Archive for June, 2012

I’ve been looking back at some of my photos of the trip around Northern Ireland and have selected a few to share with you all.      J

Rowallane Garden near Downpatrick, County Down


The kitchen garden area of Rowallane Walled Garden.


The delicacy of a peony in a shower of rain.


The rain may have bowed this Nepalese Poppy but it could not spoil its beauty.


In the damp parklands at Rowallane there were plenty of fungi.


This little robin was totally unafraid of us – a special treat.


Mount Stewart Gardens – lake and park area with family mausoleum on hill side.


Swans and cygnets by the lake at Mount Stewart.


Abstract of raindrops on water and green algae at lakes edge.


A lovely iris by the water’s edge.


Even in a park of large trees, the delicate hand of nature can still be found.


Formal gardens at Mount Stewart House.


There are many small boat harbours – this one at Carnlough


Views across green farms on our narrow country road explorations.


Hedges of fuchsias line many small country roads.


Coastal views of farm country from the very narrow, twisting, winding, steep hilly road to Torr Head. It was an experience!


Views from B&Bs like this one by the sea at Glenariff.


Bumblebees in geraniums – they were everywhere – a delight.


Wildflowers on cliff paths by the ocean.


Looking down on rocky cliffs along the north coast.


Old ruins of castles like Deluce Castle.


Small sailing craft lay at anchor in quiet bays – this one called Isobel.


Families enjoyed the quiet places along the coast despite the weather – here at Portballintrae.


Beautiful hedge roses grow alongside many small country roads.


Tiny villages are tucked into safe bays along the north coast.


Very occasionally, a sandy beach is protected by a rocky outcrop – this one at Ballintoy.


A tiny pied wagtail chases insects at Ballintoy beach.


Small cottage cafes abound like The Red Door on a farm at Ballintoy.W


White Park Bay


All rugged up against wind, rain and cold (in summer) at Giant’s Causeway.


We watched from a safe vantage point as others cross the infamous rope bridge.


Small fishing boats seem far too fragile to take on the seas out from these northern bays.


Interesting skies always hailed the end of each day.

And that ends this small roundup of photos from our wonderful time in Northern Ireland.

J and A

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Benvarden Garden has won this year’s Northern Ireland’s top award for a privately owned garden. That doesn’t mean that it’s your average home garden. Far from it. This garden and park belonging to a large property near Coleraine on the north coast. It was a pity that in the past week there has been torrential rain in the area and many of the plants have suffered. The large rose garden  was particularly hard hit and the park area was very boggy. But the vegetable garden was the best we have ever seen. Oh to have been able to enjoy the veggies and fruits from this garden.  So herewith a few photos to give some idea of this special garden.

Old building at the entrance to the kitchen garden.

In days gone by the kitchen garden ‘boy’ slept in a tiny room at the end of this building. Now it houses the gardener’s tools.

A magnificent rooster

Chooks range freely round the grounds with this fellow as master of the lot.

Vegetable beds in the kitchen garden with espaliered fruit trees on the walls


Cabbages with not a white butterfly to be seen – they were perfect.


A sheltering bank of trees and shrubs behind the kitchen garden.


Attention was paid to combining plants with a variety of textures and a variety of greens with a contrasting coloured plant to give some oomph..


Raindrops on Lady’s Mantle – always a delight.


Large bumble bees were everywhere enjoying a summer feed.


Strong coloured flowers were used judiciously to give relief to what is basically a green garden. But as there are something like 700 greens, a green garden is not at all boring especially when there are so many textures of leaves to use.


Foxgloves made a statement against the old wall of the garden.


Peonies were hard hit by the rain but this one was in a more sheltered spot.


The rose garden was decimated but a few survived in sheltered places.


A surviving rose!


Another rose surviving in a sheltered spot.


This clematis was hidden behind a tree – it survived without a blemish.


The rain had no effect on the lily pond in the centre of the rose garden!


A rose bower on the path to the tennis court. The court itself was neglected. A Pity.


A honeysuckle bower led to the large park area beyond the walled garden.


Most of the honeysuckle had survived the rain.


A large section of the park lands was reserved ‘private’ for the manor house.


The pond area was available to the visitor – but much of the park was too boggy.


to enjoy the reflections in the pond was worth the walk on a very muddy path.


The only dry path lead us back to the farmyard buildings and cobbled courtyard.


Unsafe stairs on old buildings were used for pot plant displays.

And back in the car park, a rambling rose.

We hope you have enjoyed this visit to Benvarden Garden – even on a showery day after a stormy week, it’s still a delight.

J and A

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First stop on the north coast of Northern Ireland for us, as it for 700,00 other tourists a year, was The Giant’s Causeway where basalt columns form “stepping stones”, leading from the cliff foot and disappearing into the sea.

Giant’s Causeway Basalt Columns


Giant’s Causeway Headland


There are many more stacks of rocks are still buried under the hillside at Giant’s Causeway.


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By the time we had finished wandering in and photographing Rowallane’s gardens we were in much need of a hot ‘cuppa’ but… the garden cafe was closed. It was about to be moved from the stables to the newly renovated house.  So we headed south to find the nearby Butterfly Sanctuary and its cafe.

Male Peacock on a mission!

We were greeted by a couple of peacocks. “Get out of my way”, he seemed to say.  He was a bird on a mission.

Pea hen

And yes, he was in pursuit of this beautiful lady – a pea hen.

Peacock feathers

The peacock’s feathers made for a lovely piece of natural abstract art.  Who said blue with green should never be seen?   My art lecturer when I was at Teachers College, that’s who!  Maybe she’d never seen a peacock.

Hot Chocolate – Irish Style

Tearing ourselves away from our fascination with the peacocks, we found the small cafe.  It was run by a very friendly young lady who enjoys the ‘craic’, the Irish version of enjoying a conversation. We ordered tea and scones… cherry scones were the offering of the day. They were awful! Made with glace cherries. Do not try.

I had changed my tea order to a small hot chocolate. Imagine my surprise when this work of art was delivered! As I sat stunned, staring at this vision of sugar gone crazy, she said, “This is how we like our hot chocolate in Ireland. You can either drink it or climb it.”  Lesson learned re hot chocolate!

It had begun to rain again by the time we extricated ourselves from the lady and her cafe. The butterflies would have gone into hiding and we didn’t particularly like the thought of wandering in gardens in the rain again.  So we drove on through DownPatrick.  All roads in County Down lead to DownPatrick, the main centre. We could have stopped to see St Patrick’s grave, or the Cathedral, or a steam railway museum. But none of those were on our list of things we most wanted to do after our wonderful morning at Rowallane.  So we drove on back towards Strangford Lough.

A road sign caught our attention just as the sun emerged from behind a curtain of clouds.  It pointed the way to Castle Ward, another National Trust property. A visit to a castle could be just the thing to do on a wet day.  So we turned down a long drive through this 332 hectare (820 acre) property with its promise of walks and views over Strangford Lough, and its eccentric Manor House which is open to the public much of the time, but, as we were to learn, not all of the time.

View over Strangford Lough from Castle Ward

Yes – the sun came out as we began to walk up towards the house. What a lovely view looking down over the waters with blue sky above.

Front view of Castle Ward – the Classic Palladian style side.

Castle Ward was built in the 1760s by the first Lord Bangor, Bernhard Ward, and his wife Anne. It was built of Bath stone brought to Ireland in one of Lord Bangor’s own ships. The big problem for their architect was that this Lord and Lady couldn’t agree on the style for this building.  Lord Bangor wanted classical Palladian style. Lady Bangor wanted the newly fashionable style, neo-Gothick. There was no compromise so, with semi-octagonal bays at each end joining the two ‘faces of the house’, this most eccentric house was a built.

The side that faces the driveway (above) was built in the classic Palladian style with columns supporting a triangular pediment… his half.

The Georgian Gothick side of the house   (Photo courtesy Wikepedia)

The side that faces Strangford Lough, and that view, was built in Georgian Gothick style with pointed windows, battlements and finials…. her half.

The difference in style continues throughout the interior of the house with the divide down the centre. Although the house has stood the test of time, the marriage of Lord and Lady Bangor did not. The couple separated, not surprisingly perhaps!  By 1827 all the furnishings had been dispersed. In 1950, the house was presented to the National Trust, in lieu of death duties after the death of the 6th Viscount Bangor. It has been restored and refurnished in both styles. Unfortunately for us, on the day of our visit, the house was closed and so we did not experience the inside of this eccentric mansion.

A footnote to the Castle Ward story: On 10 February 1973 – Leonard O’Hanlon (23) and Vivienne Fitzsimmons (17), both members of theProvisional IRA,  were killed in a premature bomb explosion in the grounds of Castle Ward estate. Thankfully those times appear to be over and Northern Ireland is enjoying a time of relative peace from ‘the troubles.’

The sunken garden at Castle Ward

The sun shone, briefly, so although we missed out on seeing inside the house, we were able to walk in the garden, at least until the rain returned.  We read that back in 1902, this Sunken Garden had been a formal ‘parterre’, an elaborate design of 61 garden beds filled with flowers – colourful floral artistry. There was little or no grass at all then. Now it’s  a simple design, mainly lawn, in the centre of which is a circular ‘lily pond’ with a statue of Neptune brandishing his trident.


Castle Ward has nothing like the walled gardens at Rowallane, but there were a few interesting plants such as this Alstromeria to brighten an otherwise ‘green garden’.  Known as the Princess Lily or the Peruvian Lily, these flowers are delightful with their streaked petals and compact growth. They can grow to 2 feet tall and there are dwarf cultivars as well. We have a dwarf  Alstroemeria in this colour in our garden in Canberra. I made a mental note to add some more varieties this summer… there are so many colours available now.


These cheerful yellow Alstroemeria would bring a splash of sunshine to any garden, no matter what the weather. I do know that these larger forms can ‘get away’ in the garden and become rather weed like. But we’ve had no problem with the dwarf variety and they grow well in pots.

Blue flower

And if the  yellow Alstroemeria brought the feeling of sunshine, theses lovely blue flowers brought the blue of a clear summer’s sky. I don’t know the name of this flower. Any suggestions?


Fuchsias are a familiar sight in Irish gardens and along country roadsides. In this garden, fuchsia is grown as a hedge along the path from the house down to some out-buildings. They hide the buildings and provide colour at the same time.  They are such beautiful ‘ballerinas’.

Herb Robert

The tiny flowers of the common, weedy wildflower, Herb Robert, can be found almost anywhere there is a stone wall in Ireland.  It always fascinates me to take a close-up look into flowers and these flowers, not much bigger than my little fingernail, deserved a closer look – exquisite in their simplicity of form!

Beautifully ‘sculptured’ mushroom caps

Mushrooms and fungi usually reward a closer look, also.  I had to splash through very soggy grass to photograph these beauties.

Portaferry seen across the Lough from Castle Ward

Portaferry is the village on the other side of Strangford Lough. We would get a closer look at that on our way to our next garden, Mount Stewart. But before that , with rain falling once more, we made our way back to the village of Strangford.  There, at The Cuan Inn (our home away from home) we had a much needed hot shower and a rest before enjoying a wonderful birthday lobster dinner in the company of new found friends.

On the ferry

Next morning, again in drizzle, we took the ferry across Strangford Lough from Strangford to Portaferry… our hire car the middle one.

The house on the point at Strangford

You really have to be out on the water to see homes like this one.

Looking back at Strangford village

It was pleasant looking back at Strangford from the water – a very different view of this lovely village.

Portaferry – from the ferry.

Portaferry has a mixture of architecture.  It would be a good place to explore more. Perhaps next time I’m in Northern Ireland!

(There are more notes on Strangford and Portaferry in an earlier journal entry.)

Portaferry with the old look-out tower on the hill behind

Safely across the turbulent waters of the mouth of Strangford Lough, we disembarked at Portaferry for the drive to our next destination, another National Trust property, Mount Stewart House and Gardens… and that will be the subject of my next journal entry.   J

Photography  © JT of jtdytravels

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‘Rowallane is one of the foremost gardens in the British Isles… it’s a unique garden, a place to lose yourself” in the woods and meadows of a 52 acre estate, or, as the Irish call it, a’demesne’. So said the brochure for this National Trust property just south of Belfast, near the town of Saintfield.  With that sort of invitation, Rowallane was a definite on our ‘must visit’ list. And what we found was indeed worthy of being called a great garden.

The garden’s history began when the Reverend John Moore began planting here in the 1860s. He continued to develop the garden until 1903 when his nephew, Hugh Armytage Moore, inherited the property. The National Trust took over in 1955 and they have been restoring, maintaining and developing the garden ever since.

As we entered through the gates, we quickly left behind the busy road to drive along an enchanting avenue of trees that gave promise of the woodland walks to come – as detailed in the brochure.. However, that was not to be for us. Why? 
The whole property was totally waterlogged by all of the rain that had tumbled down over Ireland in June. As one young Irishman said to me,”Ireland is a beautiful country – but what it needs is a roof!”   That’s very true, but you can’t have amazing green countryside and lush parks and gardens without rain. What we needed was what every self-respecting Irish person has available in the boot of their car at all times – Wellington boots!  But gumboots, as we call them, we did not have. We had all the rest of the wet weather gear required – but we did not have those essential gumboots! 

The first sight of the garden after coming through that avenue is of a green and lush treed park. What we couldn’t see was the layer of water lying under the grass.  It looked so inviting, but walking here for a closer look at all the conifers, rhododendrons, azaleas, and many other shrubs and trees was just out of the question.

This lingering bloom spoke of the spring that had just been and the promise of the next spring to come. Rowallane is renowned for its spring rhododendron and azalea display with the red flowers of the many lofty tree Rhododendrons and massed banks of lower growing varieties in a wide spectrum of colours. These are probably at their best in May. And with so many deciduous trees amongst the plantings, this must be a spectacular park when in full autumn foliage.

This famous rhododendron collection has been skilfully grouped with other shrubs and trees in the undulating site creating a scene that’s a delight to the eye. This garden is not only for plantsmen but also for the artist within us all.

After the Reverend Moore had transformed the barren hillsides into a wooded parkland and created the walled gardens and ‘pleasure grounds’, his nephew added the skills of a true planstman to develop the garden we see today. His vision was to create an informal garden, one which would be a wildlife-friendly environment, and one which would include plants from all corners of the globe, many of them rare.

He used the landscape of the drumlins to add form to his design.  The drumlins (from the Irish word droimnin meaning ‘little ridge’) are in the shape of an inverted spoon or a half buried egg. They were formed long ago by glacial ice compacting the underlying moraine. So although the climate is wet, the plants have naturally good drainage from these rounded ridges. They add interest and shape to Moore’s plantings throughout the park.

At the time of our visit, it was raining intermittently and the grounds of Rowallane’s large park were just too boggy for walking.  So we missed out on seeing the natural Rock Garden with its plantings of a wide range of alpines, heathers and dwarf rhododendrons and where meconopsis and primula were in full bloom. We also missed out on the meadows where wildflowers and masses of orchids grow. And we couldn’t walk through the farmlands that include higher drumlins that afford fabulous panoramic views over the Down countryside towards the Mountains of Mourne. Nor could we stretch our legs walking along the paths through the woods of mature trees. Many of those trees were planted in the latter half of the 1800s and early 1900s and include many rare trees and shrubs.  Next time perhaps!

In the years after the National Trust took over, one of the foremost consultants for the garden’s restoration was Lady Jean O’Neill, chairman of the National Trust Gardens Committee. This renowned plantswoman was widow of one time Prime Minister of Northern Ireland, Terence O’Neill. After her death on July 15th 2008 at the age of 93, her obituary in the Telegraph on 3rd August said of her that she was:

” a passionate plantswoman, capable of identifying everything from a blade of grass to a rainforest liana… Never claiming to be anything but an amateur, Lady O’Neill developed, and retained throughout her life, a photographic memory both for botanical detail and for the overall “look” of a plant; her recall for the latter would enable her to make a swift, positive identification where a professional botanist could only do so on completing a long technical process.

Her wide knowledge won the admiration of (many in the horticultural elite of the time). Jean O’Neill was also greatly interested in the history of plants, particularly of those which arrived in the British Isles from the New World.”

What better person than this to lead the restoration of Rowallane in keeping with Hugh Armytage Moore’s vision. It’s good to know that in the capable hands of the National Trust’s gardeners, the maintenance of this great garden will continue for many years to come for the pleasure of all. And for this alone, it is worth being a National Trust member, as we are.

On our day at Rowallane, one of the few dry areas was the old stone and brick stables, built by Reverend Moore.

The soft earthy colours of the stable wall makes a good background for the plants in the larger walled garden.


Even the stones themselves provided horticultural interest with ferns, mosses and lichens finding a niche to grow.


A different patterning of the stones and bricks was used to build the outer surrounds of the outer walled gardens.

Another of the Reverend Mooore’s projects was to improve the house. During 2012, it has again been under renovation, to provide better offices for the National Trust’s regional headquarters and better facilities for visitors and conferences.

In 1903, when the ‘demesne’ of Rowallane was inherited by Reverend Moore’s nephew, Hugh Armytage Moore, the garden itself inherited a very knowledgable and keen plantsman. Not only is his name well respected in Irish horticulture but also, in 1942, the Royal Horticultural Society of Great Britain awarded him the ‘Victoria Medal of Honour’. He raised many of the plants in this garden from seeds collected from various parts of the world, particularly in China and the Himalayan regions, by such well known plant hunters as Ernest Wilson, George Forrest and Frank Kingdom Ward. He established important connections with Botanic Gardens throughout the world particularly in Edinburgh,Scotland and Kew, London.  And throughout his years cultivating plants, he gave many new cultivars and hybrids the name ‘Rowallane’ such as the Candelabra Primula ‘Rowallane Rose’.

This is the original Viburnum plicatum var. tomentosum ‘Rowallane’, grown by Hugh Armytage Moore from seed collected in the wild by Ernest Wilson in Eastern Asia where viburnum originates. This tree is just one of many in the gardens that bear witness to the horticultural skill and expertise of this great plantsman.

Unfortunately, we saw this special Viburnum just at the end of flowering – the petals, somewhat damaged by rain.

But we could see how these flat-topped pure white flower clusters are made up of an outer ring of large, sterile florets surrounding a central mass of small, fertile flowers.

Although the boggy conditions meant that we did not experience all that this great garden has to offer, we were able to spend a lot of time in the two excellent walled gardens. Our trigger fingers were kept busy photographing some fascinating plants and flowers – some of them with that real ‘wow’ factor.  In my next journal, we’ll look at some of the plants that attracted our special attention that day.  It was so pleasing to see that these walled gardens are kept in excellent condition by the National Trust gardeners.  We know that many gardens are not being well maintained in these times of economic downturn, but Rowallane has kept up its very high standards. We recommend it highly.

Photography © JT for jtdytravels

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One of the things I really love about exploring gardens is the wonderful variety of plants that gardeners use to express their vision of their garden – for no two gardens are alike. They invariably express something about their creator.

And of the plants themselves? Some are old friends that I have enjoyed seeing many, many times: some are variations of those old friends. And some are completely new to me. And I am impelled to learn more about them – to learn their story. I am not a plant expert with botanical names at the tip of my tongue like my horticulturist friends. Neither do I know in what conditions and with what care many plants should be grown. What I love about plants is their colour, their texture, their shape, their form. I love to look deep inside a flower, to see how it’s made.  And I love the tiny ones just as much as the big, blowsy ‘look-at-me’ types. I enjoy looking to see how each gardener puts all those traits together – for that is the art of garden design. And my photography aims to express the ‘essence ‘of each garden and explore the character of flowers.

Rowallane’s walled gardens are those of a dedicated plantsman, Hugh Armytage Moore, a collector of a rich variety of plants and seeds originating from all corners of the globe.  So I expected that a walk in these two walled gardens would be something of a ‘world tour’ of plants and I was not disappointed in that. We found plants growing happily side by side that came originally from places as far apart as Africa, Chile, Asia, the Himalaya and across Europe.

We began our wander in the smaller, lower garden.  It wraps around the larger rectangular walled garden in an L shape.  The shorter side is flat and shaded with a pond as the focal point. The longer side rises up a slope allowing for plants that need a warm, sunny but sheltered place against a wall. And here there are glimpses of the woods beyond.

The path from the stable area leads across the ‘foot’ of the L shape.  This was once the nursery area and one can really imagine Hugh Armytage Moore and his gardeners working in here on their plant cultivation and propagation. Many of the plants seen in the gardens today are the result of their untiring efforts. (For his story, read the previous journal entry which relates to the history and development of the garden.)  The first plant that caught our eye was the yellow flowered Phlomis in the very foreground of this photo. Neither of us had seen it before.

Phlomis sp.

This close up of the Phlomis flower buds emerging shows the prickly ‘encasement’ whirl, the ones at the top unfurling first.  With their sweet nectar, these flowers attract birds, bees and butterflies, insects and ants – like the one above.

Phlomis sp.

This group of Phlomis plants certainly ‘grabs’ attention. The tubular flowers, arranged in tiered whirls, are spaced out along stiff upright stems which rise above the mass of deep green foliage. It certainly is a show stopper, accentuated by the softer leaved, pale mauve flowers in the background.

Further along, the garden was a vision of green set off by the variegated leaves on the right hand side and by that touch of red/orange in the background towards the left beyond the tree.  When I see this touch of red in a green ‘landscape’, I’m always reminded of that famous English artist, John Constable, who often used small brush strokes of red paint to direct the eye through the landscape and to emphasise the intensity of the greens and browns. It always works!

The plants in the small pond area are all green. Here the white urns are used to relieve the greens. A skilful blend of the textures and shapes of ferns and grasses take the eye in a circular motion around the pond. In the background, the old grey stone wall is softened by an espaliered tree. In the fore ground are the very different, softer, more rounded leaves of one of the lovely Alchemilla species, or Lady’s Mantle, growing over the edging rocks.


One of the benefits of ‘walking in the rain’ in a garden like this, is to enjoy the beauty of raindrops on Lady’s Mantle leaves. Maybe that’s why in rainy Ireland, this plant is so often used as rock covering and path edging in gardens! The origins of most species of Alchemilla is Europe, but not Ireland, with only one species being native to Antrim in Northern Ireland.  I delighted in this plant when I lived in Switzerland and was pleased to find it here – as an old friend.

Several leaves in this area made perfect receptacles for jewel-like ‘crystals’ of rain. How perfect is this one?


That dash of red amongst the greens in an earlier photo was this clump of Primula bulleyana , better known to most as Candelabra primula. They originate in China and the Himalaya and enjoy woodlands, damp or even WET places. They had found a perfect home here!  The softness of these flowers was in perfect contrast to the great, architectural leaves of Gunnera behind them. Most large leaved Gunnera, a genus named after the Norwegian botanist Johann Ernst Gunnerus, originate in South American countries like Brazil, Chile and Columbia.  Gunnera is sometimes called ‘giant rhubarb’, although it’s not for the dessert plate!  It also likes to live in damp conditions, so these two very different types of plants, from two different continents, two different hemispheres, live happily together in this ‘global’  garden.  

Another plant used to make a textural statement in this area is a Hosta, with leaves that also catch those rain drops. Hostas originate in China and Japan and were introduced to Europe in the mid 19thcentury. More recently, some species have been discovered on the Korean peninsula.  Although there are about 45 species of Hosta, it’s estimated that there are over 3,000 varieties available to gardeners because of hybridization among the many species.  No wonder they are so popular with gardeners in so many parts of the world. The red on these leaves are the fallen petals from the tree above – another example of a touch of  red highlighting green.

The tree in question is the delightful, Crinodendron hookerianum.  Its botanical name comes from the Greek: krinon meaning lily and dendron meaning tree. It’s common name is Chilean Lantern Tree and, yes, it is endemic to Chile.

Botanically, the flowers are urceolate in shape – shaped like a pitcher or urn – though in this case upside down.  And the shiny dark green leaves are alternate and described as llanceolate, long and narrow with a pointy tip – lance shaped.

It’s not just the flowers that are fascinating but the dagger-like seed heads are interesting, too. It’s a difficult plant to photograph. To begin with the flowers are red – always a problem, and the rain makes the waxy petals and leaves even shiner, throwing back the light. It’s another plant in this garden that is far from its original home – half a world away.

The Crinodendron (left) shelters in the corner of the garden where the old stone wall meets a newer stone and brick wall. Beyond the wall is a glimpse of the woods. Those trees not only provide a delightful background to this garden, but, and very importantly, they provide shelter for the tender plants in this garden from the worst of the weather.

Martagon Lilies, Lilium Martagon var. Alba

Turk’s cap lilies always make a statement in a garden. These white ones are Lilium Martagon var. Alba.

The Martagon lily is common in Europe especially in the Alps where it’s generally found in meadows up to an elevation of 2100 m (7000 ft.).  There are several white forms in cultivation, like L. martagon var. Alba, which has been grown as a garden plant since the 16th century. It received a First Class Certificate from the Royal Horticultural Society as long ago as 1889.  It’s a very stately plant with up to twenty flowers on stems that are strong enough to withstand wind.

Lilium Martagon var. Alba

The clear ivory white flowers with their perianth segments rolled backwards are complemented by the orange anthers. Many of the other  lilies had been spoiled by the rain – but not these beauties. They were enhanced by the rain drops.


Another plant to catch the eye in this part of the garden was Astrantia, an herbaceous plant native to central, eastern and southern Europe and the Caucasus.  The name comes from the Greek word for star – an obvious reference to the flower.   Their common name is Great Masterwart – not to be confused with Masterwart, Peucedanum ostruthium. It is this sort of confusing common naming of plants that makes it so important to refer to their botanical names.

This beautiful flower, in close up, shows just how complicated a seemingly simple flower can be!

We were to see Astrantia used in many gardens. It’s a compact plant with many flowers that  works well in boarders.

It was delightful to spend time in this peaceful garden. We had it all to ourselves – maybe a plus for a  rainy day!

But we still had the larger walled garden to explore, so it was time to wander back by the pond and find the arch that would lead us into the main garden. And the plants we found in that garden will be the subject of my next journal.

Photography  ©  JT of  jtdytravels

Rowallane is just south of Saintfield on the Belfast to Downpatrick Road. It’s a National Trust Garden.

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After wandering in the smaller of Rowallane’s walled gardens, it was time to explore the larger, main garden – and what a treasure trove of flowering plants that turned out to be.  We’ll look at just some of them in this journal entry.

Arched entrance to the Main Walled Garden at Rowallane.

One entrance to this garden is through an arch that gives a view along an ‘avenue’ of plants leading the eye to the house beyond. On the right, surrounded by a low box hedge, is the vegetable and herb garden. On the left, a path leads off to a series of areas that give access to a variety of flowering plants in this collection that have their origins in so many different parts the world.

The Nepal Poppy, Meconopsis napaulensis

The first flower to catch my attention was one of the rarer Himalayan Poppies, this beautiful Nepal Poppy,  Meconopsis napaulensis.  It’s name and a few cultivation facts were given on a sign beside the flowers. I do love gardens that give the names!  This plant is distinctly different from other Himalayan Poppies in that it has a yellow flower and comes from a small geographical range in central Nepal.

Nepal Poppy, Meconopsis napaulensis

Because of the rain, many of these tender flowers were drooping, giving us a good look at the back of the petals with their delicate veining and ruffled edges. Highlighted by rain drops, they were a true delight.  No wonder this flower has another common name, The Satin Poppy.

Tibetan White Poppy, Meconopsis baileyi Alba

Another rarely seen form of the delicate Himalayan Poppy is the Tibetan White Poppy, Meconopsis baileyi Alba. With its pure white, silky petals surrounding a boss of golden stamens, it’s a stunningly beautiful flower, especially with added rain drops. Because of constant reclassification of plants, this Tibetan white poppy, now known as Meconopsis baileyi Alba, was formerly known as Meconopsis betonicifolia Alba.

Unfortunately, we can’t grow these beauties in our Canberra garden. We have the cold they need but they do not survive hot summers – and we have hot summers. So we took the time to really enjoy them in this garden.

Himalayan Blue Poppy, Meconopsis sp.

More familiar to most who enjoy wandering in northern British gardens, is the Himalayan Blue Poppy, the national flower of Bhutan.  It was first introduced into Britain at the Royal Horticultural Society’s Spring show in 1926 after the great mountaineer, George Leigh Mallory, saw it when he was in the Himalayas making an attempt on Mt Everest in 1922. But they are rather difficult to grow and do best in northern parts of England, in Scotland and in Ireland where conditions are closer to those of the plant’s native habitat; something gardeners need to take into account.

Meconopsis sp.

Not all Meconopsis plants are the same and there seems to be much debate as to what constitutes a particular ‘named’ species. The reason, I’m told, is that under the right growing conditions, many of these plants quite easily hybridise with each other and produce viable seed.  I’ve noticed over the years, that more and more gardeners want to try to grow these beautiful poppies, and who can blame them.   New varieties and cultivars of Meconopsis seem to be appearing in gardens each year. This delightful one has its blue petals blushed with soft pink. I think it’s my favourite… but then, they’re all delightful, aren’t they?

Himalayan Poppies growing beneath a huge rose ‘tree’

Some of the blue Himalayan Poppies were growing in the shadow of an enormous rose ‘tree’ – for want of a better description.  It must have been growing in this garden for many years. Spectacular is the only word to describe it!

The stables viewed across the garden.

Although this is not a specialised rose garden, these old fashioned roses have been used to great effect at Rowallane, especially to help frame a view across the garden, like this one, where the focal point is the tower of the stable block.

Red roses in the rain!

And what a show those roses made. Simply beautiful, and fortunately, not destroyed or even marked by the rain. They are hardy survivors.

White Bleeding Hearts, Lamprocapnos spectabilis Alba

Other flowers to catch my eye were not nearly as ‘blowsy’ as the roses. These little beauties are called White Bleeding Hearts or Lamprocapnos spectabilis Alba – what a name for such small, delicate flowers that droop in an ordered line from their arching stem.They are also sometimes called Dutchman’s Trousers or Lyre Flower – both quite apt namesNeedless to say, the original ‘bleeding hearts’ were red  heart-shaped flowers with white tips, native to eastern Asia, from Siberia to Japan. They  were introduced to England in about 1840. Plant breeders have since developed this white cultivar, which I have seen a few times, and a golden one, known as”Gold Heart’ which I have yet to see.

A tubular Rhododendron, Rhododendron cinnabarinum

In one corener of the garden is a very old tree, one of the tubular Rhododendrons. Another plant native to the Himalaya range in Asia, this plant exudes a year-round cinnamon-and-camphor aroma, hence the species name, cinnabarinum.

Bicolour flowers of Rhododendron cinnabarinum

The flower colour of Rhododendron cinnabarinum is known to vary from plant to plant, from scarlet to yellow. This one is a bicolour form.  The nectar of this species is reputed to be the most poisonous of all rhododendrons.

Turk’s Cap Lily, Lilium Martagon sp.

Underneath, and sheltered by the Tubular Rhododendron tree, are several varieties of Martagon Lilies or Turk’s cap lilies, Lilium martagon. The native region for these plants is quite broad, from Asian countries like Mongolia and Korea right across to eastern France. I used to see them in mountain meadows in southern Switzerland.

Martagon Lilies

These lilies grow on long stems – thirty to forty flowers on one stem. In this garden, the delicate lilies are set off beautifully by the large leaved plant behind. In this way, they don’t get lost against the creamy colour of the wall.

(The lovely white flowering form, Lilium Martagon var. Alba, was in the smaller walled garden and has been shown in the previous journal entry.)

Striped Cobra Lily or Jack-in-the-Pulpit, Arisaema candississimum

On a relatively bare patch of ground,  Arisaema plants were popping up everywhere. A member of the Arum Lily family, this plant originated in western China – in Tibet, Sichuan and Yunnan – at altitudes between 2,000 and 3,000 m.

The inflorescence doesn’t appear above the bare ground until late spring or early summer – so the place where they grow needs to be carefully marked by the gardener to make sure that a spade or fork doesn’t accidentally find their ‘resting’ place! Each inflorescence is accompanied by a leaf that is divided into three broad ‘leaflets’.  After the leaf opens, it begins to curl over to protect the spathe. Later, in autumn, the leaves turn yellow, giving a touch of autumnal colour to the bed, before the plant retreats underground again for the winter. The plant’s tubers multiply like potatoes, so a few plants will soon provide for many more new plants. A host of these in flower must be a real sight. We were a little too early to witness that. But the individual spathes were beautiful – even if a long way down to photograph!

A front view of the spathe of an Arisaema candississimum

I’m not at all surprised that this has been a popular garden plant since it was introduced from Yunnan in China into England by the renowned plant collector, George Forrest, in 1914.  The beautifully striped, hood-like spathe surrounds a long thin spadix. Right down inside are the very small flowers. The water droplets along the edge just added to the delicate beauty of this plant.

The back view of the spathe of an Arisaema candississimum

This was, I think, my favourite plant in a garden that is filled with so many wonderful plants! I couldn’t help but delight in those perfectly aligned markings and delicate colours – yet another wonderful variation in the fascinating plant world.

And there are so many variations, aren’t there?  And I have photos and stories still to share about many other plants that we saw in Rowallane’s delightful walled garden.  So, I’ll leave this now and add another garden journal soon. I hope you enjoy… and don’t forget that you can click on each photo to have a larger, clearer view.   J

Photography © JT of jtdytravels

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Today’s gardeners, if they have the right conditions, can grow plants that came originally from all corners of the world.  That’s thanks in large part to visionary, pioneer plantsmen like Hugh Armytage Moore of Rowallane. This garden is his legacy and to wander here, is to take a world tour of plants!

A quiet space in Rowallane’s walled garden

The walled gardens are large enough to have trees that form a gracious backdrop to the smaller plants. It’s a garden to take your time in, to wander and to sit and contemplate the amazing variety of plants. That seat did look inviting.. but, unfortunately, a to sit there was not possible in the rain!

The lawn area framed by plants.

The central lawn area gives this garden an openness, a space. It allows you to not only enjoy each flowering plant up close, but also to see them further away in their setting against the trees.  And looking through these spaces is an invitation wander along more paths, to explore further.

Rogersia sp.

There are so many plants that captured the eye like these Rogersias with their panicles of flowers rising above strongly veined leaves.

Rogersia sp.

Rogersia leaves are as photogenic as the flowers themselves!

Rogersia sp.

The flowers of Rogersia come in various shades from red to pink, and cream to white except for Rogersia nepalensis which are a greeny yellow. This is yet another plant that comes originally from eastern Asia, most species being found in China, Tibet and Nepal. In their native habitats they thrive in soil that never dries out, growing by streams and in shady moist woodland. No wonder they grow well in Ireland!

Rogersia sp.

Grouping different colours of Rogersias together makes quite a show. They are indeed a very handsome plant.

Giant Knapweed,   Centaurea macrocephala 

Another plant that I hadn’t encountered before is the Giant Knapweed, Centaurea macrocephala.  These are rather tall plants, up to one and a half meters, with flowers on ram rod stiff stems. They are very hard to miss!   The shaggy-headed, yellow, thistle-like flowers emerge from their bracts in early summer through to late summer.  In the wild, the many species of this genus, Centaurea, are found only north of the equator and mostly in the Eastern Hemisphere, particularly in the the Middle East.

Giant Knapweed, Centaurea macrocephala

Although the yellow flowers were fascinating, it was without doubt, the balls of  sculptured, glowing bronze balls of bracts that really attract attention. They add such an interesting textural component to the garden and, I’ve no doubt, look very good dried in flower arrangements. The species name of this particular Centaurea is macrocephala and that’s derived from two Greek words:  makros meaning ‘large’ and kephale, meaning ‘head’. Very apt.

When researching this plant in the horticulture literature, I learned that the botanical name for this plant, Centaurea, comes from the name of a noble mythical Centaur, Chiron. I searched further.  It appears that, in Greek mythology, this centaur, half- man and half-horse, taught music, horse skills, hunting, martial arts and medicine to several of the great Greek mythical heroes.  He is credited with inventing medicine. And in one story, Chiron cured a festering arrow wound, in one of said heroes, by covering the wound with the flowers of a plant from this genus.  And for that, the genus not only got its name, Centaurea, but also its reputation for having great healing properties.  I wonder if modern medicine has discovered this!

Centaurea montana

There are many species of Centaurea. Another one growing in this garden is the lovely blue cornflower-like Centaurea montana, with its solitary fringed blue flower with a reddish centre.  The natural habitat of Centaurea montana is, not surprisingly, in mountain areas, particularly in the more southerly mountain ranges of Europe where I have seen it in the wild. It has also become established in the wild in the UK, Scandinavia and North America, but in those places it is as a ‘garden escapee’. It has several common names, including perennial cornflower, mountain cornflower, bachelor’s button, montane knapweed or mountain bluet, so once again, the botanical name is the most useful descriptor.

It’s very similar to the more commonly known and grown blue cornflower, Centaurea cyanus.   The difference is that Centaurea montana  is an evergreen, perennial plant that has a reddish centre and just a single flower head (rarely three).  By contrast, Centaurea cyanus has many flower heads, is blue in the centre and is an annual. The blue cornflower, once a common sight in cornfields, hence its common name, is now, as a result of modern farm practices, rarely seen in the wild although it is widely grown as a garden plant.  In this garden of uncommon plants, Centaurea montana prevailed.

Another garden view of the old stables tower

The tower of the old stables is always a focal point in this garden. The yellow flowers bordering the path here are Golden Garlic,  Allium moly.

A border of Golden Garlic,  Allium moly

That bright yellow of Golden Garlic, Allium moly,  made quite a statement bordering the main path back to the bottom entrance arch, yet another focal point in the garden.   This perennial plant, also sometimes called Lily Leek, is primarily found in Southern France and Spain.

This was another plant in the garden that had a ‘name plate’ with information notes.  From that we learned that the bulb of Allium moly is edible and is used for some medicinal purposes. It is used in this garden as a long-lasting, wonderful sunny border. It is easy to grow and naturalizes quickly, increasing happily in the sun in most garden soils. So prolific are these plants that the gardeners here deadhead the flowers before the seeds set – a most necessary measure to help control its spread to parts of the garden where it is not wanted!  The golden flowers make excellent cut flowers.

Golden Garlic, Allium Moly

Another mythical story refers to this plant. One of the greatest Greek storytellers was Homer and in his epic, ‘The Odyssey’, moly was the name of the drug used by Hermes to help Odysseus to become resistant to Circe’s magic spells.  She had planned to turn Odysseus into a pig, as she had already done to some of his men. As with many good stories, once Circe realised that Odysseus was resistant to her magic, she fell in love with him and released his men from her spell.

Crane’s Bill, Geranium sp.

A plant much used in the Irish gardens that we visited is the Geranium, commonly called Crane’s Bill.  With a mounding growth habit, interesting cleft leaves and often beautifully veined flower petals, Geraniums are a wonderful addition to any garden. With something over 400 species to choose from, gardeners can add a touch of colour and beauty with these plants that originate mostly in the eastern part of the Mediterranean.

The name of this plant causes some confusion with another plant commonly called Geranium, the Pelargonium… the type that is grown in such profusion in window boxes in places like Switzerland and Austria. It appears that Linnaeus, the man who gave us the binomial way of naming plants, originally included both of these types of plants in the one genus, Geranium. In 1789 they were separated into two genera but still in the family known as Geraniaceae.  But the common name geranium stayed in usage for both.   Confusing?  Yes. But there is a difference if we look at the flowers.

Geranium flowers, as in the photo above, are radially symmetrical with five very similar petals. The next photo of a species in the pelargonium family, shows flowers that have two upper petals very different from the three lower petals. The flowers do look quite different, it’s just the name that confuses.

Pelargonium sp.

In this garden the true Geranium species are grown in the garden beds… the Pelargonium species were grown in pots by the stables.

Peony sp.

A little further along the main path were a group of peonies, those wonderful flowers that look like they have put on diaphonous party dresses and are just waiting for a handsome prince to take them to a royal ball, there to waltz the night away!  It was not a surprise to me to learn that the genus Paeonia is rather unique in that it is the only genus in the flowering plant family of Paeoniaceae, a name first used by Friedrich K L Rudolphi in 1830. I think he must have been a romantic at heart and fell under the spell of these beautiful flowers, just as I always do. They are unique. Peonies are native across much of the northern hemisphere in Asia, Southern Europe and Western North America but have now been bred to grow in many parts of the world, including our own garden in Canberra.

Peony sp.

Another beautiful peony, staying out of the worst of the rain under an its ‘umbrella’ of foliage.

Peony sp.

And another. They are just so lovely.

And here’s another flower-related Greek legend, this one is associated with the name Peony or (Paeony). The story goes that Asclepius, the Greek god of medicine and healing had a pupil named Paeon. But Paeon must have been a little too bright for his teacher’s comfort and Asclepius became very jealous. However, before Asclepius could take out his wrath on the young Paeon, the great god Zeus stepped in and turned Paeon into a peony flower. And, interestingly, Peonies have long been used in traditional medicines of Korea, China and Japan.

Comfrey, Symphytum sp.

And while mentioning the medicinal properties of plants, Comfrey, Symphytum sp,  has been cultivated and valued for it’s medicinal uses for over 2,000 years by various cultures in its native areas of Europe and Asia.  It is said to have been used as a blood coagulant, a treatment for maladies of the lung, and as a poultice to aid in the healing of wounds and broken bones. Consumed as a tea, comfrey is said to treat a variety of internal ailments. I just love its beautiful blue bell-like flowers that are even more lovely when touched by the rain… again, that bonus of walking in a garden in the rain.

Campanula sp.

Another favourite genus of mine, grown in many gardens these days, is Campanula. And there are many stories associated with these delightful blue bell like flowers… especially in places like Ireland where they are connected to ‘the good folk’ – the fairies. It is said that people did not dig them out of their gardens – just in case they should offend the fairies who may sleep in these bells or use them as goblets to collect the dew. And in North America, the Haida Indians cautioned their children not to pick these flowers, or it would rain. Perhaps the Irish should start to pick these bells to STOP the rain!

Raindrops on Delphinium sp. flower buds.

And rain it certainly did, while we visited this beautiful garden of Rowallane.  As the rain grew heavier, we had to finally give up, take one more photo of raindrops on petals, this time on Delphinium buds, and make a quick retreat to the car.

It had been a fascinating morning in a garden that is not only a wonderful legacy to Hugh Armytage Moore, but also a tribute to the gardeners of the National Trust who maintain this important garden with such care and diligence – and I daresay, with a great love for the plants they grow.

Photography © JT for jtdytravels

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Our stay at The Cuan Inn at Strangford was memorable in so many ways but most importantly it was about the people we met. We arrived as strangers and left as friends – with the hosts, with their staff and with some of the other guests. Warm, hospitable and very genuine in their caring for all their guests and for their wider community, ‘The Cuan Family’ are tops!

Birthday candle to start the day

These good people not only made us feel right at home but they also made A’s birthday one we’ll never forget. From the candle in the lemon wedge that came with the best scrambled eggs we’ve ever tasted at breakfast; to a thoughtful card and a box of chocolates; to endless rounds of happy birthday from anyone who walked through the door; to the wonderful meals – Peter is an award winning chef and rightly so – we specially enjoyed the mussels and lobster! to the jokes and fun and stories that abounded;  and for genuine friendship – our stay at ‘The Cuan’ was special.

Colman and Peter at The Cuan Inn

To Peter – an award winning chef, a wonderful story teller and warm human being; Caroline, his lovely wife and I suspect the anchor of the whole place;  Colman, a delightful man beloved by all, an old family friend who lives in at the Inn and takes care of the guests at night and serves at breakfast allowing Peter and Caroline to have some family life in their own home;  Sean, a man with a heart of gold who has worked with Peter and Caroline for twenty years – the front man in the bar and dining room – a modest man who is the driving force behind The Cuan’s impressive involvement in supporting Children with Cancer; Damian who has been at the Cuan for seventeen years is always looking out for ways to make his guests more comfortable and to help the elderly;  Bernie, a delightful waitress – motherly and thoughtful – it was Bernie who told us that the Internet was best in the bar; Delores who seems to be everywhere at once, doing what she sees that needs to be done – the one who welcomed us so warmly on that first rainy afternoon; and not to forget Agnes Delicious – housemaid and kitchen hand extraordinaire – always with a happy smile and a helping hand – and gorgeous with it – hence Colman’s name for her. Thank you all. You taught us what real Irish hospitality is all about.

In the background of the photo above are some of the art works that will be auctioned at The Cuan in August to raise money for Children with Cancer. They will also have a special weekend when eight families with children who have cancer will come to the Cuan for a weekend of fun and activities and good food. The Cuan ‘family’ really put their heart and soul into helping families living with the stresses when cancer strikes one of their children … a cause very close to my heart.

Because of the warmth of their hospitality, we met guests who became our friends as well – delightful Helen whose love for people and for life is helping her to cope with the stresses of caring for her ailing husband – and her Mum, Una – 94 years young. Una was  born in Strangford and had so many stories to tell – it was a privilege to meet her and learn more about her village.

We hope that someday, some of you who read my journal will get the chance to enjoy a stay at ‘The Cuan Inn’ at Strangford.  We certainly recommend it.

It was hard to leave, but leave we had to in time to catch the ferry over the Lough to Portaferry

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‘The Cuan Inn’ at Strangford, County Down, Northern Ireland

Our home away from home.

Strangford Green, County Down, Northern Ireland © JT of ‘jtdytravels’

 I took this photo from our room at ‘The Cuan Inn’  at Strangford at 5.00am – it gets light  even earlier than this.

That’s our dark blue hire car out the front beside the green.

A misty morning in Strangford

 Another view from our room with the road turning right down to the lough and the ferry and one of the very old watch towers.

Written on the morning of 28th June – A’s Birthday.

I’m sitting on the bottom step of the stairs that lead up to our room at The Cuan Inn here in Strangford. It’s semi dark in the stair well but I’m here trying to get an internet connection. We do try!!!!  It seems that the only place where we can get anything like a connection is in the bar – and that folks is locked at 7.30am – probably rightly so.  Why try this early? It’s A’s birthday today and we are trying to get Skype up and running so that she can talk to those at home in Oz.  But we are having no luck at all.

I’ll just write on while we wait for someone to stir and open a door or two to the main part of the Inn. The Cuan is a delightful old Inn run by a very warm and welcoming family and their staff in a small, picturesque village beside Strangford Lough.  If it wasn’t raining, we’d go for a morning walk, but, as I got totally drenched in a matter of a couple of minutes yesterday just getting from the car to the front door, we’ll leave walking for awhile – at least until after breakfast.

In fact, after my drenching yesterday – and with my dry clothes still in the car – I just stripped off, dried off, and curled up in bed to warm up while my clothes dried a bit – and after a long day’s driving, went fast asleep.  Meanwhile, the rain stopped – it would, wouldn’t it?  So A., who was still dry, went for a walk in the village and down by Strangfordlough (lake).

Houses in Strangford

The people of Strangford are proud of their beautiful wee village and keep it immaculate.

More of Strangford’s houses


Electricity turbine on Strangfordlough

The lake enters the sea through a narrow channel here and the tidal currents are swift and turbulent – so much so that the tidal water power is used to make electricity.  At ebb tide the mechanism is out of the water and visible.

Ferry Crossing from Portaferry to Strangford


The ferry that goes between Strangford and Portaferry

Just at the bottom of our street is the car ferry that makes the crossing every half hour between Strangford and Portaferry.  The ferry is well used. As well as the usual car traffic, children use the ferry  to go to school – primary school children over to Portaferry, secondary school children from Portaferry to go by bus to Downpatrick for high school. Its a difficult crossing – one that has to take into account the speed of flow and the tides. It’s not straight! And neither is the Irish wit.

We are learning fast and enjoying the fun. Just a ‘wee’ instance: for ease of use, A. has a lanyon attached to her camera which she usually hangs around her neck. While wandering along yesterday down by the ferry, camera in hand, the lanyon was hanging loose, dangling in the breeze.  A car came off the ferry and stopped beside her. The driver leant out to speak.  Just as A. thought he was going to ask her for directions – which she wouldn’t know, of course – he quipped, “Have you lost your dog?” A quick wit indeed. And it’s that wit that we are really enjoying in Ireland.

And being here is not just about the beauty of Ireland – and it is without doubt beautiful; nor is it just about exploring Ireland’s gardens – of which there are so many; it’s about the Irish people – and more and more we are loving them.

Ah, ha – the doors are now open – we’ll go the bar – it’s all of 8.00 am !!!!! I’m quite sure I’ve never been in a pub bar at this hour before – in fact I’m not usually to be found in any pub bar!  But, in a room so well known as a place where folks meet and converse over a pint of Guiness or a Whiskey or two, we’ll be able to chat with our loved ones via Internet/ Skype to the other side of the world!  And I think that’s just a wee bit amazing, don’t you?

J and A

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