What goes in front of a Tudor revival house?

Fori is not pleasedMay 20, 2004

I've seen many nice gardens in my area, but they often seem too modern. These houses are older homes, and they're meant to evoke REALLY old homes. I don't know if the original landscaping was styled after the old English homes or if it was pure 20s North American, but I know Home Depot stacked blocks aren't right!

Perhaps I should be posting in the landscape design forum, but I think the general spirit here is more appropriate somehow. My home needs some ideas!

It's a 1929 Tudor revival on a corner lot. There's a bland arborvitae/privet hedge along the side with the street, a pair of yews flanking the front steps (the main floor of the home is about 6 feet above yard level for some reason), miscellaneous shrubs in the front and side rectangular bed, and grass. The beds are partially built up as you get towards the side because there's a steep slope towards the side street. The front and side beds are about 5 feet deep (front to back, not topsoil to clay :) )The side adjoining the neighbors' yard has grass continuing into their (much nicer) lawn and they've planted a few shrubs on the border: lilac (yay) and one of those red-leafed ornamentals you see everywhere (bleh). It's all pretty blah. The front door is off-centered onto the non-sloped/neighbor side of the yard and has a straight concrete walk to the sidewalk. No beds along the front sidewalk or the walkway. Small apple tree smack dab in the middle of the lawn. The parkway in front of the house has one recently planted maple-type tree and one giant elm-type tree with few limbs and few years left.

I wish I had a picture...but I don't need precise recommendations. I would just love to have some general ideas on what would be used to dress up the small front yard of an urban middle-class Tudor revival home. I'd like something historically appropriate, because the homes in the area that have well-maintained yards with modern landscaping don't look very good to me.

Would this sort of home have formal shrubs? (I love the large yews by the front door but I hate the idea of pruning them into an unnatural shape.) When I redo the flowerbeds, should I maintain a formal (ie. boring rectangular) shape? If I have a formal shape to my gardens, do I have to keep the plants inside arranged/pruned/spaced in a formal pattern or can they be free within their cages?

Are there any good (yet affordable) materials for building up low retaining walls so I can get rid of the railroad ties and the awful stackable blocks?

What about lining the walkway with plantings? I'd love to line it with roses, but I haven't figured out how to grow them decently here, being new to the midwest.

Any tips, ideas, suggestions, etc. would be appreciated! I'm a bit of a newbie so be kind. Thanks!

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mjsee(Zone 7b, NC)

My immediate thought was an english cottage garden...but I'm no expert. There was a Curb Appeal on this--I'll link the info--but I didn't see it and have no idea whether it was attractive or not. Frequently Curb Appeal is NOT my cup of tea...There are LOTS of books out there on Tudor revival style--have you hit the library?

Storybook Style: America's Whimsical Homes of the Twenties by Arrol Gellner looks like a winner, as does
Tudor Style : Tudor Revival Houses in America from 1890 to the Present by Lee Goff (Contributor), Paul Rocheleau (Photographer)

Found both on AMazon.com by googling "Tudor Revival landscaping."

Good luck!


Here is a link that might be useful: Curb appeal link

    Bookmark   May 20, 2004 at 6:59PM
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ginger_nh(z4 NH)

Here are two good books on Tudor-style homes--you could no doubt get some ideas from the many photos, altho' landscaping is only incidental in the books.

Because of the whimsical, storybook-look of Tudor-style homes, something flowery like climbing roses, imaginative like topiary, romantic like an arbor/arch made of small trees whose branches knit together, medieval like an herb garden, etc. comes to mind.

Don't have time to answer any further b/c of Memorial Day plantings work, but hope some of the garden historians here will chime in.


    Bookmark   May 22, 2004 at 6:23AM
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mjsee(Zone 7b, NC)

Ginger--great minds think alike....hehehehehe


    Bookmark   May 22, 2004 at 12:50PM
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treehug(z8 WA)

I almost bought a Tudor home and did some garden research. I found that English Knot gardens were very popular. As well as large hedges that had hidden coutyards nestled in the hedging. The house I looked at was a 1901, the gardens for tudors of that time frame were very formal.

    Bookmark   May 22, 2004 at 3:16PM
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Here in England there's a number of tudor revival houses built around 1890-1930. They have a mixture of formalised gardens of the era and a strong influence from medival times.

Formalised/geometric gardens are far from boring, you can use all kinds interesting shapes. I just turfed the south lawn and used a lozenge shape as it's fitting for a 1920's garden. I would agree however, just squares is lacking visual interest.

When I think of the tudor revival houses with existing gardens (most of them thankfully survived major alterations), I picture old red bricks and stone for landscaping, perhaps a stone bench and herringbone pattern brick paving/paths. Privet and yew are commonplace, as is ivy (normally plain dark green or boston ivy) which is allowed to trail through the flowerbeds and shrubs with minimal pruning to keep it tidy with crisp edges. Herbs like basil, mint and lemmon balm, particuarly ones that smell are something of a must-have it seem. Clumps of lavender and chives also. Lots of oldfashioned flowers like poppys and lillys in the beds, planted randomly and close together to ensure little if any soil shows. Vines and clibing plants are a major feature in these gardens, a rose arbour or honneysuckle trailing through a fence looks excellent.

    Bookmark   May 23, 2004 at 5:31PM
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Fori is not pleased

Thanks for the great ideas. I do enjoy formal gardens, but I'm not tidy enough to keep them formal! A compromise between formal hedging and cottage style plantings might be the ticket. I've looked at some books and I wish I have the space to do what they've done! Unfortunately I'm stuck with a smallish urban lot. I think I've almost convinced my husband that we can hedge in the front yard.

Would a low yew hedge along the front with larger plants marking the walkway be appropriate? Would an espaliered pear tree smashed up against the side of the house be OK?

    Bookmark   May 26, 2004 at 10:38AM
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ConnieinMaryland(z7a Md.)

That would be lovely!

Cottage gardens are high maintenance- you need to take your morning coffee out there every day and pinch, poke, and prod. Otherwise it becomes a weed-patch. So be glad it's smallish. But we are gardeners because we love gardening, not just having one. Yes, by the way, to the herringbone brick paths. Remember, you don't have to mow bricks- just weed them.

The newer ground-cover roses are old-fashioned looking but hard as nails, disease-wise. The white "Flower Carpet" is also fragrant. They bloom all summer without deadheading. Just remember to feed them. Good for Tudor gardens.

    Bookmark   June 2, 2004 at 9:17PM
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annehuffman(z5 IN)

I have a 1977 Tudor style home. It was originally landscaped very formally, and has a few of the features mentioned here. The hedge in front is an l-shape. Inside it are low growing junipers with the light post in the center. It is very geometric. The hedge is not hard to maintain. On the left side is an arbor of huge flowering crab trees which follow the path to the back. I have a large evergreen at the end of it's life under the window on the left side. I, too, am debating what to put in the front of my house. I have added flower garden on the left, which is out of view and under the right window, which is blocked by the dogwood.
Thanks for posting your question. I've enjoyed reading all the responses.

Here is a link that might be useful:

    Bookmark   June 11, 2004 at 11:14PM
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Fori is not pleased

What a nice place to work on, Anne! I'm not sure what I'd do on yours--it looks good yet it does seem like it's missing something. I just don't know what! How much of that nice green grass are you willing to remove? hehehe...

I almost think mirroring the hedge on the other side of the front door would work, sort of curving towards the dogwood. That would leave you with a hedge that didn't make sense, though. Hmmmm...unless you expanded the flowerbed to the new hedge, or just had it instead of a hedge. No, that would be weird, too.

I hope someone can offer some ideas based on your photo. I'm very curious!

    Bookmark   June 14, 2004 at 2:26PM
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LinLee(z5 MI)

After much research, I designed the gardens for a Tudor revival in Rosdale Park a few years ago. The design is for a kind of "formal whimsey" Sounds contradictory I know, but it works. There is a lot of formal hedging, boxwood in front, box & yew in the back. These hedges front the roses and perennials for a controlled cottage garden look.
The trees chosen were a European beech and japanese maple.

    Bookmark   June 15, 2004 at 11:42AM
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Merciful heavens! A discussion of a Tudor Revival garden and no mention of William Shakespeare, everyone's favorite Tudor-era guy. None of us would be thinking of Henry VIII, I imagine. But seriously, there are lots of books about Shakespeare-themed gardens and plants. You can do a Google search of "Shakespeare gardens" for suggestions. The very best book on this subject was written in the Victorian era by Canon Henry N. Ellacombe. It has been reprinted. All about every single plant mentioned in Shakespeare's plays--and there were a lot of them--and lots of fascinating lore. Fun to read for any gardener even if you don't want to do a Shakespeare garden.

    Bookmark   June 26, 2004 at 9:09AM
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I took my own advice and Googled "Shakespeare garden". Lots of hits. It turns out the country is crawling with Shakespeare gardens. As far as the Ellacombe book goes, Amazon shows none in stock. A better site for out of print books is bookfinder.com. They had a number of copies from the 19c, all expensive. No reprints (which I own, so I know it exists) available at this moment. But your library could get a copy thru interlibrary loan. It is free--except for all those taxes you pay.

    Bookmark   June 26, 2004 at 9:19AM
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Fori is not pleased

Interesting idea! I'll look into it!

Of course my house is more stock market crash/depression era than Shakespeare, but I think your idea is much more fun...:)

Reminds me of those gothic apothecary garden web sites. I forgot what they were called...but they were highly toxic themed gardens.

    Bookmark   June 29, 2004 at 6:32PM
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Hmm - well having just wandered in here (having been a member for 2 yrs apparently) the discussion of what to put in front of a tudor-style house seems to be between cottage and formal and everything in between! So, perhaps the owner needs to look at the surrounding lots to determine first if formal or informal is appropriate for the area. For formal, I would personally go for a knot garden and topiaries in front but they are very high maintenance - though not as expensive perhaps as lawn care!

Informal subdivision type plots - a cottage garden could work well. Think in terms of use of plants, as well as aesthetics - scarlet runner beans up a teepee-type frame, veggies in with the flowers etc. And although, as mentioned, cottage gardens are not low maintenence, they are certainly less tedious than formal topiary and lawn stuff.

    Bookmark   June 30, 2004 at 10:11PM
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Fori is not pleased

Lots of good ideas. Unfortunately the front lot isn't quite big enough to do anything like a knot garden properly (but I'm going to research it a bit anyway. Perhaps I can eliminate the lawn entirely!).

...I can't go by what the neighbors have because I don't like what they have! :)

It seems like the prefab stackable blocks are the trendy thing to do. Bleh. It looks fine on the 50s era ranch houses nearby but...ug! O yes, everyone (except me) has a red Japanese maple positioned just so.

Actually I'm on the edge of a 20s-30s subdivision with a mix of Tudor revivals, Colonial revivals, and who-knows-whats. Across the street are ranch style homes from the 50s (nice ones, fortunately, and priced about 3x what they are in MY subdivision). The sad thing is that the landscaping in both subdivisions is remarkably similar. The older homes have larger trees, and they need them because the houses are so darn tall. But except for that (and that the ranches have larger lots), you'd not be able to tell the difference. Everyone's yard is straight out of a Home Depot brochure! (My house would be in the "before" part of the brochure, if they had those.)

    Bookmark   July 1, 2004 at 1:17PM
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Interesting discussion. Getting to know the neighborhood is primary to the design ... it is influence and dictates needs and interface. The soil the social character .... it is where all design begins... and the question is: a Tudor revival in a city? in an American suburb? can it be a part of the whole , a house a comfortable in it's place.
The Tudor revival in the American 30's subdivision ... guessing, .25 acre lots, at the entrance are medium size front flat lots with wide sidewalks and big trees, generally sturdy houses (built before mass production) mostly with a sense of the city but a respite near the edge. Though now it is not so near the outer ring these days but still the wide streets with childrn laying football on the lawns... a certain middle class elegance. Not city-urban but an opening in space ....
Well, the Tudor style is a reminder of a historic recognition of the value of a tidy but relaxed country life. The Tudor sits well in it's landscape, the lord of the land yet while often large and never tiny, it does not remind one of the mansion. And so in the face to the street, it is most comfortable with the reminders of it's past... of an era gone by, of an era of grand country life.
The dialogue between formal and as LInlee said, "whimsy", the carefree cottage. Look at G. Jekyl designs ... lots of Tudors there ... she was at the edge of a new sense of home and landscape and created a breakthrough, the perennial bed ... the blend of cottage and formal. The Tudor uses the local materials rather than importing them from afar, all polished and perfectly honed. So the planting materials also used the sense of local materials, the perennials, the garden with the owner/gardener (perhaps with a few independent laboers/farmers helping out s needed) There were chimney pots that showed their peculiar characters, old brick, hewn timbers showing...
I loved Ted reference by an actual Englishman, thanks Byr, to medieval times. The sort of history, of evergreen battlements broad plain and bare hills showing themselves in the free form contours of a well kept yew. IT is both a reminder of the past, when times were less demanding and space more free, and a simple use of native materials.
And finally Fori's comment "Everyone's yard is straight out of a Home Depot brochure!" indeed, what is in an HD brochure: a stereotypic image that can be packaged and sold in mass quantity, and not only that they've found a cheaper way to produce something that almost looks like the real thing! Surprisingly what Warren Buffet said (that mega mogul of the Midwest) that "price is what you pay and quality is what you get" holds true for landscape perhaps more than anywhere else. When you do it "right", when it really enhances the house and the house enhances the neighborhood, well the investment in the landscape will double or triple at resale ... but the HD landscape will never add much, if anything, maybe even devalue the house.
The yews are an interesting plant to work with, when they attain their stature rightly, whether sheared or fully dressed, reflect the sense of time and quality. So do other plants, like old deciduous magnolias and great Rhododendrons in the border (never as a specimen plant), old peonies, etc. Plants which exude grace and quality ... but mixed with bulbs strewn haphazardly (it seems) ... potted laurels with flowers strewn about it's pedestal, many other images come to mind.
Over all, the image that comes to mind, for a Tudor house is that reflection of ancient times and carefree new times and great craftsmanship without formal borders, great restraint and carefree delight dancing among the somber ancestors.

    Bookmark   July 3, 2004 at 12:44PM
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roseofsharon_on(z6 ON Can)

Lots of good advice above. I would recommend Richard Bisgrove's "The Gardens of Gertrude Jekyll" which includes garden plans, detailed colour photographs of plantings and discusses why Jekyll chose certain plants for particular situations.

"The Lost Garden of Gertrude Jekyll" by Rose Wallinger is about the restoration of the gardens of a Tudor Revival house. This is a large property with acreage but it has valid ideas. You probably don't have space for a pair of 60 foot perennial beds but a pair of 20 or even 10 foot beds can also be effective. You might consider the bold move of replacing the front lawn with a brick motor and entrance court inlaid with geometric perennial or rose beds. The lawn maintenance contractors will hate you. Make sure that your roses are hardy in Michigan. Even Jekyll advised against growing modern (or any) roses where they are not hardy--excess cash expenditure will not make it worthwhile.

As for the cost of landscaping, my children have made the observation that their friends's parents pay contractors for manicured lawns and boring plantings of impatiens, while my garden which I do by myself (after my day job) is much more exciting. Also no matter what plan you follow, all good gardens need a number of years to grow and develop. Gardening teaches patience.

By the way the HD stacking blocks can be useful when not used as a focal point. Ditto for foundation planting shrubs. The yews, box and privet should be a background or a frame not the focus of the composition. I found some stacking blocks and used them for a curved perennial bed in my back yard garden. I put open blocks on top so that plants could grow out of them. Originally I planted Nasturiums in these holes but now Forget-me-nots self-seed in them. Foliage from within the beds spills over and further softens the edge of the blocks. At the height of the growing season the blocks are barely discernable, and merely act as restraints.

Good luck and have fun


    Bookmark   July 14, 2004 at 10:06AM
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Fori is not pleased

You're so right about the stacking blocks not being abhorrent in their own right. They are functional and can be done with relatively little skill and they don't have to be all that BAD...Unfortunately because of my slope, I'd need a rather tall stack at one spot. One or two bricks high and they'd disappear. Three or four high and...well...I'm looking forwards to recycling the ones I have in front into the backyard.

The next-door neighbors had their front landscaped yesterday. Guess what it looks like! OK, it's much nicer than the DIY blocks, and the home is new enough that it isn't bad at all.

Bricking in a large chunk of the front yard would be quite nice. The garage is on the side of the house (corner lot) and is really a drop (it's actually a foot below the basement level) so it would be just for pedestrian use--wouldn't be able to incorporate a driveway. I'm just not sure how to incorporate the slope into a formal(ish) design. I'm afraid I'll have to have terracing. Wish it was something I could do myself! Ah well...all inspiration welcome!

    Bookmark   July 15, 2004 at 2:11PM
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roseofsharon_on(z6 ON Can)

I'm not familiar with the configuration of your slope but for sure you've got to look at the Jekyll books mentioned above. "The Lost Garden" (Upton Grey) incorporates a drop in a formal design. The other book shows other Jekyll designs that also incorporate slopes. Generally steps and dry stone walls are used. Plants grow out of the dry stone walls softening the architecture. A looser (more spread out)rock garden would economize on stones.


    Bookmark   July 15, 2004 at 4:45PM
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Fori is not pleased

Eeek! I looked at some of the Jekyll landscapes and will have to get the books. Beautiful (and I want to upgrade to an estate)! The larger landscapes remind me of the grounds at Henry Ford's Fairlane estate, though Fairlane has a far less formal take on naturalistic planting. It was done by Jens Jensen (who we really don't hear much about anymore) and has fallen a bit into disrepair but the basics are very solid. A great deal of stone is worked into slopes (and riverbanks and boathouses). The house isn't Tudor style of course (I have no idea what you'd call that thing, though it's suprisingly tasteful) and even if it were, the scale would be incompatible with my lot or brain, but I think I'll drag the hubby out there again and spend some time on the grounds.

Any garden history buffs who come to SE Michigan shouldn't miss it!

    Bookmark   July 16, 2004 at 1:44PM
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roseofsharon_on(z6 ON Can)

I took a peek at Fairlane on a website. Naming that style left me speechless but its some kind of gothic revival. One description called it Scottish Baronial (yeah, sure whatever). The stone in the boathouse photograph looks bang on though for the Jekyll drywall style. Before you decide to upgrade to an estate remember that even Jekyll with her modest 4 acres required 4 full time garden staff. God only knows what Fairlane required. The fact that even with its endowment they haven't got it completely together yet is an indication of the scope. Good luck and have fun. I'll have to visit Fairlane the next time I drive to Michigan.


    Bookmark   July 16, 2004 at 4:47PM
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Fori is not pleased

Fairlane is a dump because it doesn't actually have much of an endowment. It even had a leaking roof until a local auto company (Ford, coincidentally) donated the money to repair it. Most of the grounds are gone (Fairlane Mall, Univ. Mich, Dearborn, etc.) but I think all the landscaped portions are still with the estate. In contrast, the Edsel & Eleanor Ford estate was set up with a big fat endowment and the thing is maintained nicely with all the original land. (Also a must-visit for garden enthusiasts.)

It's sad and a little weird how so many families from this era built megamansions that were uninhabited in just a generation (the Fischer estate in Detroit is another...). Must have been the gardening bills...

Anyway, after talking to the city about permits and things, it appears that stackable HD-style blocks are popular because any mortared wall or bed requires a permit and inspection. Oy. And the big retaining wall required to make my front yard level enough to have a more formal design would require a special waver from some government body...

I picked up a book called "Practical Landscape Gardening" by Robert Cridlan, published 1916, 1918. It has great photos of shiny new Tudor revivals (and others of course) with their new landscaping. The landscapes in general are more naturalistic than what we see today--even the formal bed have a wild (though well-mannered) look to them.

I shouldn't be suprised to see rough stone steps and vine-covered fences in these gardens. After all, this was the same period that brought us fake English medieval cottages. I have to stop thinking these people were uptight and orderly! Nowadays, these homes look serious when they probably were originally meant to be silly and fun. LinLee's "formal whimsy" is about right. Accomplishing that will be a bit of a challenge though...

    Bookmark   July 19, 2004 at 1:37PM
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Part of the fun of the history of Fairlane is the pitched battle between Henry Ford and Jens Jensen. Two titanic personalities, clashing. Also must add that the very large formal rose garden was designed for Clara Ford (Henry's wife) by landscape architect Herbert Kellaway with planting design by famed rosarian Harriett Foote. If I recall correctly, there are existing plans for Fairlane. How about we all send a dollar for reconstruction? :)

    Bookmark   July 19, 2004 at 2:04PM
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roseofsharon_on(z6 ON Can)

It should be very helpful looking at a book from the same era that your home was built. I haven't seen this book but it is only available on short term loan at the local Architecture School Library so it must be in use for some course.

Yes, LinLee's "formal whimsy" is a good description of that era. Edwardian gardeners were in rebellion against the Victorian "bedding out" style; that is planting beds of tender annuals in concentric rows or patterned beds (for example floral clocks). The Edwardians replaced the formal Victorian style with beds of hardy shrubs and perennials organized loosely for height and colour.


    Bookmark   July 19, 2004 at 2:11PM
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roseofsharon_on(z6 ON Can)

Ginny, I think my Canaduan dillar is only worth 69 cents US,but if I thought they were actually going to follow the planting plans I might volunteer and bring my own shovel too. :)


    Bookmark   July 19, 2004 at 4:33PM
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Sharon, you have a deal. Odd that Ford, with all his zillions, didn't leave more money to endow Fairlane. It looks like the Ford Foundation, Greenfield Village etc. got lots more. But I did Google Fairlane and all is not lost. Tho they emphasize the house--and anyone interested in Tudor style might want to check the site out--some of the landscape is still there, tho most un-Tudor like. A Jens Jensen landscape with a Tudor house--only in America--and Canada!

    Bookmark   July 19, 2004 at 7:50PM
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Just stumbled on this forgotten thread while looking for something else on Google and thought I'd give it a bump in case there was something new to add.

    Bookmark   May 29, 2007 at 8:24PM
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I have been searching for the answer to just this question. How would you achieve "formal whimsy" on my modest 60x100-foot lot (picture attached)?

Here is a link that might be useful: front yard of my small tudor revival

    Bookmark   November 2, 2007 at 6:04PM
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