Onwards And Upwards



Signs of Spring


It’s taken a little while to get my head around being back in the UK. And to be honest part of me still isn’t back. Having got used to summer for six and a half weeks it’s a bit of a shock to emerge from Heathrow at 4.30 in the morning to -4 deg C. We’ll return to Australia soon enough, or at least the blog will, but in an effort to haul my sorry self back to reality let’s take a break for the End of Month View.

It’s become something of a New Year tradition chez rusty duck to embark on a new project and then share its progress as time goes on. And this year is no exception. But first, a recap.

This is where we were at the end of January last year.

Under control (ish): terraces (green)

Work in progress: Precipitous Bank (yellow)

Next to do: Upper bank (red)



And this is where we are today.

Under control (ish): Terraces and Precipitous Bank, bar tinkering and weeding (green).

Work in progress: The Upper Bank. You’ll notice I’ve also snuck in the strip behind the outhouses which we cleared last year to accommodate the rhododendrons evicted from the bottom of the lawn (yellow).

Next to do: The area bordered by the 84 steps (red).



Galanthus nivalis

The common snowdrop


Mike has helpfully pointed out that the map is no longer accurate.

For one thing the fruit cage is no more, demolished in one of last autumn’s violent storms thus saving us a job. It wasn’t the most robust structure to begin with, nor the prettiest. I thought I’d have a go at growing the fruit without the net cage. We’ll see how that goes. The blackbird is waiting patiently too.

And then of course the map still has a tall hedge to the right side of the lawn, not the neat low hedge that has now taken its place. It will do for now. No doubt some rainy afternoon I shall have to get the Tippex out.



Daffodils pushing up through the leaf litter



And so, back to the matter in hand. Allow me to present this year’s challenge.

At the bottom end of the 84 steps, close to the house, it is very steep. Surely not I hear you say. We see this area every day from the kitchen window and it’s a constant thorn in my side. But there’s a reason I’ve been putting it off.



Shown at this angle we can perhaps see just how steep it is.

It’s basically an extension of the vertical cliff face left hundreds of years ago when the hillside was excavated to build the house. Ferns have spread freely, as have the ubiquitous brambles, but nothing else does very well there. Even the conifer, far right, is barely surviving. That will be one of the first things to come out.



The camellia will stay but be reduced in size once it has finished flowering.



Standing to the left side of the camellia we look straight up the steps.



And from the right angle in the middle of the steps looking back down.

Uphill from here is woodland. And this is where the next phase of the garden development gets exciting for me and makes this year’s challenge a rather different kettle of fish. All of the areas tackled thus far have been in full sun. No longer will I be able to bung in a load of cosmos to fill up the gaps. No, now I have to start thinking properly about shade loving plants.



Hamamelis mollis ‘Jermyns Gold’


Wish me luck?


Linking to Helen at The Patient Gardener for the End of Month View.

Click through to see what other gardeners are up to this month. Or why not join in? Helen would love to see you.



Erica carnea ‘Nathalie’


pin it?


2017-10-26T10:29:15+00:00February 2nd, 2017|Tags: |


  1. annincumbria February 2, 2017 at 3:54 pm - Reply

    I do love following your projects good luck, is the bedroom complete?

    • Jessica February 3, 2017 at 7:12 pm - Reply

      It isn’t completely finished but we have just moved back in. Beats sleeping in the dining room! I’ll do an update, just as soon as there’s enough light indoors for photographs. It’s so gloomy at the moment. Thanks Ann.

  2. Anne Wheaton February 2, 2017 at 4:19 pm - Reply

    What a fantastic challenge your garden is. Looking forward to following your progress – take care on those slopes.

    • Jessica February 3, 2017 at 7:23 pm - Reply

      I know. I’m remembering last year when I lost most of Spring to a sprained ankle.

  3. Christina February 2, 2017 at 4:23 pm - Reply

    Hi Jessica, looks like this year you picked an even more challenging challenge than last year! I think, though, that shade gardening can be very interesting and rewarding. I remember seeing one of the most beautiful shade gardens when I was in Germany two years ago. It is all about what you make out of it.
    I certainly wish you good luck with this one and I am looking forward to following your progress.
    Warm regards,

    • Jessica February 3, 2017 at 7:26 pm - Reply

      They do seem to get harder every year! But I am looking forward to learning about shade. And as the garden is probably 75% shade it will be critical from now on. Lots of research needed during the rest of the winter.

  4. bumbleandme February 2, 2017 at 4:43 pm - Reply

    Happy New Year Jessica! I eagerly await your progress on this one as I too want to merge garden and woodland together in an attempt to blur the boundaries between the two. For mine, I have visions of low maintenance shrubs such as camellia and hydrangea with an equally low maintenance ground cover plant and ferns interspersed throughout with maybe a honeysuckle or other interesting climber meandering up some of the trees. Good luck with yours and don’t forget the mountaineering equipment!! X

    • Jessica February 3, 2017 at 7:30 pm - Reply

      And a very Happy New Year to you too!
      That sounds an excellent plan. Low maintenance is definitely the key. I just hope you don’t have the same variety of woodland munchers as I do.. keeping them at bay will be the greatest challenge I reckon.

  5. Susan Garrett February 2, 2017 at 5:06 pm - Reply

    You’ll definitely keep fit with all those steps. Is the area permanent shade all year round.

    • Jessica February 3, 2017 at 7:34 pm - Reply

      It’s deciduous woodland, probably the sunniest at the moment as it ever will be. So the border up the steps will essentially be a Spring border. The difficulty will be keeping interest going once the canopy has closed in. We had some of the trees removed/trimmed back a year or so ago so this will help.

  6. ourfrenchoasis February 2, 2017 at 5:37 pm - Reply

    What a challenge and you are so well organised, I think I need to take a leaf out of your book and sketch out plans instead of keeping everything inside my head. We have huge plans for a very large wide herbaceous border this year that is only about 40% full of plants, the rest is bare earth and ugly. The problem is it has always been in semi shade thanks to a huge row of hazel and cob trees. This week we have commenced the huge job of radically cutting them back, reducing their height by about 9′ each, so that a) they might produce some nuts and b) far more importantly to give light to the border beyond. Oh what fun it is to plan in the garden now that spring is nearly here. Love your blog, it inspires me to keep working hard on my garden!

    • Jessica February 3, 2017 at 7:38 pm - Reply

      It is an exciting time of year. So much promise of things to come. It certainly does get you into planning mode. Your trees are looking great, I hope they respond with plenty of nuts!

  7. Backlane Notebook February 2, 2017 at 6:09 pm - Reply

    Good to have a project albeit a challenging one. I have a relatively small area in shade and whilst I have focussed on Spring bulbs it lacks interest at this time of year. So more hellebores at ground level would be my advice as a start.

    • Jessica February 3, 2017 at 7:42 pm - Reply

      Definitely hellebores. One of the (few) advantages of a slope is being able to plant them in such a way that it’s possible to look up into the blooms.

  8. Evan Bean February 2, 2017 at 6:09 pm - Reply

    Challenging spaces can be turned into the most beautiful gardens. Looking forward to watching your progress. Seems like a great place to grow something like Iris confusa. It would be beautiful cascading down that slope.

    • Jessica February 3, 2017 at 7:53 pm - Reply

      Hi Evan and welcome.
      I hadn’t come across Iris confusa before so looked it up. It does sound perfect for the conditions here. Only 4 UK suppliers, thankfully two mail order. I’m very tempted to try it, thanks for the tip!

  9. Pauline February 2, 2017 at 6:58 pm - Reply

    I think ropes, crampons and a safety net are the order for the day, do take care! I have to admit that our shady borders are now my favourites, when moving here I knew nothing about gardening in the shade, but Beth Chatto’s book, The Woodland Garden” set me on the right track – have fun!

    • Jessica February 3, 2017 at 7:56 pm - Reply

      I have that book. I bought it when we moved here but that was a while ago now. I think a re-read might be in order these dark winter nights.

  10. Kris Peterson February 2, 2017 at 7:45 pm - Reply

    You don’t shy away from challenges, do you?! I shan’t complain any further about my own slope – your 84-step space is far steeper.

    • Jessica February 3, 2017 at 7:58 pm - Reply

      I often wonder if we’d still have bought the house if I’d known then how hard it was all going to be. Now we’re here though, the only way is up!

  11. Marian St.Clair February 2, 2017 at 8:19 pm - Reply

    I am amazed by the moss on your trees. I had to think for a minute about what could be behind the snowdrops…a tree! It will be interesting to see what surprises you have with this year’s project. I’m always encouraged by your tenacity and hope a bit might rub off on me.

    • Jessica February 3, 2017 at 8:02 pm - Reply

      Yes, the snowdrops are growing on one of the trees alongside the steps. I’m wondering if those trees would be a good location for some ‘special’ snowdrops as they’re at eye level. And perhaps the nibbling things wouldn’t find them so easily. The moss is amazing. Most of it stays all summer too which just goes to show how damp it is down here.

  12. Brian Skeys February 2, 2017 at 9:07 pm - Reply

    You really do like a challenge Jessica.

    • Jessica February 3, 2017 at 8:04 pm - Reply

      It’s more that they are foisted upon me. Really I’d like to be feet up on the sofa with a good book. Well, some of the time.

  13. Ian Lumsden February 2, 2017 at 10:24 pm - Reply

    One of the most exciting times for gardeners with the bulbs pooping up and a project under way. Shade is a challenge that can be satisfied. Good luck. Think of all the plants out there and you have the space to embrace them.

    • Jessica February 3, 2017 at 8:07 pm - Reply

      It’s good to think out of the box once in a while and there are so many gorgeous woodland plants. It will be a fun project I reckon.

  14. Sue C. February 2, 2017 at 11:06 pm - Reply

    Well I certainly wish you luck – but it’s always good to have a challenge. I shall enjoy following your progress.

    • Jessica February 3, 2017 at 8:15 pm - Reply

      Thanks Sue. Just need the weather to pick up. It’s dire at the moment isn’t it. I want to be out there getting started but no chance.

  15. Jennifer February 2, 2017 at 11:08 pm - Reply

    I’m amazed to see how many things are blooming now (I assume these are current photos?). You have quite a challenge ahead of you but I know you will do well with it. You both work so hard and are so good at this stuff.

    • Jessica February 3, 2017 at 8:17 pm - Reply

      Yep, all current and all within the area around the steps in the photos. It’s certainly a challenge this year. Thank you for your confidence!

  16. Virginia February 3, 2017 at 4:57 am - Reply

    LUCK!!! I think crampons, a full safety harness and hard helmet and extra health insurance would be a better idea! It’s not precipitous, it’s darn near vertical! Seriously, you are going to have to be might;y careful, and pace yourself with this challenge. And, I agree, – how’s the house? Living in a country where there’s barely a hundred year old house, I love seeing your wonderful renovations/restorations.

    • Jessica February 3, 2017 at 8:22 pm - Reply

      I’m very mindful that I lost six weeks of last Spring to a sprained ankle so I will be careful. This challenge will need every week that I can give it.
      I’ll do an update on the house soon. We’ve moved back into the bedroom. It’s not completely finished but near enough. Bit chaotic at the mo trying to get everything sorted out (and everything to fit!) but gradually we’re seeing rooms emerging as they should be once again.

  17. Christina February 3, 2017 at 6:05 am - Reply

    Gulp! Well you certainly don’t make life easy for yourself Jessica! As other comments have said shade need not be a problem – embrace it; Beth Chatto’s book would certainly be my recommendation as a guide. I used to follow Caroline’s shade garden blog, she always had lots of excellent ideas. But I don’t envy you the slope. Mine is ‘flat’ by comparison. Do be very careful, I really don’t want to be reading about your experiences in hospital. Good luck.

    • Jessica February 3, 2017 at 8:29 pm - Reply

      I have tested that slope for feasibility and reckon I can reach mostly to the top from a slightly flatter area lower down. Leaning down from the top is not an option. I tried that.. briefly! This may be an area where the creation of a maintenance path is a necessity.

  18. germac4 February 3, 2017 at 7:14 am - Reply

    Well, you were back in time for the beginning of your bulbs coming through, that is always a thrill at the end of winter. I like you planning list, and I’m going to make one for us, it is a great idea! Don’t know if anything is ”under control” here, at the end of summer!

    • Jessica February 3, 2017 at 8:33 pm - Reply

      The ‘under control’ has a very big ‘ish’ alongside it. Gardens always look at their most miserable in winter but it wasn’t a great sight to come back to. The bulbs emerging now are helping. A bit.

  19. Caro February 3, 2017 at 7:16 am - Reply

    It’s the view from the kitchen window that would be heart in mouth time for me. But you’ve probably already booked a crash course in abseiling. At least make sure you’re tied to a sturdy tree before descending! Now that you’ve announced your latest project, Jessica, the blogging world will be watching with bated breath! Fingers crossed for you.

    • Jessica February 3, 2017 at 8:37 pm - Reply

      I’m thinking lots of geraniums and other low maintenance ground cover. This is going to be as much of a once only job as I can make it.

  20. Vera February 3, 2017 at 8:26 am - Reply

    Those steps! I flinched when I saw the photo because they reminded me of the steep steps which took us up the back garden of our house in the UK into the woods beyond. Felt like I was taking my life in my hands every time I went up and down them! Looking forward to seeing your new project!
    PS. Any more koala photos. Just asking!

    • Jessica February 3, 2017 at 8:44 pm - Reply

      The steps in themselves are not so bad but the borders around them are. They are slippery for one thing, often wet and composed mostly of clay. But I do need to tackle it. The steps are the main route out of the house and it would be good to look at something other than a tangle of weeds!
      I might have a ‘few’ koala photos left..

  21. kate@barnhouse February 3, 2017 at 8:26 am - Reply

    What an exciting challenge. I’d recommend Graham Rice’s Planting the Dry Shade Garden, great for ultra low maintenance ground cover suggestions. Have you come across Long Acre Plants (specialist for shade lovers) in Somerset? Best of luck, can’t wait to see what ingenious solutions you come up!

    • Jessica February 3, 2017 at 8:55 pm - Reply

      Two great suggestions, thank you Kate. I’ll put Graham Rice on the Amaz*n list. Long Acre plants I’ve heard of. I think I must have bought from them at Rosemoor sales or wherever. The website is packed full of goodies, I think I will be perusing it often.

  22. Chloris February 3, 2017 at 9:20 am - Reply

    An exciting project to come home to. Shade gardens are great fun. But that slope is challenging, rather you than me. I look forward to reading about your progress.

    • Jessica February 3, 2017 at 8:56 pm - Reply

      I do need something to get me back into gear. This should do it..

  23. Sarah Shoesmith February 3, 2017 at 9:54 am - Reply

    I love a project. I love other people’s challenging projects the most! I look forward to watching your progress along those steps. I embrace the shade – and the plants thriving there, so I will enjoy this next phase in your garden. Here’s hoping that it is a long and sunny summer so you will be thankful to be working in the shade. We will all be cheering you along as we slap on the suncream and sip cocktails on our loungers 😉

    • Jessica February 3, 2017 at 9:02 pm - Reply

      I brought a fly net back from Australia (two actually) to wear over my hat. The midges are just dreadful under the trees here. I wouldn’t want that fact to distract you from your cocktail unduly though.. 😉

  24. New Moons For Old February 3, 2017 at 10:13 am - Reply

    Jessica, you always describe every step of your projects with such vivid detail and such joie de vivre (even, or especially, when things are going not quite to plan). I am sure this will be no exception, and look forward to being with you in spirit each step of the way.

    • Jessica February 3, 2017 at 9:11 pm - Reply

      I can see plenty of banana skins on the road ahead. I will do my best and thank you for your support!

  25. Jo February 3, 2017 at 12:52 pm - Reply

    It will be interesting to follow your progress with this area, I think shade gardening is a real challenge so I shall be ready to learn lots from your experiences.

    • Jessica February 3, 2017 at 9:12 pm - Reply

      Thanks Jo. I’ve dabbled with it before but am far from being an expert. It will be fun to learn.

  26. Caroline February 3, 2017 at 2:12 pm - Reply

    I have a shady bed in the front garden that is pretty ugly so I’ll be watching for some inspiration!

    • Jessica February 3, 2017 at 9:19 pm - Reply

      It’ll be a bit of trial and error to begin with, but we shall see. I’ve got to make shade work because there is a lot of it!

  27. Piddlewick February 3, 2017 at 2:57 pm - Reply

    Can’t wait to hear what shade loving plants you choose, and your updates. Good luck!

    • Jessica February 3, 2017 at 9:21 pm - Reply

      There’s plenty of research still to be done. Need to do it before the gardening season starts in earnest.

  28. derrickjknight February 3, 2017 at 3:05 pm - Reply

    I looks as if you are back here

    • Jessica February 3, 2017 at 9:23 pm - Reply

      Sadly so. But still, Spring and Summer to look forward to.

  29. Jacqueline February 3, 2017 at 4:44 pm - Reply

    Oh my … that’s one hell of a job Jessica …. but, you will do it !!! Just think how wonderful it’s going to look … and, how wonderful you are going to look …. you will be so toned !!!! haha. I will await the after photographs with my feet up !! XXXX

    • Jessica February 3, 2017 at 9:29 pm - Reply

      I have brought a few pounds back from Australia that I didn’t have before so a bit of exercise and toning is important.

  30. Hoe hoe grow February 3, 2017 at 7:41 pm - Reply

    Ah … challenges … just what gardeners thrive on, so I believe! I look forward to following your progress this season. Just the thought of all your steps makes me crave a lie down! We are telling ourselves that this year will be a ‘consolidation’ one with no new major projects. I’ll see how long that one lasts before one of us comes up with an idea which involves back-breaking labour!

    • Jessica February 3, 2017 at 9:32 pm - Reply

      I’ll give it a month. Such is the nature of gardening. It keeps us fit though, no?

  31. Anna February 3, 2017 at 10:20 pm - Reply

    I’m not surprised that you are still coming down to earth after catching up with your holiday posts. Kangaroo Island sounds and looks out of this world. Your 2017 project is certainly going to keep you occupied Jessica. I’m sure that you will soon make the acquaintance of some desirable shady characters. Another book that might be inspirational is Keith Wiley’s book ‘ Designing And Planting A Woodland Garden’. He is a fellow Devonian gardener so his observations will probably be particularly pertinent.

    • Jessica February 5, 2017 at 11:20 am - Reply

      Yes, I’ve been to The Garden House. It’s one of my favourite gardens down here. His book will most definitely be on the first list I order. It’s great fun isn’t it, researching for a new project.

  32. CherryPie February 4, 2017 at 12:42 am - Reply

    I love seeing how your garden is progressing 🙂

    • Jessica February 5, 2017 at 11:22 am - Reply

      Thanks Cherie. I can’t wait to get started again but it is really wet at the moment. Have to pick my spots or I risk doing more harm than good.

  33. smallsunnygarden February 4, 2017 at 5:05 am - Reply

    You don’t rest on your laurels, do you?! 😉 I’m looking forward to watching your shade adventure…!

    • Jessica February 5, 2017 at 11:23 am - Reply

      I’m not that fond of laurels..! 😉
      Thanks Amy.

  34. hb February 4, 2017 at 8:19 am - Reply

    I’m trying to conceive of a camellia growing on a slope. It’s simply too dry here for that to be possible. Also the sketch of your property is lovely!

    Going to be a significant safety challenge as your steep slope is very steep indeed. Perhaps last spring’s ankle will induce the caution to keep you safe on this even steeper slope. I’ve got one nearly that steep but far smaller. It’s planted with Agaves. Hellebores would be lovely–enjoy your project!

    • Jessica February 5, 2017 at 11:35 am - Reply

      Hellebores are top of the list to go on that bank. Anything that cheers me up at this time of year has to be worth the expense. I wish not quite so much expense in their case. The ankle injury definitely induces caution. I really can’t afford for that to happen again this year.

  35. Lucid Gypsy February 4, 2017 at 12:25 pm - Reply

    Hi Rusty Duck, nice to ‘meet’ you. I’ll be back to explore soon!

    • Jessica February 5, 2017 at 11:36 am - Reply

      Welcome and thanks! Nice to meet you too, especially a fellow Devonian.

  36. Denise February 4, 2017 at 12:40 pm - Reply

    Furnicular? Just a thought…

    • Jessica February 5, 2017 at 11:38 am - Reply

      With a big box on the back for my tools. Imagine, I could send it back down the slope for coffee to be deposited within it at the appropriate times.

  37. Sam February 4, 2017 at 1:50 pm - Reply

    Good luck, Jess. That is one steep slope. I haven’t read all the other comments but I’m sure you will come up with suitable dry(?) shade-loving plants. As well as ferns, there’s Luzula nivea (a lovely grass) and Sarcococca confusa near the steps for winter scent. Perhaps lots of winter aconites and anemones. Oh, and a band of merry, young helpers to help you! Look forward to seeing what you decide to do. Sam x

    • Jessica February 5, 2017 at 11:51 am - Reply

      That does look like a lovely grass. And when in bloom it would show up well from a distance too. Sarcococca is another good choice. I’ve yet to experiment with bulbs in the woodland. There are snowdrops and daffodils already there but I’m wondering if I’ll have the same problems with mice as in the rest of the garden.

  38. restlessjo February 4, 2017 at 6:15 pm - Reply

    That’s quite some chunk of garden you have there, Jess! Or small wilderness 🙂 I admire your determination and it’s great to see those burgeoning signs of Spring. We have a few hellebores out, and Mick says he found a shy snowdrop today 🙂 Definitely onwards and upwards!

    • Jessica February 5, 2017 at 11:55 am - Reply

      Small wilderness describes it perfectly. Most of it is woodland, left to its own devices for the most part. I was lucky enough to inherit great carpets of snowdrops. I shall be relocating some of them into this new space. The mice et al tend to leave the common ones alone. I wish the same could be said for the expensive named varieties that I buy!

  39. Linda aka Crafty Gardener February 4, 2017 at 9:10 pm - Reply

    Lovely to see spring coming awake in your gardens.

    • Jessica February 5, 2017 at 11:59 am - Reply

      Isn’t it just. Spring can’t come soon enough for me.

  40. welshhillsagain February 5, 2017 at 3:51 pm - Reply

    Wow! I am afraid I leave the very steep bits of our site. I try to persuade myself it is for wildlife but really I have just bottled it!

    • Jessica February 6, 2017 at 11:07 am - Reply

      There are plenty of ‘wildlife areas’ here too! But when it’s right outside the kitchen window I do need to do something. 🙁

  41. Cathy February 5, 2017 at 9:17 pm - Reply

    It really helps us get things in perspective having your map Jessica – I shall be watching with interest how y ou tackle your slope.aka cliff. Did you see Big Dreams Small Spaces last week? I thought of you when I saw it! (they terraced their cliff to make an ‘allotment’)

    • Jessica February 6, 2017 at 11:11 am - Reply

      Oh no, I missed it! iPlayer here I come. Thanks for the tip off Cathy.

  42. Freda February 5, 2017 at 10:46 pm - Reply

    You are an inspiration!

    • Jessica February 6, 2017 at 11:14 am - Reply

      That could be going too far. 😉
      And best to wait and see what the outcome might be. I’ve never tried planting vertically before. It’ll probably fail miserably!

  43. bittster February 6, 2017 at 12:16 am - Reply

    You so seem to have your work cut out for yourself on this one, but after all the other projects this should be an easy one! That steep drop (slope sounds too gentle a name) will be quite the ‘inspiration’ and I agree the hellebores would be perfect there!

    • Jessica February 6, 2017 at 11:17 am - Reply

      If I can get the hellebores to establish I think they will be. I’ve got some growing successfully on the face of the Precipitous Bank which is almost (but not quite) as steep. So we’ll see. Thanks Frank.

  44. Mark and Gaz February 6, 2017 at 11:25 am - Reply

    Looking forward to following your projects Jessica, good luck!

    • Jessica February 6, 2017 at 12:31 pm - Reply

      Thanks, think I’m going to need it!

  45. Peter Herpst February 6, 2017 at 3:46 pm - Reply

    How thrilling, another nearly vertical garden challenge. I look forward to seeing how your latest project progresses. Please be careful!

    • Jessica February 6, 2017 at 9:07 pm - Reply

      I will be careful. This one is almost true vertical gardening. A whole new set of skills to learn.

  46. Jill Chandler February 6, 2017 at 8:58 pm - Reply

    Whoooo you are back. Now just have to work out how to put you back on my bloglist.

    • Jessica February 6, 2017 at 10:03 pm - Reply

      Yep, back. Feeling the cold. Sorry ’bout the bovver, you don’t lose me that easily. 😉

  47. Sarah February 7, 2017 at 8:19 pm - Reply

    Your work is never done, the view from the kitchen window look such a challenge I thought the rest of your garden was steep! Sarah x

    • Jessica February 8, 2017 at 8:55 pm - Reply

      I think this is probably the worst bit. That means it gets better from here on!

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