Camellia sasanqua 'Setsugekka' at Woodland Cottage

Camellia sasanqua ‘Setsugekka’ at Woodland Cottage

Happy Thanksgiving and Happy Holidays! Here is a link to my Holiday 2015 Newsletter, full of garden tips and information on our travels this year. Enjoy!

Posted under Garden maintenance, Garden Tours, Garden Travel, Holidays, Newletters, Random garden thoughts, Southern Gardens, The Fall Garden, The Winter Garden, Travel

This post was written by Jeff Minnich on November 28, 2015

High Summer

Daylily 'Africa' at Woodland Cottage

Daylily ‘Africa’ at Woodland Cottage

Here’s a link to my ‘High Summer’ newsletter.

We are beginning to turn the corner into Autumn. Can you feel it?

Enjoy the remainder of your Summer!

Posted under Garden maintenance, Newletters, Random garden thoughts, Southern Gardens, The Summer Garden, Tree work, Water in the Garden, Weather vagaries

This post was written by Jeff Minnich on August 15, 2014

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Imagining Spring

Now that we’re about at the halfway point of Winter, I start to imagine Springtime.  The days are just starting to lengthen, and the sun is just beginning to feel a bit stronger.  By Valentine’s Day, the sun begins to heat up the car again.

I’ve been AWOL for awhile, so may I wish you a Happy New Year, belatedly.  My desktop computer is on its last leg (a new laptop has been ordered); my camera bit the dust (I got a new one); and we’re working on a new website and blog design.  Those will debut this Spring.   So I’ve been busy with the help of my trusty computer guy, Jason; my brilliant web/blog designer, Peter; and my smart partner, Steve, who chose my new camera for me (it’s the bomb!).  We’ve got to update this blog–the spam is absolutely awful, frustrating and a pain in the you-know-what.

I’ve been on lots of fun trips this Winter already:  the Chihuly exhibit in Richmond, VA, as well as a visit to the holiday-lit Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden; and yesterday, a trip over to a bald cypress swamp in Southern Maryland.  I love swamps.  I guess it’s that liminal space between land and water, and I love the mysterious blur between the two.

Last week, we got down to a low of about 15F, the lowest so far this Winter.  We had a couple of light snow events, and an icy morning yesterday, followed by the Spring-like weather today.  A couple more days of this nice weather and then it’s back to cold, as I’d expect this time of year.

I let the water run over the waterfall until just a trickle was flowing, then I turned it off so the pump wouldn’t burn up.  Here’s what it looked like, frozen.  It’s thawed out amazingly today.  [you can enlarge the photos by double-clicking on them, I think.]

Frozen waterfall at Woodland Cottage

Frozen waterfall at Woodland Cottage

And a few palms in the snow…these are Windmill Palms (Trachycarpus fortunei) and yes, they are hardy–down to about OF, or the bottom of zone 7A.  I have some Needle Palms, too–they’ll survive even lower temps–down to about -5F or -10F, or zone 6a/b.

I walked around the yard today and, so far, it seems like most everything has escaped Winter damage.

Last week, just before the snow, I had two young red foxes bound into the back yard, a male and female.  Happily, I was able to grab the camera and get a few shots.  They hung around much of the day.  They are beautiful and healthy.

Just before the freeze, I went out in the yard and picked the few Camellias still in bloom.  I’m glad I picked them because I’ve been enjoying them inside for over a week.  They help me imagine Spring!  I float them in shallow saucers and bowls–“Camellia bowls”.  Many of the bowls are very old and were made for just this purpose.

I’m leaving in a few days for my annual time in Wilmington, NC, and I’m really looking forward to spending time with Steve.  We’ll be touring lots of gardens in the Lowcountry this year, so I’ll have lots to share with you.

Photos by the blogger; if you copy, please link back.  Thanks.

Posted under Animals in the Garden, Flowers in the House, Garden Travel, Random garden thoughts, Southern Gardens, The Winter Garden, Water in the Garden


Fall color at Woodland Cottage

Fall color at Woodland Cottage

No matter where you live in the Northern Hemisphere, the signs of Fall are everywhere.  Birds migrating, animal behavior changing, day length shortening and light intensity weakening.  The temperatures are cooling, of course, and I read that there’s even been a dusting of snow already in the far North.

Today, we turn from days dominated by light to days dominated by darkness until next Spring.  Today is the equality day, the balance day, where light and dark fight and dark wins…or, looking at it another way, they are both at peace with each other today.  Can’t you feel the “pause” in the air?

My keen sense of the natural world around me (probably due to the fact that I spend a great deal of my life outside, observing) told me early in the year that the usual, yearly succession of garden events was beginning two weeks early, at least here in the magical Mid-Atlantic where I live.  As far as I can tell, that has continued all year.  Plants leafed out early, so the bugs came out early to eat the plants, and the birds and bats came out early to eat the bugs and plants, etc. etc.  Now the flip side is happening because it cooled off two weeks earlier than normal.

The one thing that is consistent, year to year, though, is the changing of the leaves.  Unlike the leafing out in the Spring–which is brought on by a combination of day length, light intensity, and warmth–the Fall color begins when the light intensity and day length are at exactly the right level.  Mother Nature flips the “off switch”, and chlorophyll production ceases in the leaves.  Now, the greens fade, and the brilliant colors–present in the leaves all along, but hidden by the deep greens–start their annual show.  Two or three weeks later, the leaves have fallen and the trees are bare.

Here in the magical Mid-Atlantic, I start to notice in August the Dogwoods turning their deep, wine red ever so slightly.  This is brought on by heat stress, probably (and lawsy it was hot here this Summer) and, from then on, it’s gradual until the rest of the trees do their Fall thing.  On the National Mall in Washington, D.C., my friend, Dean, and I take our Fall walks under glorious, old Elms which begin to turn yellow right around Columbus Day weekend (mid-October).  Finally, the show begins, and the color peak is usually somewhere around the 25th of October to the 1st of November.  Then, the big “dump” of leaves, and the shock of the bareness.  It always takes me awhile to adjust to the stark landscape.  (And that surrounding starkness is why I planted my garden so heavily with evergreens.  A walk in my garden in Winter is a joy because I am transported from the nakedness around me).

While the leaves begin turning at the same time each year, temperature and moisture do determine the color intensity and length of the Fall color show.  It is said that warm, sunny days, and cool, crisp nights–and ground with plenty of moisture in it–make for the most brilliant color intensity.  Dryness and heat can result in dull colors and browning; too much rain can knock the leaves off prematurely.  Either way, by early November, the trees are bare, once again .

In my garden here at Woodland Cottage, I have the added treat of seven Japanese Maples.  These are the last to color-up, usually as all the other color is waning and falling–and they give the final hurrah.  The varieties I have, upright ‘Bloodgood’ and weeping ‘Crimson Queen’, turn brilliant, fire engine red and hang on for a long time.  I have uplights underneath them, and it’s like looking out at cherry drops when I gaze out the back windows at night.

'Bloodgood' Japanese Maple, Fall color, Woodland Cottage

'Bloodgood' Japanese Maple, Fall color, Woodland Cottage

The time of the falling leaves has, for me, always been a time of pause–between getting back into the groove after Summer and the craziness of the Winter holidays to come.  Savor this time with me, won’t you?  Take time to pause and enjoy Nature’s Autumn show.

Posted under Random garden thoughts, The Fall Garden


Ralph, my wise, old garden gnome.  He sees all.

Ralph, my wise, old garden gnome. He sees all.

I have an article due later this week on the subject of peanuts.  I’m looking forward to writing it, yet I haven’t gotten the urge or the inspiration to get started.  The deadline will get me moving, I know, because I have a deep-seated need to fulfill my obligations to the best of my ability.  I still see my mother staring at me, arms crossed, with tapping foot and pursed lips.  It will be on time.  The Miss Joan in my head will make sure of it.

Tonight, I’m avoiding the article on peanuts by writing in my blog.  How convenient!  I know I am not alone…often, my dear, brilliant attorney friend, Catherine, has writer’s block with the briefs she must file on time.  She’ll finish in time and turn them in; meantime, she knits, and writes blog posts, and brilliant articles for magazines.  I get that urge to avoid when the writing “don’t come easy”, as Ringo Starr sang.

I’ve been feeling a little melancholy lately, for various reasons.  Steve and I just came off a wonderful, Summer vacation to Savannah, Beaufort SC, and St. Augustine FL.  More on the trip in another post (with Steve’s great photos); let’s just say it was hard to come home.  I’m still having dreams of moss swaying lazily in live oak trees.

It’s the “off-season” for me, also, so my days aren’t as crazy and I have time to fill as I see fit.  It’s kind of a crack in the wheel of the year for me because everything is in that lull between the end of Summer and the start of Fall.  I don’t have to think too much about appointments and installations and garden maintenance and schedules and deadlines (other than the article deadline, that is)–everything seems to be hanging in suspended animation until a switch gets flicked and time says, “Okay. It’s time for Fall.”  I’m working on redecorating a bathroom, reading, and just staring into space thinking about all kinds of things.  One of those things is time.  As much as I love Fall, I’m sad to see the Summer go.

I felt propelled to my bookshelf today and pulled down “Every Day in Tuscany” by my penpal friend, Frances Mayes, my favorite.  I was thinking about time and, sure enough, she discusses it much in this book.  I’ve been reading all day and stopped many times to ponder.  So many thoughts about time came to me today.

It’s funny how clients are so different from one another in terms of “garden time” (thank goodness–it keeps my job interesting).  Some are patient (they get that a garden needs to grow and can take years to develop), and some are not (they want the end product NOW).  We gardeners know the answer, of course:  great gardens develop over time.  I was having dinner the other night with my dear friend, Crawford, who will be 90 next year, and we were talking about gardens and time.  I told him about my impatient clients.  He said, “What a shame that they miss out on the joy and pleasure of watching their gardens grow.”  Indeed.  But I didn’t let him off the hook, either.  I said, “You are just as guilty!  You cajoled, fertilized, watered, and just about put stretchers on your Pieris to get them to grow, remember?!  You complained for three years or so, and the fourth year they doubled in size.  How quickly you forget!”  He said, “Welllll–it was all that encouragement I gave them that made them grow!!”  We laughed.  Even in your 80s, you can learn lessons about time.

Remember, with plants:  “It sleeps, it creeps, it leaps.”  And that’s not just about English Ivy, either.  In my experience, it’s pretty much across the board, at least in the Southern climates where I live and garden.  Seems like the plants take forever to grow, then one day you notice suddenly that they’ve doubled and need pruning.  Astounding!  What a pleasure to be a gardener with a few years under my belt…now, I sit back and enjoy the process because I know the reward will come soon enough, at a seemingly increasing speed.

Steve was up this weekend, and after a delightful evening with a dear friend and her nephew on Friday night, we had a full Saturday night.  First, we were privileged to be invited to a 50th birthday surprise party for our friend, Stephanie.  What a cordial group of people, and when Steph walked in and heard the “SURPRISE!!!”, she started to cry.  The crowd burst into a lively version of “Happy Birthday”, and in the amount of time it took to sing the song, I could feel the honest and devoted love for Steph.  Her years devoted to cultivating these loving friendships all came to fruit in that one instant.  A moment in time, and a lesson for all of us.  It’s very easy for gardeners to see the metaphor here.

After our quick appearance at Steph’s party, we went out to Wolftrap (which is a local venue set in a national park here outside D.C.) to participate in a sing-along viewing of “The Sound of Music”.  So much fun and so many memories associated with the film.  On the way home, we discussed how the huge crowd joined together, joyfully, as one big unit, to celebrate the fun of this film.  For those three hours, we all had one thing in common:  our experience watching the film–not our differences.  It was a congenial,  civilized and laughter-filled evening I will remember.  Yes, some melancholy there, too, for me–I was seven years old when “The Sound of Music” was released in 1965 and much in my life has changed.  But “The Sound of Music” has remained the same, even as my own life is flying by.

This time of year, for me, is a time of thought:  “What’s next?”  The seasons are changing, days are shortening, nights are cooling. What will you plant in your garden this Fall?

Posted under Books, Garden Ornament, Gardeners, Random garden thoughts, Southern Gardens, The Fall Garden, The Summer Garden, Writers

Weeds, Mossy Paths, and Bliss

Looking through the woodland on a Summer's day

Looking through the woodland on a Summer's day

Weeds.  Ugh.  And yet.

Years ago, I went on a landscape tour to Richmond with the Landscape Designers Group to which I belong.  It was led by a designer who took us by his aunt’s house.  She had the most glorious mossy pathways–thick and spongy–and I was moss-green with envy!  “I must have those paths!”, I thought (vowed!).  This tour fell around the time I was first developing my garden here at Woodland Cottage, oh, maybe 15 years ago.  Perfect timing.  (Isn’t it funny how the answers often fall right into your lap, if only your antennae are up and you are attuned?  I have a secret:  it’s a tool that many designers use.)

I’d read all the prescriptions for creating mossy paths:  buttermilk and moss mixture, lay sheets of moss, etc. etc.  The truth is, I did nothing.  I marked and cleared my meandering pathways, lined them with green Liriope, kept them weeded and raked, and just went on living.  Over time, the moss began to grow on its own.  I do know that moss grows well on compacted (the soil on my pathways compacts from my walking on them), moist, shady soil.  I have all the above.  I will say that the amount of moss skyrocketed after I got my sprinkler system and the moisture was suddenly applied evenly and regularly, as opposed to waiting on Nature and yours truly to supply it.

Our host with the mossy paths in Richmond (going back to that) told us that we must keep them cleared of debris and weeds.  She had a blower and used a yardman to accomplish these tasks–I don’t have a blower and I am the yardman, so I rake softly, with a soft, lawn rake (FYI, the thin-tined metal works better on moss than those wooden/wicker/whatever-they-are-made-of ones, IMHO), and hand-weed.


I have prodigious amounts of Cardinal Flower (Lobelia cardinalis) and Toadlily (Tricyrtis hirta) in my woodland.  I love them both, but I didn’t realize how prolific they would get in my garden (I don’t want to say invasive, because they are desired, but yeah, you could say that).  Last year, I had thousands of both in my pathways.  It was, for the Cardinal Flowers and Toadlilies, a good year.  And Cardinal Flowers, I learned, have a stubborn tap root, to boot.  Snap off the top without getting the root, and the darn things leaf out again.  And pull up the baby Toadlilies, and you get a big chunk of moss, too.  Not good for the moss, on either count.

Anyway, the weeding became a monumental bore/chore, especially with the high heat we had in the Mid-Atlantic last summer.  I’d start early, or wait until late evening to weed, but by the time I had to quit, I had weeded maybe two square feet.  It was that bad.

I decided, finally, to spray the weeds with Roundup (curses! horrors!).  I know, I know…have at it–I am guilty as charged.  But here’s something to know about me:  I will spray chemicals as a LAST resort.  I’m a busy guy, and I don’t always have time to pull every weed and pick off every bug.  When they get way ahead of me, I have to make a decision whether or not to spray.  And–rarely, I must add–I do choose to spray.  In this case, I used a backpack sprayer with a wand so that I could very specifically (and painstakingly) target each weed/patch of weeds.  It took me forever, and I did it again 10 days later–and I did lose some moss–but I can tell you, a year later, that I am so glad I did.  Because I weeded all my mossy pathways in about three hours yesterday.  A miracle.

Two things about me and weeding:  I dread it, and then I love it.  True, today I am intimately involved with Mr. Bengay and Alleve for my lower back (at age 54 the lower back does get stiff, even if I am in great shape).  I dread it because of the monotony.  Then I love it for the same reason because it’s that very monotony that allows my brain to stop its craziness, focus on one thing, then relax and drift.  I’m telling you, I solved many design quandaries and got more ideas during those three hours yesterday.  I got quiet, listened, and the answers came.

Gardening, for me, is like that.  Sometimes, when I am in the thick of trying to figure out the answers, I just open the door and take a turn in my garden.  My head clears; the answers come.

And what a sense of accomplishment to look out on the paths and see moss, and only moss.  In my mind, I can see the moss expanding already into the voids opened by my weeding.

Happy Father’s Day and Happy Gardening.

Posted under Garden maintenance, Random garden thoughts, The Summer Garden

This post was written by Jeff Minnich on June 17, 2012

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Rain Days–Some Garden Potpourri

Everything is washed clean from the rains.

Everything is washed clean from the rains.

Lover of sunshine that I am, it sure was nice to get a couple of true rain days.  My little world here at Woodland Cottage is washed fresh and clean.  It’s sparkling in the intermittent sunshine this morning after heavy rain overnight.  This is rain day #2.  I’m getting lots accomplished.  I realized yesterday that it was the first rain day we’ve had this long Spring that simply didn’t allow us to work outside.  We’ve sloshed through all the showery others.

We’re now in that “in-between” time here in the magical Mid-Atlantic–between the flowers of full Spring and the first flowers of early Summer.  It is almost Hydrangea Time.

'Nikko Blue' Hydrangea budding up

'Nikko Blue' Hydrangea budding up

'Annabelle' Hydrangea in a pot.  They make great container plants.

'Annabelle' Hydrangea in a pot. They make great container plants.

Rain days allow me to:  Write my Spring newsletter (I’m tardy by two months :/–and yes, I did get it written and to my talented friend, Peter, who does the layout ).  Vacuum the floor.  Write a blog post.  Catch up on billing and paperwork.  Get started on some magazine articles (the deadlines loom).  Delete the junk from my e-mail inbox.  Clean off my desk.

It's clean!  I can even see my favorite picture of Steve!

It's clean! I can even see my favorite picture of Steve!

Sunday, I spent a day in my own garden.  I got most of the pots and the windowboxes planted (and fertilized), all the rest of the houseplants outside and organized, and some planting and transplanting accomplished–just before the rain.  In my brain, I feel like I’m so late this year because the gardens are so advanced compared to the usual mid-May.  The reality is I’m finishing some things earlier–I usually don’t get around to the pots and annuals until after Memorial Day.  Some things will wait until after Memorial Day–I want to pick up a few favorites in Wilmington that weekend–but it feels good to be this much ahead.

I have some new additions this year in my front yard:  giant, white Alliums (flowering onions).  The variety is ‘White Giant’.  I love them.  I’m astounded, also, that they all stood up to the heavy rains last night.  That surprises me.

Look closely, and you'll see the Allium 'White Giant'.

Look closely, and you'll see the Allium 'White Giant'.

One of my clients was cleaning out their pond earlier this Spring and had a huge crop of tadpoles.  I brought home a couple dozen and put them in the lower pond.  I’ve been so busy, I haven’t had time to check and see how they’re doing.  Sunday, I took a look and saw a few–they seem fatter and happy.  Then during a water break in the kitchen, I looked out the window and saw this guy/gal sunning him/herself on a mossy rock by the upper pond. Because my friend Mike Ferrara and I are working our way through the ‘Lord of the Rings’ series on Sunday nights (and because I name just about everything), I’ve decided to call him/her Frodo.

"Frodo" the Frog

"Frodo" the Frog

My friend Ronn Payne gave me some gourd birdhouses this Spring.  I’d admired them at his mother’s place in the Virginia countryside, where he grows the gourds.  He surprised me with three.  I hung them immediately: one in a Live Oak out front (I can see it from the dining room); one in a Crapemyrtle on the side (I can see it from where I’m typing right now); and one in a Darlington Oak in the back (which I can see from my downstairs desk and bedroom).  Very quickly, a tiny little bird with the most wonderful song (very garbled, happy and sing-songy) moved in, the same kind of bird in all three.  They are very energetic, and so fun to watch and listen to.  You cannot imagine the joy I get from “my” birds, all types.

It's blurry, but here's one of the gourd birdhouses.

It's blurry, but here's one of the gourd birdhouses.

Everything is sparkling and happy from this morning's rains.

Everything is sparkling and happy from this morning's rains.

What a Spring.


Posted under Animals in the Garden, Container Gardens, Random garden thoughts, Spring Flowers, The Spring Garden, The Summer Garden, Water in the Garden

Often, I Don’t See the Forest for the Trees

I work outside, in Nature, almost every day of my life, either in my own gardens, in Arlington or Wilmington, or in other’s gardens.  Yet I miss so much of the beautiful detail because I am so caught up in the “doing” versus the “being”.  I’ll bet a lot of my landscaping co-horts can sympathize with this realization.  How many times have you gotten to June 1st and thought, “I missed [experiencing] Spring…again”?

April 2007, Woodland Cottage

April 2007, Woodland Cottage

My wonderful friend H/D once observed that I notice so many details in gardens/Nature.  It’s true, to a point–that’s my job.  It’s my job to notice if a plant looks a bit off, or the soil in a particular spot is washing away…if a spot is sunny or shady, or what is growing natively in an area.  These are all clues.  I constantly look for clues.  I try to solve the mysteries of insect/disease invasion, nutrient/soil deficiencies, water imbalances…that’s my job.  That’s the horticulturist Jeff, the scientist Jeff.  But what about what’s beyond my job?  What about the birdsong?  What about noticing that exact day in June when the lightning bugs appear?  Or the exact moment at dusk, in Mid-Summer, when the deafening sound of the cicadas suddenly dies and the chirps of the katydids instantly take over the chorus? What about that exact, glorious day in Spring when the fat, beside-themselves buds burst into chartreuse leaf?  In these moments, I swell and burst myself, with a knowing deep inside me.

For me, Nature calls on me to sit up and take notice in many ways.  She’s in my face to make me notice.  With a fragrance, too strong to ignore, leading me to the source of the scent.  I stop.  And let the flood of sense-memories draws me back in time.  A hummingbird, buzzing inches from my face.  I stop, in delight, and say hello to these lovely creatures that exude energy, and a renewed energy flows into me.  The songs of the birds, at dawn and dusk, calling to me, “Who am I?”  The sudden visits of the birds and squirrels outside the windows where I sit.  The fox.  The raccoon lumbering up my woodland pathways, headed for a morning constitutional dip in my pond.  The blue heron searching my pond for fish.  The rushing sound of my waterfalls.  And the trees.  The trees.  The old, all-knowing trees.

Yesterday, after intensely concentrating on the layout of a new walk we began building, and satisfying myself that it was the way I wanted it, I relaxed and stood back a ways to observe.  Suddenly, a large flock of birds swept up out of a nearby tree, swooped down over us in murmuration, looped around in unison several times and then landed back in the tree they’d left.  It was a stunning, brief performance that stopped the crew and me.  A moment in time.  Nature saying, “Pay attention to the beauty that I have to offer you, the beauty that is always here, if you’ll only look and see.”

What are the ways that Nature tries to make you sit up and notice?

Photo by the author.  If you copy, please link back.

Posted under Animals in the Garden, Fragrance in the garden, Insects in the Garden, Random garden thoughts

This post was written by Jeff Minnich on January 10, 2012

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Appendicitis perforitis

No, it’s obviously not the name of a plant…although I kind of tried to fashion it that way to fit it into this blog. “What’s this got to do with gardening?” you say.

I just got home from the hospital today after an appendectomy on Saturday. So I had three days in the hospital to do lots of reading, which leads to relaxing, which leads to thinking, which leads to sleeping, which leads to dreaming. Which brings me to gardens.

Actually, the first garden thing that I’m referring to happened before any of the reading or relaxing or thinking…and I was waking up from being knocked out for the surgery, so that is kind of forced sleeping…but anyway. As I was waking up in the recovery room, I was drifting from the most beautiful dream of a garden–maybe the most beautiful garden I’ve ever seen. It was in California. How do I know this? Because I sensed it: from the architecture of the buildings, to the types of plants, to the sunlight. It was early morning and the sun was coming through the morning mist. There were a million scents. And sounds: birds, insects, the slight movement of the wind and the leaves. I was smiling when I woke up. No!!!, my mind screamed! I want to stay here! But, of course, slowly the dream, and the garden, melted away. Where was it? Who knows, but I will never forget that garden as long as I live.

Later, I was rolled into my hospital room. Two of my very best friends in the world, Mike and Michael, were there with me that afternoon. My first glimpse into the room was of my friend, Mike (who was waiting for me to get up there) and the gorgeous treetops behind him through the window. It was late afternoon, and the trees here in Virginia right now are all that chartreusy, spring green. Combine the two, that light and that color, and the two are breathtaking together.

Over the days I was in the hospital, I kept thinking of all the things I need to do for work, in my own garden, etc. etc.–and can’t, of course, for several weeks because I can’t lift a darn thing. Which is probably a good thing so this abdomen of mine can heal. Then I got to thinking: if it wasn’t for gardening, and my enthusiastic involvement in it–both physically and mentally–I may not be healing as quickly as I am. So: thank you, gardening, for making me stronger; for giving me appreciation of the life around me; and for so vividly opening my senses.

Posted under Random garden thoughts

This post was written by Jeff Minnich on April 13, 2010

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