Plant Select Survey Top 20 Plants

Plant Select, a cooperative program between the Denver Botanic Gardens and Colorado State University, has recently published its 2013 Demonstration Garden Surveys.  63 demonstration gardens across Colorado participated in the plant evaluations and 118 plants were rated on a 1-9 scale.   I would like to share the Top 20 Plants by Overall Rating.   You can read the entire report at  

I think we should strive to include as many of these plants into our gardens as possible (with one exception and I’ll explain that later).  These plants have proven to be great performers in many areas of Colorado and could be a beautiful worry-free addition to our gardens.  I have 7 of these special plants in my garden.  How many do you have?

These plants are listed from highest rated to lowest.  All pictures except for the Mojave Sage are courtesy of Plant  The mojave sage underplanted with Prairie Zinnia is a picture from my front yard.

1.  Buddleia alternifolia ‘Argentea’  or Silver Fountain Butterfly Bush

Buddleia alternifolia Silver Fountain Butterfly bush

2.  Bouteloua gracilis ‘Blonde Ambition’  or Blonde Ambition blue grama grass

Blonde Ambition blue grama grass

3.  Acer tataricumGarann‘ or HOT WINGS tatarian maple

Hot Wings Acer tataricum

4.  Fallugia paradoxa  or Apache Plume


5.  Agastache rupestris  or  SUNSET Hyssop

Agastache rupestris

6.  Agastache cana ‘Sinning’  or SONORAN SUNSET Hyssop

Agastache cana

7.  Berlandiera lyrata  or Chocolate Flower

Chocolate flower on wall

8. Penstemon grandiflorus  or PRAIRIE JEWEL Penstemon

Prairie jewel Penstemon

9.  Origanum libanoticum  or Hopflower Oregano

Hopflower Oregano

10.  Zauschneria garrettii  or ORANGE CARPET Hummingbird Trumpet

zauschneria orange carpet2

11.  Salvia pachyphylla  or Mojave Sage

Pockets of Greatness

12.   Sporobolus wrightii or Giant Sacaton

Giant Sacaton grass

13.  Eriogonum umbellatum va. aureum ‘Psdowns’ or KANNAH CREEK Buckwheat

Kannah Creek buckwheat

14.  Prunus besseyi  or PAWNEE BUTTES Sand Cherry

Sand Cherry Pawnee Buttes

15.  Marrubium rotundifolium  or Silverheels Horehound


16.  Lonicera reticulata  or KINTZLEY’S GHOST Honeysuckle


17.  Chamaebatiaria millefolium  or Fernbush

Fern bush

18.  Penstemon x mexicali  or RED ROCKS Penstemon

Red Rocks penstemon

19.  Nepeta ‘Psfike’  or LITTLE TRUDY Catnip

Little Trudy catmint

20.  Rosa Glauca, R. rubifolia  or red leaf rose

Rosa glauca (R. rubrifolia)

As a garden designer, I strive to create gardens and landscapes that are water-wise, interesting year round and colorful.  Many newcomers to our area think that Xeriscaping (or Zeroscaping as its sometimes called) is just cactus and rocks.  That couldn’t be further from the truth.  These Plant Select plants show that you can have an inviting and beautiful garden with color, texture and and year round interest without resorting to the barren Zeroscape.  Whether you looking for a special tree, shrub or perennial, there is something on this list that would be perfect in your garden.  And just so you know, there are many more durable Plant Select plants available.  The program has been selecting special plants since 1997.

So now that we have seen the best of the best and what they can do for our gardens, we can talk about the “exception”  included in this list.  Over at the CSU Extension Tri-River area office in Grand Junction, Dr. Curtis Swift, Susan Rose and countless master gardeners have created, cultivated and maintained an amazing arboretum over the last 6-7 years.    The garden contains hundreds of species of trees, shrubs, perennials, bulbs, vines, and grasses.  One of the first shrubs planted was none other than Rosa Glauca or the red leaf rose (#20).  To be sure, this rose is beautiful.  The foliage alone is reason enough to plant it but the single fresh pink flowers and long lasting hips make it a show stopper for most of the year.  What the books don’t tell you and what might not be true in other parts of Colorado or the country is it is a vicious re-seeder.  I call it a Garden Thug!  This rose sends out voluminous amounts of suckers and the birds love the hips so the seeds get spread all over the place.  And, to add insult to injury, because this rose is so darn hardy, it will and can grow anywhere!  Unless you plant it in a native area with no additional water, it will take over your garden.  You have been officially warned.

Speaking of beautiful gardens, now is a great time of year to visit the Chinle Cactus garden at the CSU Extension Tri-River area office in Grand Junction.  It looks fabulous any time of year but in the winter, it glows.

CSU cactus garden 4

Here is a sneak peek of the garden covered in snow.  This is a fabulous lesson in planning your garden for all seasons.

Enjoy the Christmas season and I wish all of you a very Happy New Year.  Soon the seed and garden catalogs will fill our mailboxes and we can start planning next year’s garden in earnest.


A Good Luck Story

It’s not everyday that I get to design a landscape for friends but this summer that’s exactly what I did.  Tom and Barbara were downsizing and wanted to move closer to town.  They found a very nice home on a large corner lot that would fit their lifestyle perfectly.  They are entrepreneurs and have several businesses they run out of their home.  So a good sized shed (think man-cave) was needed, room to grow the many herbs and plants they use to make essential oils, and plenty of parking was on the “must-have” list.  They asked me to evaluate the property, make suggestions based on their must have list and create a beautiful, water-wise and useful garden design.

So I took lots of digital pictures, measurements and ideas home with me to start the design process.  The color scheme of the existing house was perfect so I worked on creating unity throughout the entire property on those colors.

I will take you through the process of before the design and after so you can see the changes.


This is the view of the west side of the front yard when I arrived on the scene.  Tom had placed tires and pots where he wanted the shed and the curb of the future circle driveway.

New west side

This photo shows the new shed painted to match the main house, the new 6′ privacy fence and the planting bed between the house and new circle driveway.

In the backyard, Tom and Barbara were looking for privacy and a cozy patio where they could entertain family and friends.  They wanted a hot tub to soothe their aching muscles and plenty of room the the grand kids and dogs to run around.  Oh, they also wanted shade which is s necessity in this high desert climate we call home.









This is the uninviting scene from the back door looking out to the backyard and neighbor’s home.

Backyard west view patio

This is the design I created to bring privacy to the backyard along with a no maintenance patio laid with pavers.

Backyard patio

Barbara enjoying new patio
















The finished patio has everything the Lucks’ wanted and more.  Plenty of room for their outdoor dining set, potted herbs and flowers, shade and privacy.

Lucks foundation bed2 New Foundation bed
















The front curb appeal went from not much to show stopping.  Barbara tells me her neighbors rave about the improvements and love all of the colorful flowers and shrubs.   Above is the foundation bed before and after.  Below is the street side planting bed before and after.

001 Lucks driveway bed
















Simple things like matching the new shed and fence to the dark chocolate color of the main house made the property feel coherent.  Painting and taking the scroll embellishment off of the wrought iron fence at the front curb helped bring that element into the garden design as well.  

This transformation took several months and lots of work on the part of everyone involved but the outcome is wonderful.  We achieved all of the goals we set out in the beginning of this project and Tom and Barbara have a home they can be proud of.



Growing Lavender in Colorado

Have you read the CSU Extension fact sheet “Growing Lavender in Colorado”?  It was published by Dr. Curtis Swift and myself a few years back as our local lavender industry was starting up.  We cover all of the basics including proper planting methods, irrigation concerns and the best varieties for our high desert climate.  

If you are considering growing lavender in your landscape or as a commercial crop, I would highly recommend reading this fact sheet first.  If you want more information, you are always welcome to attend the Lavender Association of Western Colorado’s monthly members meetings.  Check out our website for more details and dates.

What is a Garden Coach anyway?

Have you ever wondered if you are pruning your roses the right way or at the right time?  How about planting perennials or shrubs at the proper depth?  How about fertilizing your trees or watering your yard in the winter?

Is there anyone out there that can help you with all of these questions and more? Yes there is.
Landscape designers and architects are great at designing beautiful landscapes complete with decks, sidewalks and waterfalls.  They can provide you with a detailed architectural drawing of their design and have it installed for you.  What they probably won’t do is show you how to plant the design and how to maintain it properly.  They are not in the business of teaching you to become a better gardener.  That’s where a garden coach comes in.
 Garden coaches help their clients find their “inner gardener”.   I started my business in 2006 after going on several house calls for the CSU Extension Master Gardener program.    As you may know, master gardeners will come out to your home at your request to diagnose problems and offer solutions to your landscape dilemmas.  They are a valuable resource in our area and I highly recommend using their service when you have trouble in your yard.  When you want to learn how to avoid problems in the first place, then an hour or two with a garden coach might be a good way to go.
Rootbound plant
Garden coaches provide hands-on demonstrations and show you the proper techniques for maintaining your current landscape and help increase the functionality of it.  We help homeowners with irrigation schedules, fertilizing needs, planting requirements and more.   We can show you how to transplant shrubs and perennials, how to divide overgrown perennials and how to deadhead your flowers.
If you are new to your home and don’t know what is in your landscape, we can identify what you have and assess the current health of those plants.  We can help you determine what should stay and what should go depending on your family and lifestyle.
Other services garden coaches provide are escorted trips to the garden center.  We show you how to “pop the pot” to check for healthy, uncrowded roots from annuals to container bound trees.  Good garden centers and nurseries don’t mind customers checking the roots of their plants.  Garden coaches can also teach you how to examine the trunks of trees to be sure they are free of cuts, wounds or diseases.
Shopping with client at Bookcliff Gardens

Shopping with client at Bookcliff Gardens

We can also design landscapes.  From new construction to re-designing an existing landscape, we can create a garden that is beautiful, functional and easy to maintain.  There are many plants that thrive in our high desert climate that give you lots of “Bang for your Buck”  There are trees and shrubs that have beautiful flowers in spring, berries in the summer and colorful fall foliage.  Some of our xeric perennials attract butterflies, bees and hummingbirds with their showy flowers and have a heavenly scent for us to enjoy.

Before garden design

Before garden design

After garden design

After garden design

So now you know what a garden coach is.  We’re kind of like your Grandmother who taught you how to crochet or make cinnamon buns like mine did.  We can help you become a better gardener and enjoy your landscape year round.

Garden Tour Highlights

The 22nd annual Western Colorado Botanical Garden garden tour was this weekend and by my count, the wettest on record.  I have volunteered as a master gardener for the last 10+ years for the tour and have seen really hot days, really cold days, really windy days but never quite so wet.  The amazing thing was no one, not the homeowners, the volunteers or the brave souls who came out to see the gardens complained about the rain.  Everyone agreed that no matter what, we need the rain.  It didn’t affect the beauty of the gardens either in my opinion.

For the first time in 22 years, the tour was offered in August instead of the first weekend in June.  I love the idea of seeing our late summer gardens for a change.  So many shrubs and  perennials are just getting started in June we never see their full glory on the tour. But  according to Jon Schler, who is on the garden tour committee, the tour will resume its  rightful place during the first weekend in June next year.
Jon said because of the operational changes that occurred with the WCBG and Strive this year, planning for the garden tour was later than usual.  The hard working committee and volunteers struggled to find a date and homeowners willing to showcase their gardens with little notice and a unconventional time period.  When it is all said and done, I think the garden tour did a good job of presenting interesting gardens and continuing the tradition of one of the largest fund raisers for the WCBG.  Jon Schler was also quick to point out that the tour wouldn’t have been as successful without the help and direction of Susan Rose and the Master Gardener volunteers with CSU Extension.
So let’s start the tour!
WCBG Western Heritage Garden

I brought along two neighbors to see the tour.  One is a garden junkie like myself, the other moved here recently from Michigan and wanted to see how we garden in the high desert of the Rockies.  We started at the Western Colorado Botanical Gardens and jumped right into the Plant Select gardens.  What a great program CSU Extension and The Denver Botanic Gardens put together to showcase all kinds of plants that thrive in our challenging climate.  The butterflies were flying in the Butterfly House and the outside gardens were awash in seasonal colors and textures.

Next up was the Arboretum at CSU Extension at the Mesa County Fairgrounds.  Because the BMX group was hosting a large event, we were not able to see most of the gardens that line the parking lot.  We did see the world renowned cactus garden and raised garden beds that surround the Extension building.
Loretta in the cactus garden
Gardens at the CSU Extension

The rain started coming into the Valley at this point in the morning but we were determined to see as many beautiful gardens as we could.  Upon arriving at the Loshbaugh residence, we were thrilled to see such an exuberant display in this suburban garden.  This garden was on the garden tour 10 years ago but it has matured into a rich tapestry of color, texture and interest that made it worth a repeat visit.

The front gardens at the Loshbaugh residence

Wandering through the gardens revealed a perfect pond complete with koi fish swimming in it and statues of herons looking in it.

Loshbaugh pond with herons

The variety of plants and the way they were combined really caught my designer’s eye.  I loved the look of the ribbon grass and nasturtiums.  The bright colors of the zinnias and dahlias also made me smile.

Ribbon grass and nasturtiums
Zinnias, dahlias and butterfly bush

Next we moved onto a serene, quiet reflective garden.  Lenore Donovan has turned her childhood home into a peaceful park in honor of her parents.  While caring for her aging parents, she turned to garden therapy to help ease her stress and satisfy her soul.  The result is an oasis in the middle of the desert.

Primrose Park – an oasis in the desert

Being peaceful and serene doesn’t mean you can’t have a little whimsy in your garden.  Lenore installed this beautiful fountain complete with blue water a few years ago.  She then added a heron statue with a fish in his mouth!  Looks like he just caught it out of the fountain.

A little whimsy at Lenore’s

In addition to being a park, you could also call it a cat sanctuary.  Lenore is known as the Cat Lady because she has a generous heart and takes in cats that need a home.  Some live inside, some outside, some temporary and some permanent.  I will always be thankful for the time she helped me with a lost cat in my neighborhood.  The ecosystem is in perfect balance as well.  Mosquitos that have an eye on her pond are promptly eaten by Mr. Jack the giant catfish in the pond  or the many varieties of birds that live in the surrounding trees. Toads by the gazillion hatch every summer and take care of any other insect that gets too much to handle.

When you think of an urban garden, what comes to mind?  A small patch of grass, a tree or two between the sidewalk and street?  The small backyard might have a patio with a few pots and more grass?   A visit to Judy Hilty’s garden will change your mind forever.

Judy’s Hell strip – a piece of shade heaven

With mature trees and seldom seen in this part of the world plants, this front yard and hell strip is colorful, lush and full of interest.  Jacobs ladder, hellebores and hostas thrive in the rich soil along side coral bells, begonias and angelonias.

Judy Hilty and her bathtub garden

One of the surprises in her backyard was the claw foot bathtub painted bright red.  Filled with tropical plants atop a raised bed, its a sight to see.

Her containers are filled to the brim with flowers of every color, size and shape.

I love the fact that Judy has adapted her garden over the years to accommodate the ever growing shade from her trees and she uses containers and trellises to fill narrow spaces in her gardens.  We were also grateful those large shade trees offered some protection from the steady rain as well.

We missed the three gardens in the Redlands because the rain was coming down too hard to enjoy ourselves.  I hope I get to see the Golden and Murdock gardens someday because my tour booklet says they were designed and installed by Bill Richardson of Dragonfly Gardens.  I’ve known Bill for many years and have worked with him on several of my own garden designs.  He has a good eye for designing with plants and does creative work with rocks, fountains and other hardscapes.  I also want to stop by the fire station on Broadway to see more of their gardens designed by Ann Barrett.  Even whizzing by everyday at 45 mph, the front gardens always look good.

Now that the garden tour is over, the garden tour committee will be working hard to line up next June’s gardens.  If you are interested in working on the committee or you would like to have your garden showcased on the garden tour, please contact the Western Colorado Botanical Gardens at  (970) 245-9030.  You can also visit their website for more information about the tour and events taking place at the lovely gardens throughout the year.

My Crepe Myrtle Miracle

Back in the day, I lived in the super-large, super-humid, super-congested city of Houston, Texas.  I’m am so glad I live in Colorado now but I don’t regret living in Houston as I met my wonderful husband of nearly 30 years in Houston and married him there.  We moved to Denver from Houston and then to Dallas before we moved back to Denver and then finally to Grand Junction.  I know its confusing but corporate transfers have a way of taking you places you wouldn’t have thought about on your own.  And on a timetable that usually isn’t of your choice.  We made the best of it and had beautiful homes everywhere we lived. Since I have always enjoyed gardening, I learned to garden in vastly different environments.  You can’t get any more different than Houston and Grand Junction!

Kathy canoeing by crepe myrtles in front of our Houston house after Hurricane Alicia in 1983.

While living in Houston I fell in love again.  This time with the crepe myrtle or Lagerstroemia. Everywhere you went, there they were.  Lining the streets, adorning front yards, commercial spaces, everywhere.  The hot pink, bright red, soft pink and white blossoms stood proud and tall no matter how stinking hot and humid it was.  They bloomed when every other plant had call it quits for the season.  The exfoliating bark and seed pods just added more interest year round.

So, a few years back, much to my astonishment, I saw a crepe myrtle for sale at Meadowlark Gardens on the Redlands.  How could that be I wondered?  They would never survive our cold winters or would they? Turns out, a plant breeder created a crepe myrtle that would grow well in areas with winters as cold as -10 below zero degrees.  They have American Indian names like Zuni, Hopi, and Miami and come in a wide variety of colors.  Naturally, I bought the hot pink one – Zuni.

Crepe Myrtle ‘Zuni’ in July 2008

Growing against our house facing the scorching southwest sun, it bloomed its little head off for several years.  That is until that brutal winter of 2010-2011.  I can’t begin to list how many established shrubs and perennials I lost that winter.  My beloved Zuni was one of them.  I tried to hold out hope for some sign of life in the following spring but nothing.  Then, in late summer, just a sprig or two came up.  I felt like it was never going to come back so I dug it out.  I dug about 2′ deep and got out what I thought was all of the roots.  

A summer came and went with no signs of life from Zuni.  Then something amazing happened.  This spring, more than just a sprout came up.  Many sprouts with bright green leaves.  Could my Zuni have come back from the dead?  I had to know what was left of my beloved crepe myrtle so I watered a little extra, fertilized a little extra and talked to it every time I reached for the hose on the back of the house.  Sure enough, this tough plant came back.  I was very content to have the bright green leaves add some color and texture to the back of my herb garden.  But then, it developed flower buds!  OMG is all I could think!  
My crepe myrtle returned from the dead in August 2013
Look at those hot pink blossoms!


Bright green leaves and hot pink blossoms next to Bergartten sage

How on earth did this shrub survive after all of this time?  I have no idea.  But I have stopped doubting the power of plants. They perform miracles all the time.  I am just blessed it happened in my yard this summer.  Keep looking for miracles.  They are all around us.

May Night Salvia Reborn

This time of year many perennials start to look tired and shabby and overgrown.  But a few, like May Night Salvia, respond well to a severe pruning right about now.

May Night salvia on July 7th
This is a large clump of salvias has finished blooming and was looking awful.  So I cut them back to the basal rosette about 2″ above the ground level.  Here is what they look like today.
May Night salvia on August 7th

They are refreshed and will likely bloom in a few weeks.  This is also a good time to transplant some of the salvia seedlings to other areas in my garden. While I’m at it, I will also divide and transplant my iris.

LAWC will host Essentials of Distilling Conference in Grand Junction

Through a specialty crop grant from the Colorado Department of Agriculture and generous support from Colorado State University Extension, the Lavender Association of Western Colorado (LAWC) is presenting an intense two day conference on all types of distilling methods for essential oils and hydrosols.  
Featured speakers include:
Ann Harmon – Morning Myst Botanicals
Northport, Washington
Dr. Cindy Jones, Sagescript Institute
Longmont, Colorado
Dr. Curtis Swift, Swift Horticultural Enterprises
Grand Junction, Colorado
Bob Lane, Dayspring Farm
Olathe, Colorado

Dr. Janet Scavarda, certified aromatherapist
Grand Junction, Colorado

Topics will include:

  • Workshops on creating products with essential oils and hydrosols
  • Live distillations using several types and sizes of distillers
  • Learn how to distill for commercial as well as medicinal products
  • Learn how to distill for hydrosols as the product, not the by-product of essential oil distillation
We will also talk about our latest research and testing results of our high altitude lavender essential oils. 
Registration is open.  Please visit our website at for more information.  
There will be substantial ticket discounts for members of LAWC and USLGA.  Lunch for both days is included in the ticket price.  
Look forward to seeing you at the conference.  

Colorado Lavender Festival is next week!

3rd Colorado Lavender Festival is a feast for the senses
July 12 – 14, 2013, Palisade Colorado
Immerse yourself in lavender at the 3rd annual Colorado Lavender Festival in western Colorado. Highlights of the 3-day event are:
·   Friday – All Day Guided Motorcoach Tour to blooming lavender farms.
·   Saturday – Festival in the Park in Palisade with vendors, seminars, food & wine.
·   Sunday – Self-guided Agri-tours & Events – 12 locations, each unique.
FRIDAY July 12: All-day Guided Motorcoach Tour, 8am – 5pm
A great start to a lavender-filled weekend! From Palisade to Paonia, experience lavender farms, learn about the latest lavender research, shop for high quality lavender related items, pick a fresh lavender bouquet, meet the growers, and see a lavender distillation. Relax along the Gunnison River with a lavender inspired picnic lunch. Finish the day with wine & nibbles – including Lavender wine – at Grande River Vineyards.
SAT. July 13: Colorado Lavender Festival, Palisade Memorial Park, 9am – 4pm. With an interesting variety of high quality lavender and artisan vendors, cooking demonstrations (including one with Chef Marcelo Marino of Wine Country Inn) spiked with lavender and entertainment – the scent, sight and tastes of lavender are everywhere. Admission to the Festival is free.
A signature element of the Festival is info-rich seminars. For those interested in growing lavender as a garden or farm crop, the morning consists of three seminars. First John Steuble of Grand Junction Pipe & Supply will discuss economic and effective methods of irrigation. Next, Dr. Curtis Swift and Kathy Kimbrough, founder of LAWC, present research findings on lavender growth and distillation. Then, CSU extension agent Rodney Sharp and lavender grower Paola Legarre focuses on the economics and considerations of starting a lavender farm.  
The afternoon session covers uses of lavender. Barbarba Lucks, RA, presents the benefits and cautions of essential oils and hydrosols used in the home. Then Rick Spelenka, certified Therapeutic Garden designer, B.S., B.S.N., explores the history of healing gardens and aroma therapy. Tickets for workshops and can be purchased in advance at Morning session is $45; afternoon session is $30. Find complete speaker biographies online as well.
Fresh Lavender Wreath Making Workshops: Take home a fragrant souvenir when you make your own lavender wreath. Cost for materials & instruction $15. Morning and afternoon sessions limited to 20 participants. Fun for adults and kids (age 12 and over).
Spike it with Lavender – Recipes for Living cookbook author Lida Lafferty will present two cooking demonstrations showcasing recipes and easy tips for using culinary lavender in your home. Special guest, organic and local food afficianado, Chef Marcelo Marino of the Wine Country Inn in Palisade, will talk about hot infusions during the afternoon session.
New! “Celebrate Lavender” Art show at The Blue Pig Gallery in downtown Palisade. Follow the blue pig footprints from the Festival at Palisade Memorial Park to the gallery to vote for a favorite work of art. “Celebrate Lavender” runs June 18th– July 13th. Winner announced on July 14th.
SUNDAY July 14: Step into a Lavender World with Self-Guided Agri-tours. Twelve lavender locations from Palisade to Paonia are open and each is unique. Walk through blooming lavender fields, talk to growers, watch as lavender is distilled into hydrosol and essential oil; taste lavender cookies, lemonade, wine, cheese, chicken salad or pizza; try crafts, U-Pick; or choose from a variety of talks… the possibilities are endless. Set your own pace and enjoy lavender locations – some are open year ‘round and some open only once a year for this Festival. Maps available at the Saturday Festival.
SAVE THE DATE for these Upcoming Colorado Lavender Events
Essentials of Distilling: Oils, Hydrosols and Value Added Products
October 26 and 27, 2013; 9 am – 5 pm
Mesa County Fairgrounds, Community Building, Grand Junction, Colorado
Conference features experts in the field and these topics:
• Workshops on creating products with essential oils and hydrosols
• Live distillations using several types and sizes of distillers
• Learn how to distill for commercial as well as medicinal products
• Learn how to distill for hydrosols as the product, not the by-product of essential oil
• Hear the latest updates on the LAWC Specialty Crop Grant progress
Lavender Christmas Craft Fair
Saturday, December 7, 2013
Two Rivers Convention Center, Downtown Grand Junction
Rich array of vendors and high quality, small batch, hand crafted items. All the more fun as the wonderful Parade of Lights follows at dusk.
Professional high resolution photography available.

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