Exotic Gardening with Rare and Strange Plants

garden tour

Happy New Years Plant Geeks!

The holidays were great, many the night spent with family and friends. Food induced comas, tall glasses of fire water & general needless celebrating. I’m relaxed and plump. 2013 promises to be a great year. I’m thinking without all this doomsday paranoia perhaps humanity can concentrate on better things, like plants.

It’s nice to have a little break from the daily task of keeping the collection alive.  It’s amazing how busy I am in the spring and summer, by December the workload is reduced by 80%. Not without my chores but it’s a cake walk in comparison. Still plenty to look at of course. More so at the greenhouse than the garden, but I’m still surprised to see life outdoors. Actually to be honest our winter hasn’t been all that bad at all. Although we’ve seen the odd frost at the greenhouse, my house in the Cook Street Village seems to be relatively untouched. Sure some of the plants have relaxed due to the colder weather, but I honestly don’t think it’s seen even a lick of frost. My banana trees still have green leaves, so does the hedychiums. It’s been a strange winter indeed. Be it climate change or fortunate weather I’m happy either way. Keep the rain clouds coming as long as it keeps us away from deep freezes, the plants are loving it and it’s certainly lighter on the heating bill.

This winter I’ve spent entirely too much time indoors. Today I took the opportunity to go for a walk about and snap some photos. Let’s take a look shall we.


After all the effort of moving my echium last season; only to watch it die, I decided on a different strategy. Around the first of November a friend and I created this Echium shelter out of cedar and glass. Weather has been good so far but we’re not out of the water until the end of Febuary. Keeping the rain and snow off my prized echium should earn it couple extra lives I’m hoping.




Standing at over 10 feet tall this echium is sure to give a show next season if it survives the winter. After growing over 100 of these I’m determined to get one to bloom. With a surplus of exotics this year I’m doing my own trials on hardiness, so far with exciting results.


The Echium fastuosum ’Pride of Madeira” I left exposed is doing quite well.


Geranium maderense hasn’t noticed our winter at all.


Hedychium coccineum was still flowering mid November and on January 2nd is still looking lush. An adjecent pineapple salvia flowers freely to the right.


The succulents I planted on the grassy knoll are thriving too. I have two aeoniums outside right now and both are doing considerably better then the ones I have at the greenhouse. It seems they thrive in this cold weather, assuming we don’t see a deep freeze.


This one really surprised me. The Senecio cristobalensis I sacrificed to the elements is not only surviving but getting ready to flower. It’s been knocked over a couple times from the wind, but other than that he’s doing just fine.


Wasabia japonica resembles a ground cover at this time of year. A couple weeks back a main shoot broke and I got to try fresh wasabi root for the first time. Essentially it tastes a lot like horse radish but the flavor is definitely more refined. Always a novelty to try something new.


My Mahonia media produced a late, small set of blooms. Perhaps it’s time to repot or drop in the ground.


Right on que, the euphorbias have been setting their buds. Pictured above, Euphorbia ‘Glacier’


Euphorbia characias ‘Wulfenii’


Leptinella squalida ‘Platt’s Black’ resembles a small fern. Growing in a crack in the wall, it’s another plant that seems to enjoy the cool weather.


Hellebore ‘Winter Moonbeam’  is setting buds looking rather lovely.


A lone leaf of a under performing Acanthus stands out on grey days.


A couple of mushrooms fruit nearby.


Yucca rostrata is impressive no matter what time of year.


Planting chard in the autumn will ensure some winter interest and tasty fresh greens.


Although far from rare, tried and true hens and chicks look good 365 days a year. Can’t argue with that.



The top photo was taken today where as the bottom is from April of last year. My favorite part about documenting all of this is being able to cross reference the progress plants make. Gardening is full of surprises.

And thus comes the end of today’s tour all from the warmth of our homes. Hopefully I’ll take some shots at the greenhouse for even more plant excitement! Until next time.

Can you believe I’ve only been a plant lunatic for five years now? Oh how time flies when you spend afternoons watching seedlings mature into trees. An interest in marigolds evolved into caudiciforms, a curiosity turned into obsession. On the hot days of summer I find myself chasing watering cans, from greenhouse to back yard, why is my life so utterly un-irrigated. Plants hold precedence, and drink they must.

I work at a flower factory, come home and admire them some more. I remember days when it was all shades of green, a lacking of understanding created a visual blindness. I’ve always been fascinated in watching people’s observational skills, it’s interesting to see what people pick up on and notice. Some friends and acquaintances visit the back yard grotto with little more then a “hey nice” while others leave amazed. I often find myself planting, manicuring and nurturing the collection with the momentum of some greater purpose, but inherently it’s all for selfish reasons. No one will notice the intricacy of my madness, much like painting, it’s the sum of the whole.

Today I gave a tour of the greenhouse and my collection to some of the Cacti and Succulent Society members. Of course wouldn’t you know it, plan a garden tour, expect rain. It was fun but wet, talking amongst the other enthusiasts it’s apparent I’ve gone over the deep end. Plants aren’t just a hobby to me, they have become a way of life. While I could imagine eventually downgrading the collection, I could never be without plants all together. I’ve lost interest in following the hot new bands, video-games and bar flies, the latest botanical oddity seems to excite me more. Let’s take a break from gardening and go check out some nurseries, or maybe we could go visit a park and stare at some old growth specimens…

Plants ruined my life, and if you’re not careful, they could ruin yours too. 

Planning a trip south of the border, perhaps down to California to check out some botanical gardens and maybe swerve in to see a desert or two. Any botanical stops I shouldn’t miss? Comments and suggestions welcome!


A rather charming shot of 3 of my favorite plants. The echium just don’t quit.


A small crop of seed grown echiums. If my specimen at home doesn’t flower, one of these will!


Speaking of seed grown, these canna lilies are looking quite nice right now.


So are these Shirley Poppies, which to me, seem to look much like your common opium poppy, Papaver somniferum.


Are they one of the same?


Passion Flower ‘Lavender Lady’ is quickly becoming a personal favorite.


Breathtaking is an understatement. A field of flowering delphiniums is a pleasant sight indeed.

Until we meet again.

Hello Plant People

I’ve been absent from the blogosphere, lost in the beauty of the sunny backyard garden. Too much work, a whole lot of plants, and life goes on.

Funny how an absent of writing seems to come off as missing an old friend, I love sharing stories of my plant insanity, and hope some of you are still stopping by. While June certainly had more rain clouds then sun rays, it’s moisture was well received by my water hungry garden. Although the “gardener” got a few extra days off this June, July looks like it’s going to be a hot one. Starting today is a 10 day predicted forecast of cooking summer weather, we might even see a couple days in the 30′s (In Victoria, I know, I know). My giant Echium, Tetrapanax and Ensete false banana have instantly responded to the heat, growing like something out of Little Shop of Horrors. The colorful display of spring flowers has faded and in it’s place comes a whole new wave of tropical blooms. There is still plenty of summertime curiosities to peruse and fascinate, yet another time I’m thankful for being such a plant lunatic. So much to see…

Let’s take a closer look.


The tropical border is looking lush and exotic. My Achilles heel is a large garden made up of potted specimens. A nightmare to water, but satisifying in it’s ability to be reorganized as things look their best, and fade out for the season.

Let’s look at what’s been blooming the last couple weeks.


An old standby, Echeveria glauca is blooming early this year. The first succulent to really grab my attention, it’s lost it’s initial wow factor but still manages to win my respect for introducing me to a such a lovely genera of plants.


Aloe aristata is the first Aloe in my collection to yield blooms. We dug this one out of the Mary’s garden down on Cedar Hill Road, reliably hardy in Victoria if you keep the winter wet off it. Native to the Drakensberg Mountains in South Africa, these can be found growing up to 7500 feet above sea level in their natural habitat. Hardy succulents intrigue me.


Eccremocarpus scaber (Chilean Glory Vine) overwintered just fine in a pot placed outdoors, it’s rate of growth is almost scary. A heavy seed setter, if you grow this plant for one season you’ll have plenty of opportunities to share. Bonus points that it flowers on it’s first year from seed. Plant it where it has plenty of space to climb, it breaks easily when moved and is best left to climb on it’s own.


What I suspect to be Phytolacca polyandra otherwise known as Chinese Poke Weed. I first saw this genus in Germany, and have loved it ever since. Can’t wait for the unusual berries.


You’ve got to love the intricacy of it’s flowers.


A plant gifted to me last fall by the lovely people at Scentsational Plants, Arthropodium strictum (Tasmanian Chocolate Lily) was another winter success story.  It’s been flowering for the last couple weeks with these strange off center miniature blooms.


Close up strangeness.


Standing at almost 5 ft tall, Allium giganteum was worth the trouble.


When I first saw these little white berries appear I thought my Ugni molinae (Chilean Guava) was setting an early set of fruit. I should have known that they weren’t berries but flowers, it sets it’s fruit around the end of October. Get it together plant geek!


A weed to some, the yearly return of Linaria purpurea (Toad Flax) is always welcome sight. Amazing sprays of self seeding, non obstrusive, electric purple flowers. Yes please, introduce this ditch weed into my garden any day. This plant predates my garden and plant knowledge, it’s earned it’s space whether I like it or not.


Speaking of Linarias, I recently ordered some seeds from Chilterns and this Linaria aeruginea ‘Neon Lights’ was one of them. Mixed seed in various colors, only two specimens survived due to unintentional neglect. Unsure of if it’s perennial or annual, if it seeds anything like it’s releatives, I shouldn’t have a problem keeping it in the garden.


Arisaema triphyllum never ceases to fascinate and lasts much longer then the A. griffithii I have. We all need more Jack in the pulpits in the garden.


A new plant to me, Corydalis sempervirens has minute tropical looking flowers. What sold me more then that was it’s light green, almost powdered delicate foliage. It’s shade of green is unmatched in the garden.


The Lupinus arboreus I found as a seedling on dry waterside cliff doesn’t owe me anything. Out of all the plants in my garden this spring, this plant was acquired beyond the garden center and outflowered everything and anything in the garden. Naturally a shrub, I’ve been standardizing it into a tree with great results. Burning bush is an understatement.


Lovely lupin flowers.


Desfontatia spinosa flowers remind me of candy corn. Underneith a Lewisia glandulosa teases me with plenty of buds, but I’ve yet to see a single one flower.


Another old resident of the garden is campanula persicifolia, this one in particular I suspect to be a hybrid between the white and the blue varieties in my garden. Has anyone else see a spotted campanula flower?


A potted Hymnocalis festalis (Puruvian Daffodil) is a finely crafted work of natural art. What a wispy design of white frilled loveliness. If you happen to come across one of these, do stop and smell the roses, they have an alluring perfume.


Shocked and amazed.


I probably have over 10 species of saxifraga growing in my garden, and Saxifraga stolonifera wins first place for it’s flowers. Almost like a red stemmed orchid without the prestige and hype.


Take a closer look will you.


Obscure blooms of the South American, Bomarea edulis.  This plant probably wouldn’t sell out in Garden Centers but I enjoy it’s far off tale. Tuber ordered from Sacred Succulents.


Penstemon x mexicali ‘Sunburst Ruby’ lends well to a tropical garden. It’s reds stand out amongst all the green foliage of early summer, late spring.


Mitraria coccinea is a firestorm of orange tangelo colored flowers.


On the edge or hardy? I’m still not quite decided, this one made it through just fine in the coldframe.


Verbascum bombyciferum’s phallic flower droops and hangs in a different position every evening. A great drought resistant self seeding biannual for adding height and architecture. It reminds me of a blazing candelabra.


Another side fascination I’ve had this year is collecting exotic bulbs. Aztec Lily, Sprekelia formosissima in it’s full glory wondrous glory. The very first day the flower opened I took a deep breathe in and got to smell it’s short lived perfume. Smells like citrus mixed with strawberries, the aroma was intoxicating. I went for a second smell with no return, perhaps it only produces it in small supply.


For anyone having read mylast couple posts, I may come off as a broken record with pictures of my Cardiocrinum giganteum. Still I can’t help but to feel it deserves further documentation, standing at 12+ ft tall, stury and unstaked, this is one impressive lily.


9 years for the bulb to get to flowering size, 5 days of rain to knock them all off. I took this photo the day before the storm. Cardiocrinum giganteum is so classically beautiful, a true testament to the beauty and perfection of nature.


Even during heavy winds this Cardiocrinum giganteum barely moved an inch. Check out the base of it’s stalk.


12 feet and counting = happy plant geek.


I’m still not sure if I’ve properly identified this plant, but I suspect it to be Acacia koa. This strange acacia has two types of leaves coming off one branch. The reason for this morphology is unknown to me, but it has both flat leaves and small mimosa like leaves. I’ve never seen anything like it.


A closer look.


It’s always a good time for a photo of Mangave ‘Bloodspot’


Not rare, but totally everyday. I’m proud of my soft cushion planting of Saxifraga ‘Triumph’. It’s so fluffy!


I love when groundcovers start to merge, which one will remain victorious.


A nice way to justify breaking a fresh terracotta, put some succulents in it and act like you did it on purpose.


Buddha likes the saxifraga too.


The eyes of a gentle soul. Tobius the Cat.

Wishing you all a Sunny Weekend! Thanks for joining me on this tour.

To say May is a busy time of year for nursery workers is an understatement. From production to shipping to garden centers and beyond, there isn’t enough time in the day when you deal with this many plants. Overtime seasons hit a bit early this season and I suspect it to last a bit later as well, I feel like I’m running a marathon. Sore backs, stiff necks, a heavy coffee addiction and the days burn up as fast as I can face them. I’ve never been busier what with the nursery taking every spare moment I have, then watering & caring for my greenhouse and of course the backyard jungle. The work of a plant geek is never done and while I’ve been too busy for words, I felt it pertinent to give you all a quick update.

May walk-around.


The tropical border May 2012


My Cardiocrinum giganteum is absolutely giant and growing at an incredible rate. It’s probably well over 8 feet tall now and starting to bud. Won’t this be interesting.


It takes anywhere from 5-9 years for a Cardiocrinum giganteum bulbs to reach flowering maturity. Sadly after blooming this giant lily will perish in hopes of creating seed. In time it’s offsets will replace the mother plant and the cycle will continue.


I planted my Echium pininana out and have been enjoying all the dramatic spring growth.


A Meconopsis Himalayan blue poppy is currently flowering. What a stunning display of multicolored blue  frilly incredibleness.


For the 3rd season in a row this hardy Dianthus hybrid  blooms right on schedule. Above a Disporum sessile settles into it’s new pot ready to unravel it’s secrets.


Speaking of right on schedule, these Candelabra primula never cease to amaze.


The minute flowers of Corokia ‘Little Prince’ are a nice accent to a plant that often looks like it’s dead, even when it’s thriving. Corokia make excellent potted specimens and fits in well with the other garden obscurities.


Chives aren’t just for culinary uses, they also welcome in spring with cheery pink/purple pillow tufts. Hardy and pest resistant, I’ve been growing this patch of chives for nearly 4 years now. After blooming they sometimes looks ratty and unkempt, cut them back and they’ll flush out good as new.


When I first started this garden, the beds were nothing but tall grass, daisies and weeds. After clearing them up, I uncovered a struggling peony. Many years later it returns the favor by producing these melon sized scarlet blooms. Incredible.


Mahonia x media really is a great plant. Now that the flowers have faded, the berries are developing, and also a flush of new foliage. Surely a plant that offers year round interest.


Amongst a Tetrapanax a Allium giganteum creeps it’s way up into the canopy. I keep waiting for it to open, but it continues to grow taller. I’m excited to see the result.


Darmera peltata & Gunnera manicata begin to wake up for the season.


A unassuming Tellima grandiflora blooms with little expectation of being noticed. Upon a macro photograph the true intricacy of it’s flowers is seen. For shape and design these are some of my favorite, but you’d be hard pressed to see it without really taking a close look. Easily grown from seed I let the pods develop last year and sowed some with great success. I now have over 40 and I’ve also been finding the odd one poking up in the garden self sown as well.


Drimia maritima amongst the spring madness. Everything is so lush right now.


The amazing speckled leaves of a Heuchera ‘Midnight Rose’. From Mid April on the heucheras have been waking up and flushing out new foliage.


It’s easy to be jealous of Heuchera ‘Green Spice’ artistic skills. Wow!


Pole beans and scarlet runners ready to be transplanted out into the garden.


The unusual bloom spike of aPhytolacca americana. Beautiful and unusual this isn’t even half of what makes this a cool plant to grow. Stay tuned for more weirdness.

Agave bovicornuta & Agave bracteosa were easy to harden off, and are now enjoying the sunniest spot in the back garden.


The frog has a new hairdo this year, sitting next to Agave stricta ‘Nana’.


An echeveria art-piece I did has a little visitor.


An enemy to most gardeners, snails get a pass in my garden due to their intriguing good looks. Respectfully he didn’t eat any of the echeverias and I let him be on his way. I’m sure with all the plants I have a couple snails won’t do much damage.


A new addition from Fraser Thimble Farms, Syneilesis aconitifolia, a welcome obscurity to the garden.


More plant hoarding: Enkianthus cernuus rubens .

Thanks for visiting, we’ll talk soon when things aren’t as busy.

A notice to all plant geeks in Victoria, the Victoria Cactus and Succulent Society is having it’s yearly spring sale at Hillside Mall this weekend. Be sure to show them your support and check out their incredible selection of rare and strange succulents & cacti. Check out their website for more information.

Things have certainly been ripping along, I’m in absolute awe of all the new growth in the garden. After many tireless hours, and inconceivable levels of plant hoarding, the garden is full, established and brimming with life. The last week was an absolute zoo at the nursery which involved many late nights, and even a little Saturday catch up. Truth be told I feel a bit silly complaining about work when essentially I’m paid to do one big plant scavenger hunt, sun shining high, birds singing. Still as the long weeks add up my body aches a little more. Anyone who knows the dance of overtime knows there’s very little time to do much else. Living and breathing the plant scene right now, there’s a buzz in town and I’m enjoying the energy. My spirits remain high and I’m proud to have the job I have today.

A lot has been popping in the back garden, and I thought it might be time to do a bit more sharing.

The late April garden tour:


The Cardiocrinum giganteum has grown more then a foot since I got it a couple week’s back, it’s a fun plant to watch grow. Large glossy leaves and a promise of a tall flower stalk that will be the gem of the garden.


It’s main stock is a sight to be seen. It’s circumference and speed of growth is unreal.


Tetrapanax papyrifer has been enjoying the spring weather, rewarding me with a new leaf every couple weeks. If you haven’t tried this plant yet, keep your eyes peeled, the garden wouldn’t be the same without it. Low maintenance, undemanding and pest free, I haven’t had a thread of trouble growing Tetrapanax in Victoria. Extra bonus points that it’s almost completely hardy around here, it didn’t even loose it’s leaves this winter.


A meconopsis bud has been brewing the last couple days. Everyone tells me these plants are difficult and short lived, but so far this specimen hasn’t given me any problems whatsoever. A potted specimen I bring out into the main display in spring, and retire in the late summer. Himalayan poppy’s are unusual and beautiful, a great addition to the the perennial border.


Jeffersonia diphylla (Twin Leaf) & Sanguinaria canadensis (Blood Root) make an attractive unlikely pair. Both emerge into spring in the strangest way, flowering before the leaves even unravel. I enjoy the delicateness of the foliage and their lush greens are pleasant to say the least. Should you be keen to see a jeffersonia in bloom, don’t blink or you might miss it. This one came and went within the matter of 8 hours, I came home to a spent bloom having saw the bud only that morning.
All things pass.


I love the exotic blooms of this under cultivated hardy succulent, Chiastophyllum oppositifolium (kee-as-toh-FILL-um, op-po-sit-ee-FOH-lee-um). I have two of these at the moment, one in the garden and one in a 1 gallon pot, and the one in the pot is doing significantly better. For the best results extra drainage and perhaps some light winter protection will help encourage spring blooms. Furthermore I think chiastophyllum might be resiliant enough to be planted in rock walls and other vertical, well drained plantings. A must have, this is only the beginning of the long vibrant garland-like strands of flowers.


A perfectly grown Gentiana acaulis we aquired from Joe Keller at the VIRAGS Show and Sale has started to open and is a daily wonder. The flowers open and close with the sunlight, perhaps to protect it’s softer parts from winter moisture and cold temperatures.


Upon closer inspection this gentian’s flower is a real work of art. Out of this world beautiful, a perfect landing pad for a busy bumble bee. The dots inside are actually protruded bumps and the flower is comprised of a hard plastic-like casing and frilly soft petals when in full bloom. What an amazing shade of blue.


The rhodohypoxis are planted at the base of a eucalyptus tree and grow happily symbiotically. The thirsty tree above keeps the potrootbound and dry, preventing rot and also making it tough for city rats and squirrels to eat the delicious bulbs below. These have popped up for the last 3 seasons with no special care at all.


What can I say, I have a sweet spot for hardy primulas. Primula sieboldii lends well to the collection.


This primula auricula has been under performing for the last couple seasons and has been recently potted in a terracotta. A couple weeks later these blooms are my reward.


This Saxifraga ‘Triumph’ looks it’s best at this time of year. Cool weather growing, it seems to have migrated at least a foot from where I originally planted it. Now it drapes itself down the bordering rocks and looks quite naturalized. Even without it’s flowers it’s worth having in the garden. Bonus points that once spring moves into full swing you’re rewarded with a bumper crop of red tricolor blooms, I can’t complain.


The definition of springtime.


Proper gardening is all about timing. Plant something at the right time, and it won’t just “live” it will thrive. Bellis ‘English Daisies’ are a great short lived, cold weather perennial. For the best value buy them as 6pack annuals in fall, plant them and forget them until spring. The winter gives them ample time to get established and this is how they’ll look from February until June.


I have more then 10 different types of daffodils in the garden and yet they’re often left undocumented. I thought it was overdue that  I include a shot as they are the true harbingers of spring.


These Hyacinthoides non-scripta (Blue Bells) were here before I started the garden and will likely be here after I leave this garden. Truthfully I’ve loved them since the first day I saw them. Exotic flowers that grow like weeds, I’m impressed, I really am.


I often enjoy looking at the garden lengthwise and seeing the mix of colors all interwoven like a tapestry.


Once the flower stalks of Darmera peltata begin to unfurl, they move at an incredible rate. What perfect little capsules.


You don’t need to go to outer space to see something weird. Just. Go. Outside.


The shiny leaves of newly emerged Rodgersia. This specimen is thriving in the deep dry shade of a large clump of bamboo.


Something that might be new to some of you, Matthiola arborescens otherwise known as a tree stock. Much like your traditional annual stock, but supersized. Silver foliage and nicely scented flowers, I’m excited to see how this develops this season. A late find last season, this overwintered just fine in my coldframe in the back.


My podophyllum peltatum (North American May Apple) started to emerge at the end of last week. While podophyllums are somewhat new to me in the grande scheme of things I certainly enjoy growing them. Hosta-like in their developed foliage, there emergence in spring is miraculous and entertaining to watch. Another plant that needs a daily glance, this podophyllum moves quick once it gets started.


I’ve got two Arisaema griffithii in bloom at the moment, one dark one light. You always win with hardy exotics.

At The Nursery


A quick shot of the new greenhouse we built this winter. Is that an Echium pininana out front you ask? Why yes it is! Sadly it’s not the same one as I so proudly boasted about last season, that one died while being overwintered in the greenhouse. I should have said something earlier but I was still mourning. This season I’m taking it a step further, I’ve already got about 20 seedlings on the go, we will see one of these bloom somehow!


Amidst all the fury of greenhouse madness I was able to take 30 minutes to snap a couple nice shots. I love fresh crops of euphorbia, the contrast of foliage is amazing.


A field of rosemary and lavender.


6 pack fiberous begonias, the bane of the nurseryman. King of the frustrating crops, begonias can be a pain in the A$$. For the moment this season’s look phenomenal. Only time will tell.


I can’t help but to smile looking at these large crops of different colored heucheras.

Last but not least: The Latest Plant Hoarding

While buzzing about a garden center on a sales call, I noticed this amazing specimen of Jatropha podagrica. Strangely enough I had been eyeing one of these up on Tropiflora a couple months previous but changed my mind when I saw the  $80 dollars for shipping and phyto tickets. There’s a small crop of these circulating Victoria’s garden centers right now, if you want an interesting developed caudiciform I suggust you go for an adventure right now. Not cheap, but barely expensive, I saw a couple at Gardenworks Blenkinsop and Marigold Nursery Saanich. They’re in short supply and won’t last long, you need one of these.


Amazing neon orange blooms.

Thanks for coming along for a tour. Enjoy the spring weather!

-N

Mr Nat. Gardener, Plant Nerd
Tips and tales about gardening in one of the most mild climates in Canada. Specializing in rare and strange plants from far out destinations, this is the story of an obsessed young gardener in Victoria B.C. Let's create more tropical gardens in the garden city on the southern tip of Vancouver Island.
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