent, but only half-hardy, so in cold or marginal areas try more robust native ferns such as Dryopteris filix-mas, huge Osmunda regalis (the royal fern, which thrives in damp ground) and Matteuccia struthiopteris (the shuttlecock fern).

Hostas and colocasia cultivars have beautiful, dramatic ‘look at me’ leaves and, in damp soil, try experimenting with the exotic flowers and foliage of ligularia ‘The Rocket’ and Zantedeschia aethiopica.

Climbers and creepers are essential to knit any jungle together. Akebia quinata (chocolate vine) is handsome but huge, so also consider Trachelospermum jasminoides or Solanum jasminoides as an option. Actinidia kolomikta has exciting cream-and-pink-dipped leaves, while passion flowers and large-flowered clematis provide impressive tropical-style impact. 

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Must-have plants for carefree colour

Take a bold and adventurous approach to ‘difficult’ colours for borders that dazzle all year round. Val Bourne has some good advice.


Whenever I think about colour I'm reminded of the late, great Christopher Lloyd of Great Dixter: a man who wasn't afraid of colour. He embraced the rainbow and he wasn’t a plant snob. He grew dahlias when they were wildly unfashionable, purely for the punch they gave to his late-summer and autumn borders, because he wanted to be excited by colour. His colourful collection of shirts reflected his personality and, following his death in 2006, his then head gardener Fergus Garrett, showed a picture of them piled up like a colourful leaning tower of Pisa.


We should all adopt his carefree approach to colour and that includes orange, the bête noire of many a gardener. It’s the best enhancer of blues and purples and, when teamed with shocking pink, it radiates colour. Golden yellow, often considered a no-no too, creeps into the colour palette in late summer and autumn when warm-yellow daisies abound. Those brash yellows make a golden setting for a sultry cactus dahlia like ‘Chat Noir’, or a late royal blue aconitum such as ‘Arendsii, or the sultry eupatorium ‘Riesenschirm’.

Take full advantage of seasonal changes too, because the colour palette changes season by season. Spring can be a jumble of colour because there are plenty of subtle yellows and creams that you can weave through. High overhead summer sunlight bleaches colour out and the plethora of soft blues and pinks needs a stab of deep colour. As summer blends into autumn, pigment-packed southern hemisphere flowers such as salvias, dahlias, agapanthus and fuchsias add a jewel box quality. When winter descends, low sunlight picks up texture and deepens colour.

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Say hello to hostas!

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You can’t beat hostas for fabulous foliage. Val Bourne picks her favourites for colour, fragrance and slug resistance

HOSTAS ARE PRINCIPALLY grown for their luxuriant foliage. They come in quilted grey-blues, golden yellows, swirling variegations in white, cream and mayonnaise-yellow, plus every shade of green under the sun. Hosta foliage funnels out very elegantly as well, so the leaves are always beautifully arranged and this makes them perfect foliage plants for a shady spot close to the house, the edge of a woodland border, or in containers.
You can mix and match the textures, shapes and colours because hostas come in all shapes and sizes. The tallest may reach a metre high and produce substantial leaves, or there are miniature ones with evocative names like ‘Blue Mouse Ears’ that make ideal container plants for small gardens. They’re all very hardy and long-lived.
Hostas need moist soil in the first part of summer because they come from the Far East, principally Japan, although some are native to Korea, parts of Russia and China. These areas of the world tend to experience a humid rainy season that usually finishes at the end of June, so hostas in British gardens need lots of moisture in order to produce their impressive foliage. Water in the mornings because you’ll attract fewer slugs and snails. Both nibble the foliage, although snails are the major culprits!
Most hostas also need shade because they’re found on woodland edges and clearings in the wild. However, golden- and chartreuse-leaved hostas, such as ‘Sum and Substance’, need a brighter spot to develop their sunny foliage. The leaves turn dull green if it’s too shady.
Although grown mainly for their foliage, some also produce fragrant lilac or white flowers. ‘Fragrant Bouquet’, ‘Royal Standard’ and ‘Stained Glass’ are among the best for scent.  

Best for lush green ‘Devon Green’ The most popular green-leaved hosta in Europe, it has ribbed, high-gloss bright green foliage. Looks good in a container or in the border. H and S45cm (18in)

Best for fragrant flowers ‘Guacamole’ Rounded gold leaves with darker green markings frame pale fragrant flowers in August. Plants enjoy a brighter spot. H and S70cm (28in)

Best for slug resistance H. sieboldiana elegans Large hosta with thick, puckered leaves that need a cool spot to keep their bluish colour. Pale lavender flowers in June. H and S1m (3ft 3in)

Best for small leaves ‘Blue Mouse Ears’ Rosettes of round, rich blue-green, mouse-ear-shaped leaves plus unusual buds and lavender flowers. Lovely in a pot. H and S15cm (6in)

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Plan the perfect cottage garden border

Mix fragrant blowsy blooms, towering spires and frothy umbels for a cottage garden that looks good and nurtures wildlife too. Val Bourne suggests the plants to go for

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The romantic cottage garden border harks back to simpler days when a garden had to provide food, herbs, medicine and flowers in abundance. Back in those days the garden offered a solution to all sorts of ailments: if you had a headache you chewed a leaf of feverfew or achillea; toothache was soothed by sucking on a clove. Food crops, vital for family survival, jostled among easily-grown flowers and paths were lined by fragrant pinks, primroses, violets and lavender. Even the old outdoor privy, its path illuminated by snowdrops on a chilly winter’s night, had a fragrant moss rose framing the doorway.

Birds, butterflies, moths and every type of insect flitted through those old cottage gardens and in modern times it’s more important than ever to sustain wildlife. We’re trying to recreate that sort of eco-friendly buzz for nature’s sake and our own wellbeing. Watching a bee forage on a favourite flower is as close to mindfulness as it can be. It calms the soul.

We’re more fortunate today in one way, because we have a much greater choice when it comes to plants. Modern cottage gardens span the seasons, using carefully thought-out colour schemes and lots of texture. Plants are still passed around, with not a plastic pot in sight, and self seeders are encouraged, but managed. Seeds are saved from year to year in old envelopes. Herbs are snipped for the kitchen and vegetables go from plot to plate in a trice. Cottage gardeners are also more likely to recycle and turn an old wicker basket, or colander, into a container for herbs. Their plots are still flower packed affairs and nature still looks as though it could break free at any moment. The skill’s in mixing your plants together to recreate the whimsical look of times past.  

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Get the designer look with our shopping picks


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Hakuun long standing terrazzo planter £69 Made 0344 257 1888;

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Tice Essential dining bench in chartreuse £299 Made 0344 257 1888;

Weathering decorative aluminium screen (Branches design) £465 Worm That Turned

Tribu Branch square garden table and chairs £1090 Go Modern 020 8038 5257;

Blackwood Lanterns £599 Smithers of Stamford 01780 435060;

Carl Hansen & Son BK14 sunbed lounger £1265 Chaplins 0208 421 1779;


Bamboo plant holder £135 The Old Cinema 0208 995 4166;

Lizzie chairs in orange or green £69.99 and Bramblecrest oudoor rug £49.99 Dobbies 0131 663 6778;

Neon pineapple light £70 Smithers of Stamford 01780 435060;

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Sywawa Tahiti detour parasol £1,990 Go Modern Furniture 0207731 9540;

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Tall monstera plant £225 Sweetpea and Willow 0345 257 2627;

Adirondack chair £74.99 VonHaus 0161 833 5442;

Riviera tropical stripe outdoor cushion £14.99 Beanbag Bazaar 0800 988 1286;

Make the most of a small garden


Most British gardens are tiny, but don’t dispair! Naomi Slade offers tips for creating drama on a small scale

Small gardens always present a challenge. How to create the verdant dream, grow your own fresh fruit and veg, experiment with new planting ideas and store the mower in a hemmed-in space the size of a match box? According to a report from DIY chain B&Q, the average British garden is 190 square metres (or three-quarters of a tennis court), while newer plots average 113 square metres. Victorian terrace gardens are always a narrow squeeze, and roof terraces and balcony spaces measure far less.

Yet we are a nation of gardeners and garden we will. And though a tiny plot may not always be easy, it does present its own opportunities. You only have to take a look at RHS Chelsea show gardens to see what can be achieved in a minute space – the artisan gardens are a masterclass in focusing on a theme. Closer to home, the National Garden Scheme offers plenty of relatable, budget-conscious inspiration too. Look out for group openings where lots of smaller gardens are open together and take design tips straight from the owners.  

Small gardens are often urban, overlooked and shaded by buildings. High surrounding walls and fencing make them feel even smaller than they are, and a square of shabby concrete might seem pretty short of potential. Crammed, untidy spaces help to diminish a garden’s horizons. 

Identifying the issues and embracing the positives can go a long way in realising your dreams:

• Know what you want: gather ideas that excite you and have a vision that’s achievable.

• Love the plot you’ve got and choose plants accordingly: a shady spot on heavy soil can be wonderfully lush, with forest-floor plants such as ferns and foxgloves, while a suntrap suits gravel, alpines and succulents.

• Rejoice in its manageability: no need to mow acres of lawn or dig over a large veg patch. Instead, enjoy harvesting tomatoes from tubs and deadheading sweet peas, gin-and-tonic in hand. Bliss! 

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Fill your garden with easy pleasers...

Aquilegias and foxgloves create a relaxed, cottage style

Aquilegias and foxgloves create a relaxed, cottage style

Use good-natured annuals, perennials and shrubs as the backbone for every planting scheme, advises Val Bourne

Every experienced gardener relies on a backbone of bombproof perennials that return again and again, without becoming a nuisance. These need little maintenance, other than a yearly trim, and they don’t require regular division either. Nor are they ‘rare’ (surely another name for difficult!). They’re just good doers that perform year after year without any mollycoddling from you. 

Some of them are veterans used for generations. Helianthus ‘Lemon Queen’, raised by Tommy Carlisle’s Loddon Nursery pre-1950, should be in every garden. Any plant with a Loddon prefix is well worth growing.

Others are far more contemporary. Geum ‘Totally Tangerine’ (launched in 2011) and helenium ‘Sahin’s Early Flowerer’ (c2000) are more recent arrivals, although they’re here to stay. They both outperform the oldies and are grown by lots of nurseries, so don’t dismiss these readily available plants as ordinary. They’re far from it.

Then there are those that self-sow and place themselves through an area, helping to unite a planting scheme while delighting bees at the same time. They’re plants-for-free and very welcome to come and go, whether they’re annuals or perennials.

Finally, there are some very useful shrubs, which don’t grow large or swamp their neighbours. Many can be left to their own devices after planting.

Helenium ‘Sahin’s Early Flowerer’ and perovskia ‘Blue Spire’

Helenium ‘Sahin’s Early Flowerer’ and perovskia ‘Blue Spire’


As spring beckons, silver-leaved plants stand out against the dark earth, like melting snowflakes. The heart-shaped green-veined foliage of Brunnera macrophylla ‘Jack Frost’ is soon followed by sprays of dainty blue flowers. Good forms of low-growing deadnettle Lamium maculatum include ‘White Nancy’, strong pink ‘Beacon Silver’ and paler ‘Pink Pewter’. All flower in early spring, when bees are short of nectar. Pulmonarias, such as such as ‘Blake’s Silver’, ‘Diana Clare’ and dappled ‘Leopard’ also work well.

Add in stronger colours with Dicentra formosa ‘Bacchanal’, a deep-red bleeding heart with ferny green foliage, and hardy epimediums. Delighting gardeners since 1854, E. versicolor ‘Sulphureum’ has two-tone, pale yellow flowers that tremble on wiry stems, like young ballerinas on pointed toes. Its red-flushed, heart-shaped foliage emerges just afterwards.

Polemonium ‘Lambrook Mauve’ is a non-seeding Jacob’s ladder whose soft-lavender flowers have a butterscotch middle. This curtseying plant, from the 1960s, perfectly partners terracotta, lily-flowered tulip ‘Ballerina’. 

When it comes to summer, few gardeners can resist a hardy geranium. If you’ve room, opt for a sterile cultivar that will flower for months on end. Pale-blue ‘Rozanne’ sprawls over three feet of ground and blooms from May to September, although a Chelsea chop makes it later. ‘Patricia’ forms a generous roundel of black-eyed magenta flowers and both perform in light shade and in north-facing borders. The smaller ones prefer more sun and good drainage. Magenta ‘Ivan’, pale pink ‘Mavis Simpson’ and bluer pink ‘Dilys’ all make good edgers. 

Many daisies are easy, and shoulder-high sunflower, helianthus ‘Lemon Queen’, lights up August with its darker centred, primrose-yellow flowers. Like all sunflowers it faces the sun. Place it next to a burgundy cloud of Eupatorium maculatum ‘Atropurpureum Group’ – a superb combination. Add in a late-summer golden-yellow daisy such as knee-high Rudbeckia fulgida deamii.

For an earlier splash of gold, try easy helenium ‘Sahin’s Early Flowerer’. The dazzling orange and brown flowers shimmer in the border,  beginning in July. Blue Succisella inflexa ‘Frosted Pearls’ produces masses of grey-blue bobbles and provides the perfect contrast.

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Save time and effort with our top 10 gardening hacks

Spring is a hectic time in the garden and it can feel like there’s too much to do. So, having a few easy shortcuts up your sleeve can save you time, money and effort, making you feel more organised.

You don’t need to spend lots of money at the garden centre: instead make use of items lying around the house or that are cheap and easy to come by. Think laterally – you might not have a greenhouse, for instance, but that doesn’t mean you can’t grow plants from seed somewhere else.

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1. Make free fertiliser  Is your garden overrun 
with naughty nettles? Pop them in a bucket to make 
a fabulous fertiliser high in nitrogen. Cover the nettles with water and put a lid on top – it’ll become a bit whiffy as the nettles break down. After three weeks remove the sludge and put it on the compost heap. Decant the liquid into clean plastic bottles, label and store somewhere cool. Dilute one part feed to 10 parts water and use on leafy green plants.

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2. Make a picnic table for £2 Pallets are a favourite among recyclers and DIYers – they’re ideal for making all sorts of garden furniture, vertical planters, Adirondack-style chairs, tool racks and even decking. This simple idea uses two pallets (1.2x1m/4x3ft 3in) one on top of the other, smartened up with Sadolin Classic Woodstain, £34 for 2.5L. It’s easy to buy used pallets online – £2-£5 if you can collect them; most pallet recycling companies only deliver in much larger quantities. Or ask if they have some at your local garden centre, or recycling facility.

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3. Create a fancy water feature Build a stylish mini pond using a metal mesh cube. Buy a preformed gabion cage (£17.99 for 45cm3) or make your own from metal grids available from builders’ merchants. For self-assembly cages, leave the top panel off. Part-fill with large stones (such as Scottish cobbles) and place a 30cm (12in) black plastic washing up bowl in the centre. Add more cobbles to hide the sides of the basin. Fill with water from a water butt if available, or tap water. Leave for a few days to allow the chlorine to dissipate before adding small aquatic plants. Ours cost about £30 from Waterside Nursery. Don’t forget to include an oxygenator to keep the water sweet.

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4. Keep tools garden ready Fill a bucket with sharp sand and add 400ml 
(14fl oz) of vegetable oil. Stir to mix well. Position the bucket in your shed and when you come in from 
a day’s gardening, simply plunge tools into the oily sand. The mixture cleans, polishes and sharpens your tools and coats them with oil to prevent rust.

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5. Line containers Wrought-iron and mesh hanging baskets 
offer little by way of water retention for plants. Whenever you water them, the moisture drains right through, leaving plants thirsty. Fortunately, there’s something you can add 
to the basket, aside from water-retaining gel, that solves the problem: a nappy!

First, split open the absorbent central section with scissors (otherwise the nappy will hang onto the water). Place the nappy on top of the coir liner, then fill with compost in the usual way. Don’t add the nappy to the compost heap at the end of the season unless it’s 
a biodegradable, organic design.

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6. Waste less seed It can be hard to see where seed has fallen when you’re sowing direct into the soil. It’s only once they’ve germinated that you can spot any clumps and large gaps. For more even spacing, make your seed drill then line it with a strip of toilet paper. Mist the paper with 
a water spray so the seeds stick to the wet paper. Sow 
the seed evenly and gently position seeds as required. Carefully fold the paper in half then cover the drill with 
soil and water. The paper gradually decomposes in the soil, leaving the seeds in the right place to germinate.

7. Beat slugs with garlic Great news for hosta fans – spraying plants with a garlic tonic is said to make the foliage unpalatable to slugs. The tonic is quick and easy to make at home, too. Simply take two garlic bulbs and crush with the flat blade of a knife. Place in a pan and pour over a litre of water. Bring to 
the boil and simmer for 10 minutes. Take off the heat 
and leave to cool. Strain the liquid through a sieve then store in old plastic milk bottles that have been thoroughly cleaned and keep somewhere cool. To apply, mix 15ml (½ fl oz) of tonic in five litres of water and spray onto the leaves of plants such as hostas and delphiniums (but not edibles). Reapply every couple of weeks, or more frequently in wet weather.

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8. Upcycle plant supports Rather than using shop-bought wooden trellis panels or bamboo canes for plant supports, repurpose items stashed away behind the shed or visit a reclamation yard for inspiration. All manner of metal frames such as old metal beds (£30-£50), gates and rebar (the steel mesh used in reinforcing concrete) – can provide support for clematis, sweet peas and climbing beans. Old wooden ladders (£15-£20) can be sanded and painted to make a ‘theatre’ for a collection or group of smaller potted plants.

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9. Create a coldframe crate If you don’t have space or budget for a greenhouse, try this nifty idea using a plastic storage crate with a lid. Place pots or module trays inside and line the bottom with absorbent kitchen roll. Add drainage holes with a drill. Take the lid off on sunny days and replace at night or if rain is forecast. If frost is predicted, bring your crate inside; multiple crates can be stacked so they don’t take up lots of space. Use it for hardy annuals from mid-March and for half-hardy annuals from mid-April.

10. Make a parcel shelf propagator Line a shallow watertight box with kitchen 
foil to reflect lots of light, then position your seed pots inside it. Place the box on the parcel shelf of your car. Temperatures can fluctuate widely, so ventilate on hot days by opening a window slightly and using horticultural fleece to shade plants so they don’t scorch. The fleece also comes in handy if cold temperatures are forecast. To avoid damage, cover the parcel shelf with a waterproof oilcloth. Think about where you park too – a space under trees is too shady.

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Time to get a little bit crazy...?

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Crazy paving, gabions and charred timber are all set to dominate garden design in 2019, according to Britain’s leading garden designers. “I never thought I’d say this, but crazy paving and stepping stones are making a comeback,” says Sue Townsend, member of the Society
of Garden Designers (SGD). “With crazy paving, the trend is to use large, irregular slabs – the bigger the better.”

SGD members also predict we’ll see a rise in the use of gabion-style mesh cubes and the Japanese art of Shou-sugi-ban (charred wood cladding)– perhaps on sheds and fences. Traditional hanging baskets will be replaced by trendy kokedama, where plants are hung inside clay balls covered in moss.

Colour specialists Pantone(R) meanwhile predict that Living Coral will be our colour of the year. Remember Manoj Malde’s Beneath a Mexican Sky Garden at RHS Chelsea Flower Show 2017 (top)? Turns out his coral-pink wall was ahead of its time!

Wyevale Garden Centres says bold colours are key for 2019 and latest plants include colourful new agapanthus ‘Fireworks’ (below) – an explosion of deep purple perianths that merge into pure white blooms. It won the coveted Glee Best New Plant Award 2018, and will be available in a two-litre pot in May/June.
• What are your predictions for 2019? Write and tell us!

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Rescue a tired front border



Silver-leaved foliage plants can transform this pretty front garden into a show-stopper, says Ian Hodgson


This attractive front garden is full of seasonal interest, with the pretty pink cherry in blossom, a passionflower clambering up the house walls, a handsome globe artichoke (Cynara scolymus), fragrant lavender and rosemary shrubs, and hellebores and daffodils for bright spring flowers.

Clearly the owner has spent time planning this display, so my comments here are suggestions on how to augment the silver and pink colour scheme in order to give the plants a real sense of purpose.

First things first: the cherry tree is planted too close to the house, I’m afraid. In about 10 years this will become a real nuisance.
In the meantime it’s worth ‘limbing up’ – removing some of the lower branches so the canopy develops higher up the main stem, but it’s likely that you’ll have to remove the tree altogether at a later date.



To partner the cynara foliage, which acts as a silvery foil for the pink blossom, I’d add more silver and white foliage plants. Sun-loving Euphorbia characias ‘Tasmanian Tiger’ would lend an impressive architectural note, and if the soil is light and well-drained, I’d use a couple of silvery artemisias: A. ludoviciana ‘Valerie Finnis’ and A. schmidtiana ‘Nana’ to bring in welcome contrasts of shape and texture. The velvetine silver foliage of Stachys byzantina ‘Silver Carpet’ is another good option that will cover the ground, or you could also include dwarf evergreen Santolina chamaecyparissus ‘Small-Ness’. Spiky eryngiums and/or perovskia would pick up on the spiky cynara foliage, too.

In contrast to all the sophisticated white, grey and silver plants, add a few pink and red accents to chime with the pink blossom in spring, such as heuchera ‘Sugar Frosting’, whose marbled silver leaves are shot with burgundy underneath.

Encourage the hybrid hellebores by dividing them and adding more pink or burgundy ones to the mix. For later flowers choose magenta-flowered campion, Lychnis coronaria, blooming July to September.

• Does your front garden need Ian’s help? Email


Cynara scolymus Thistly perennial with serrated silver foliage. Leaves develop early in year, and globe artichokes Aug-Sept. Plant in fertile, well-drained soil. H2m (6½ft) S1.2m (4ft)

Artemisia schmidtiana ‘Nana’ Groundcover shrub that forms a silky cushion of feathery foliage. Prefers moist but well-drained poor soil. Deer and rabbit-resistant. H30cm (12in) S45cm (18in)

Euphorbia characias ‘Tasmanian Tiger’ Variegated hardy sub-shrub with bushy habit and white flowers May-June. Plant in full sun in well-drained soil. H90cm (3ft) S75cm (30in)

Heuchera ‘Sugar Frosting’ Perennial foliage plant with silver marbling on burgundy leaves and white flowers April-May. Prefers sun or part shade in moist but well-drained soil. H45cm (18in) S40cm (16in)

Athyrium niponicum pictum Decorative hardy fern ideal for a shady spot beside shrubs or small trees. Foliage stands well over winter. Thrives in moist but well-drained soil. H30cm (12in) S45cm (18in)

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