creating an english garden border

mrtoad(7b NC)February 19, 2012

this garden area is between potager and holly wall on the property line. the first three photos are from the bottom of the garden. my plan is to create an english garden border. i am older and less mobile and plan accordingly. in the area now are: common day lilies that came from my grandmothers yard, a few of her iris, two nice clumps of oriental grass, two limelight hydrangea (tree form) three edgeworthy (tree form). my goal is to create year round interest. other plants that i am considering are daylilies, dahlia, shasta and oxeye daisies, yarrow, mounding geraniums, joe-pye and miscanthus grass, salvias of all types, colors, kniphofia "nancy's red

Any Suggestions Or Advice Would Be Greatly Appreciated

same area from top of garden

thank so much, mr toad

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cyn427 (zone 7)

Oh, that will be so pretty! Can't wait to see it when it is finished. I love the shape of the little tree. What is that? Doesn't look like a hydrangea to me, but these old eyes may not be seeing it clearly. I also like your holly wall. I would love to have one of those blocking one of my neighbors!

    Bookmark   February 19, 2012 at 7:06PM
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mrtoad(7b NC)

there are five small trees - two limelight hydrangea, these are located at each end of the area to be planted
also three "edgeworthia," chinese paper bush - these are located in the center of the garden around the wind chimes

mr toad

    Bookmark   February 19, 2012 at 7:22PM
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Lilyfinch z7 mid tn

Oooooh what a absolutely gorgeous garden! I especially love the paths, how they sweep in and out. I think no matter what you decide to do, it'll be fantastic. .
I'd personally edge the paths with either lavender or catmint,, I dream of doing that in my own garden. Definatly day lilies , salvias, how about some roses?? Throw in a birdbath or maybe a gazebo style feeder on a four by four, with some clematis ?

I see some lovely arbors in the background, what do you have growing on them??
I really cannot wait to see pics in the summer of your garden!!,

    Bookmark   February 19, 2012 at 11:06PM
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cyn427 (zone 7)

Ah, thanks for the info. The one blooming must be an Edgeworthia. That is new to me!

Definitely keep posting pictures, so we can watch your progress. It will be wonderful!!

    Bookmark   February 20, 2012 at 8:27AM
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So Lovely!! May I suggest:Fushia(a nice variegated),echinacea, lilies, euphorbia,astible,peonies....oh to have such beautiful ready beds!!!

    Bookmark   February 20, 2012 at 10:39AM
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Quite Lovely!
Do keep us posted.
What are the small shrubs/trees with the white papery little bells? Surely, that is not Edgeworthia. They are not what I have always known as Edgeworthia, which have yellow, sun-like orbed flowers. Such a delicate looking thing!
The Holly hedgerow is wonderful!

    Bookmark   February 20, 2012 at 2:53PM
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hosenemesis(SoCal Sunset 19 USDA 8b)

Just beautiful, Mr. Toad. Those edgeworthias do look whiter than the ones I have seen. Do you recall the name? Is it Snow Queen? They have such an exquisite form. I wish they grew here in Socal.

I think you have done a wonderful job placing your path. I can't wait to see it in the spring!

    Bookmark   February 20, 2012 at 6:21PM
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mrtoad(7b NC)

to all concerned, and those not so concerned :) two things

one, i am not a gardener, but learning, i really do not know "edge"worthia from "middle"worthia

two, edgeworthia ?, from the tag

EDGEWORTHIA chrysantha Paper Bush z7 full sun or partial shade deciduous 6'h x 5'w Fragrant yellow flowers: Jan to Mar Ornamental stems with large showy leaf scars

from the garden

    Bookmark   February 20, 2012 at 7:15PM
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christinmk z5b eastern WA

I think that it is already great mr. toad! Love the curving paths and beds and that Edgeworthia is to die for! Pretty amazing job for someone who is "not a gardener" ;-)

The row of pots in the center is neat, as well as that obelisk. Are the two posts in the middle used for hanging up the wind chimes? That is clever- never seen it done that way before. I agree with lilyfinch that a row or even just a few lavender and/or catmint plants would really enhance the English garden look you are going for. Looks great even as is though...

Great job. Make sure to keep us updated and show lots of pics in the months ahead!

    Bookmark   February 20, 2012 at 8:36PM
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hosenemesis(SoCal Sunset 19 USDA 8b)

Here's a link to an old thread that shows Mr. Toad's potager, the area just to the left of the big pots in the first two photos.

Here is a link that might be useful: Mr. Toad's potager

    Bookmark   February 20, 2012 at 11:52PM
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flora_uk(SW UK 8/9)

What a great space to get working on :) There is great potential there. Can you tell us the orientation and dimensions?

And can you define a bit more what you understand by 'English garden?' Are you looking to replicate the actual plants or just a 'feel' of the classic mixed border?

Here are some thoughts. Please don't think I mean to nit pick. These are just personal hunches based on living and gardening over here.

Before starting the planting the bones need to be decided upon. The holly hedge would almost certainly be clipped flat over here, rather than natural, to save space and give a formal backdrop to the bed, but that is obviously a matter of personal taste.

The bed on the right could do with being a bit wider I think. The shrubs(?) could well grow out onto the path pretty soon. Also you will need space at the back of the border to maintain the holly, even if you don't clip it as a hedge. As it is I think the holly risks growing out into the bed and causing the shrubs there to lean out for light.

Over here beds are almost always dug out the native soil rather than made by placing materials on top of the ground. They would be clearly defined by a sharp cut edge and while the soil would be slightly higher than the grass it would not be mounded up, nor on the other hand would a bed ever be lower than the lawn. Yours look just right, although the edges could do with defining.

Regarding the path, unlike christinmk and hosenemesis, I'm not totally convinced by the wiggle. I can't see a reason for it. It's not going round anything. Maybe a feature in the bed where it bulges would give it a raison d'etre? It comes over to me as a kink without a purpose rather than a meander with a meaning.

Edging such as catmint or lavender is usually seen here on formal borders, not sinuous ones. To me, the shape you have chosen says informal woodland walk, rather than herbaceous border, especially as I imagine it is somewhat shaded by the hedge.

I realise that this is a new garden but to get an 'English' garden vibe the mulch needs to disappear from view. A) it's not used much here and B) if it is used it is invisible under the plants. Even at this time of year there would be many clumps of bulbs coming up (not rows) and things like primulas, hellebores, brunnera, Doronicums, etc already starting to fill up the space. With the early flowering Edgeworthias you could have a stunning spring display. In high summer there would not be an inch of ground visible.

Regarding the plants, it would be good to repeat plantings at intervals to hold the bed together, as you have done with those lovely Edgworthias, rather than trying to cram in as many different ideas/plants as possible. Plant in asymmetrical groups, absolutely not rows, and try to think about how colours work together rather than having as many as you can get. Try to avoid fussiness with lots of conflicting blobs. You might like to read Gertrude Jekyll on colour.

Finally, I'm sure you know all this, but look at plants as a whole. Leaves, textures, shapes, period of interest as well as flowers. Decide what form is needed at a particular point and find plants to fit, rather than starting with a list of plants you fancy. The suggested variegated Fuchsia is a nice plant but there needs to be a reason why you choose it over and above its being pretty in isolation.

And if you want a border which does not take a lot of work forget annuals and make sure the plants crowd out the weeds by filling the beds to overflowing. Allow judicious self sowing - just use the hoe to remove seedlings you don't want - and have fun!

p.s. I am a wee bit concerned about the hardiness of Edgworthia for you. They are considered difficult here. What are your winter lows?

Here is a link that might be useful: Edgworthia

    Bookmark   February 21, 2012 at 9:26AM
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christinmk z5b eastern WA

There are fantastic curves in some of the paths at Cambridge University's Botanic Garden, in the Winter Garden.

Picture 1

Picture 2

I first saw it in the Jan/Feb issue of Hort magazine and really fell in love with it. I'm partial to out of the ordinary and curved paths anyway though!

The curves of it are larger and more sweeping, but I think the same principle applies to what mr. toad has, quite cleverly, done. Straight paths and walkways are great and can get a person to where they want to go in a jiffy (wasn't there something in my childhood schoolbook about "the quickest route from point A to point B is a straight line"? Lol), but a curved/kinked path forces the garden viewer to slow down and really look at the garden.

That is the beauty of gardening, everything is open to reinvention and interpretation. You can be inspired by a design and rework it to make it represent your personal tastes and work for your zone and region. ;-)

Ps. That Edgeworthia is even more amazing up close!!

    Bookmark   February 21, 2012 at 4:58PM
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mrtoad(7b NC)

thanks to all for the many kind and gracious comments, and a special thanks for taking the time to post your comments. Concerning the reason for the curves, I do not know why, but nature does not operate in straight lines, and the curves give the garden warmth and depth. I cannot explain this, just a feeling. So, the curves stay. But this brings us to an important question, note the two photos on "christinmk" last post, the two paths shown are the same width throughout.

QUESTION (1),,,,, Should I Make The Path The Same Width Form The Top To About 80% Of The Path.

QUESTION (2),,,,, Should I Remove The Grass And Make The Path A Path Of Small Gravel. My two favorite gardens, the garden of Monet,s at Giverny and the gardens of the Chateau de Villandry both have gravel paths

QUESTION (3),,,,, the proposes "English Garden" Should I create a border between the mulch and the path using "Stella d,Oro day liles? I have enough of the plant to do this

Again, thank so much for your help

mr toad

    Bookmark   February 21, 2012 at 5:47PM
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mrtoad(7b NC)

maybe, just maybe before i work in the garden i should learn to proofread

mr toad

    Bookmark   February 21, 2012 at 6:02PM
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Mr. Toad, for plantings along your paths - much depends upon your whether it is sunny or shady back there. If your garden is shady and the soil holds moisture, Lavender won't do at all! It likes warm/hot sunny areas and good drainage. Daylilies would be the same.

I like Liriope along my paths in the shade. It is grass-like perennial and makes a wonderful edging, filling in quickly too. And it has lovely blue-violet flowers and then blackish seed berries after that. Comes in a variety or leaf colors, from greens, to variegated, golden and black. Mine are all green. It really sets off the flower beds too.

In most English gardens, GREEN is the main color, so the more green plants you have the better. Cool greens wish splashes of color here and there. Even a sweep of color amidst all the green.

Ferns and Trillium are wonderful for filler plants, as are Laminiums and Creeping Jenny. Mosses and lichens are nice too. Nothing prettier to my mind than mossy rocks or bricks in a Garden. Violets too. I grow several colors (varieties). I pretty much let them go where they wish.

Like Flora stated, spring flowering bulbs are a must, as are Primulas, Hellebores, Brunnera. Also Forget-me-nots, Dicentra (Bleeding Hearts), Lily-of-the-Valley, Hostas, Astilbe, Foxgloves, Delphiniums, and the lot.

For sunnier areas, perhaps Wallflowers, Peonies, Dianthus, Heucherella, Pinks, Amemones, Veronica, Hibiscus, and Geraniums, Daisies, and my favorite - Sweet William. Vining Clematis and Honeysuckle.

In very sunny places you can't beat Heleniums, Rudbeckias, Garden Phlox, English Daisies, Echinacea, Mallows, Gaillardias, Hollyhocks, and Sweet Allysum among many others. And of course, ROSES. There are many more.

I also agree with Flora about obtaining Gertrude Jekyll's books on English Gardens. Even if you don't go with all of her ideas, they are wonderful to read and very informative.

I do, however, like the curved path very much. It gives it a woodland feel, which I adore. Maybe a big rock(s) at one point, as if the path had to curve around it(them).

Just my thoughts.

    Bookmark   February 21, 2012 at 9:51PM
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flora_uk(SW UK 8/9)

This is a very interesting thread - keep it coming!

I realised my curve comments would be a minority view and, of course, Mr Toad is not about to change all that hard work now. It is true nature does not work in straight lines, but a garden is not nature. As you say,christinmk, there are curves in lots of gardens in England, but I'm still not sure what an 'English garden' is in MT's mind's eye. The pictures show Cambridge University's Winter Garden - a garden designed to be viewed on a short stroll in cold weather and using plants with winter interest. It is a garden of the type I referred to above as an 'informal woodland walk'. I wouldn't categorise it as an 'English' garden, a cottage garden or a herbaceous or mixed border. As you say the curves are shallower and wider than MT's and, if you include the grass edging, the path is wider too. It is also much longer. Notice that in the winter view the outcurve on the right is filled with white heather. That's what I mean by putting something at the curve to give it a 'reason'. Annie suggested a rock. It could also be an urn or shrub. The curves are rendered less fussy by the use of large patches of one plant rather than a clutter of different shapes and colours. They have actually used a very restrained palette. The parts of the beds nearest the path could be viewed as a loose interpretation of the way paths in upland areas of the UK meander among the heather following sheep tracks. If MT uses all the plants suggested so far there's a risk of a real hotchpotch.

If Mr Toad's path were to be started again (which is not going to happen!) and if it were in my garden (which it isn't) I'd be inclined not necessarily to have a straight path but to have a simple flattened S curve rather than the number 3 curve. You'd still have curves but the central wiggle would go. JMO.

Q.1 I think the path should have parallel sides throughout until it opens up at your sitting area in the distance (if I've understood your photos correctly). Different widths would introduce fussiness to a unifying element which should be simple.

Q.2 The best known part of gardens at Villandry is the giant potager which is totally formal French in style. Gravel is used because grass does not grow so well in France and also the maintenance of the garden requires constant barrow traffic. Giverney is also an essentially French garden. The gravel used is a traditional and typical element of French planning. The squares and boulodromes of French towns were gravel whereas the central area of an English village was the 'green' and always grass. It's a product of the climate. So if you want to have gravel paths there is no reason why not but it wouldn't be an 'English' feature. (Obviously there are masses of exceptions to all these generalisations - the National Trust is replacing a lot of grass paths with hard materials because visitor traffic wrecks them.) You would also need to put in some kind of edging to keep the gravel off the beds and there would be a weed problem to keep on top of which would probably be more work than whizzing through with the mower.

Q.3 Entirely up to you. I wouldn't but it's not my garden. A typical feature of many English gardens is that plants spill onto the path. Do you want daylilies encroaching onto the path? Or something lower and more sprawling? Or nothing at all? Do you want to put in a mowing strip of stones?

p.s. we still don't know the aspect of this garden. Which way does the sun come from? It's really vital information for planting ideas. And I'm still curious as to how you'd define an 'English garden'. What are the features you think of as 'English'?

Here is a link that might be useful: Discussion on wiggles

    Bookmark   February 22, 2012 at 5:47AM
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I wouldn't change a thing about the paths, but I like grass. To me, english gardens have roses, so if you could add a few, that would be very nice. Vines climbing up an arbor or arch are always good, just depends on what vines do well, in your area. Here, clematis and honeysuckle are more hardy than most, but you have a lot more choices, with your climate.

I've always liked your potager, so it's nice to see other parts of your garden :)

    Bookmark   February 22, 2012 at 4:01PM
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Let me just say - my suggestions were not for Mr. Toad to plant ALL those plants and flowers I listed, but a list of some plants he could choose from of old English gardens (I've gleaned from reading Gertrude Jekyll's books and my family's gardens, as well). My Grannie grew them all and more. She also grew lots of succulents and cacti. She liked fussy gardens, no spaces between plants and often spilling over into the paths (dirt paths), and so do I. But I was not trying to impose my ideas on dear Toad, just suggesting plants I know are grown in English gardens. It all depends upon what YOU want, what delights your senses, what can grow in your climate, your soil & lighting, &etc.
You don't have to have a lot of plants if you are trying to keep your work load to a minimum.
As for paths - I like the grass paths best, too. I like soft, green paths better than brown, hard gravel. I like to walk barefoot in my gardens. It's cooler, prettier and only needs the occasional haircut. :) I do have some stepping stones and brickwork in various places, but I have three acres!
There are Formal English gardens, formal Cottage Gardens, and the informal Cottage Gardens. There are even English Country Cottage Gardens. Some only have small plots, with the yard paved in front, so they use a lot of potted plants and just shrubs and trees. Some are clipped and sculptured and some are not. Some combine both. There are monochromatic schemes where perhaps only one kind and color of flower is used, and some choose a more colorful palette. No two gardens are alike. But one thing that is constant in any English garden is the use of greenery - lots of green plants, trees, grass.
Where I now live in Oklahoma, having year round green in my garden is not possible. Grasses, lawn, trees, and plants go dormant in all and Winter, except for evergreen type plants and trees. But in Spring and summer, most of my garden is alive with greens of every hue. I love green. My garden is not the typical English garden, by any sense, but I like to use elements from English and French gardens, and not afraid to use other cultural ideas too. It's my garden.
So, please know that I wasn't pooh-poohing your ideas, or anyone elses, Mr.. Toad, only offering suggestions for plants or elements you "might" want to try.
Plants are very forgiving - they don't mind too much when we move them around. My garden is ever changing - it never looks exactly the same way from one year to the next.
It's YOUR garden, and you have great beginnings already!

    Bookmark   February 22, 2012 at 9:32PM
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Here is a very nice image of a traditional English Cottage & Garden.
This one is in Oxfordshire:

Here is a link that might be useful: English cottage and garden

    Bookmark   February 23, 2012 at 7:05PM
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hosenemesis(SoCal Sunset 19 USDA 8b)


Too much work. Mikey says if you want to be remembered forever, lay gravel. People will be cursing you for a hundred years.

I have tried grassy curving paths, but my grass can't take the foot traffic so some has been replaced with flagstone. Not as pretty. The flowers don't look as good against pinkish tan as they do against green.

I love flowers spilling over onto the grass. Mikey mows them off, though. Something to consider. Planting a single plant along an entire edge looks odd to me, especially if the bed is curved. I like clumps of different things repeated in the border. Daylilies are a great choice along the edge of part of the border- be sure they will grow in the direction of the grass and not turn their little faces inward toward the bed. I had to move all of mine :(

Mr. Toad, what is your concept of an "English Garden" in your mind?


    Bookmark   February 24, 2012 at 11:20AM
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mrtoad(7b NC)

The year's at the spring
And day's at the morn;
Morning's at seven;
The hill-side's dew-pearled
The lark's on the wing;
The snail's on the thorn;
God's in his Heaven -
All's right with the world!
Robert Browning (1812-1889)
Pippa Passes (1841)

The love of gardens, flowers and all that those words entail come from my Grandmother Grace. Not only did she teach me grace, but before I was old enough to roll a wheelbarrow and before many of you were born, I helped her in her iris garden.

For the past 30 years or so I, because of my small personal travel company that helped a European partner bring high school students to spend some summer time in the U.S. I was able to spend a bit of time in England and France. It was these during visits that the idea creating a garden came to be.

I am not Gertrude Jekyll. I do not have a tidy trust fund (even though I spend money like I do.) I do not have 10 acres and I do not have a staff of gardeners.

English Garden? What is an English Garden - - The first time I remember a discussion about this was at Ann Hathaway's home when the guide said, "To me an English garden looks like someone went out and threw a huge bunch of seeds in the air and let them grow where they may." My French friend said of the gardens of England, "Organized chaos." A few years ago I spent the morning with one of the gardeners of Leeds Castle. He said at lunch, "The very best part of an English garden? When you pack in lots of plants, there is less room for weeds."

English Garden? Maybe and just maybe a bit of Edith Holden, or the magnificent borders at Hampton Court and surely add to this a dash of Beatrik Potter. Note the illustrations in "The Tale of Tom Kitten."

Do I know what an English Garden is? No, do you mulch? I don't know. Are the paths straight or curved, I have no idea. Are the paths grass or gravel? You must ask someone other than me.

But I Do Know This: It Is Not An English Garden Without: A bench, marigolds, a sleeping cat, a rose, a style that offers visual delights, birds and birdhouses, fragrance, a path, lavender and primrose, a pail, a quiet place for tea and reading, bees, butterflies, hummingbirds, memories, pass-a-longs, a secret, running water, sundial, a link to the past, ladybugs, lizards, a toad house. . . .and a place to dream. . . the journey to Ithaca

mr toad

    Bookmark   February 24, 2012 at 2:48PM
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Here! Here!
Beautifully expressed! Lovely.

    Bookmark   February 24, 2012 at 3:32PM
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flora_uk(SW UK 8/9)

Mr Toad - did you have the Pie and the Patty Pan by Beatrix Potter? There is a great Clematis jackmanii pictured on the porch and fantastic snapdragons in the front garden. I, too, was enthralled by her ability to paint plants so you could recognise them exactly. I'm sure you know she was a botanical illustrator too and produced a definitive study of fungi.

I like your list of 'English garden' features, although it is more a collection of impressions and feelings than a pragmatic list. There are no humming birds here and lizards are very rare. But if we had them I'd want them in my garden! We also don't do birdhouses, although many gardens will have nesting boxes. These are purely practical and are placed in bird friendly positions, not out in the flower beds. They don't rise anywhere near the levels of folk art I see in some of your US birdhouses.

Regarding mulch - I think that is one of the huge differences in style between our 2 nations' gardens. We do sometimes mulch but purely for practical reasons. The mulch is seldom intended to be seen and is almost NEVER coloured! It is to feed and insulate the soil, preserve moisture and reduce weeds - not to look at. The commonest materials are home made compost, leaves and shredded bark.

I'm sure we'd all love to see progress pictures as you go through the seasons. Please ....?

Oh, and please can you tell us the orientation of your beds? Does the hedge cast a shadow? It makes such a difference to the planting.

    Bookmark   February 25, 2012 at 5:25AM
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I don't like the colored mulches either, and definitely not that artificial rubbish.
We can learn from Nature what plants need and how to prevent weeds from growing - leaves, composted leaves, manures and shredded bark. (Although, Succulents, Agaves, Cacti, Aloes and the like, prefer growing in sandy, gravelly soil where gravel mulch under sparsely planted beds is naturally correct.)

    Bookmark   February 25, 2012 at 9:10AM
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Came back to look again. I really like the terraced levels bordered by cleverly cut wooden frames and your wooden steps leading up somewhere in the background. Where do they lead?


    Bookmark   February 26, 2012 at 4:04PM
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mrtoad(7b NC)

the three terracotta post are sitting on a wall,, this wall separates the new garden (english border) from my very formal french potager,, at the top of the e.b. are two additional planting area,, ONE with the white adirondack chairs is my outdoor reading room TWO to the top left is a shade garden,, i also have an area that i plant and care for my grandmother's iris, she grew and sold iris from the early 50's to the late 60's, at last count i think i have 29 of her iris

mr toad

    Bookmark   February 27, 2012 at 7:13AM
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Thanks for the information.
Be sure to post pics of them as the season progresses.


    Bookmark   February 27, 2012 at 11:54AM
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