About The Frustrated Gardener

“If one is going to tell a story with plants, it may as well be an adventure story.”

Plants have always been a passion. It’s alleged that ‘Mesembryanthemum‘ was the first word I spoke, although I think that’s more myth than reality. Nevertheless, my childhood was defined by plants and flowers, experimenting with seeds and cuttings in my parents’ garden in Plymouth. I recall roses ‘Albertine’, ‘Masquerade’ and ‘Fragrant Cloud’; juicy, hirsute loganberries; dark-leaved Prunus ceracifera ‘Nigra’; stiff and starchy African marigolds and pungent hedges of privet and escallonia. It’s as if I last brushed past them yesterday. In a small cedar-scented greenhouse, my father grew tomatoes: ‘Gardener’s Delight’ as I recall. Times have changed, but the tomatoes have never been bettered.

My grandparents were my greatest horticultural inspiration. My paternal grandfather, Dennis Cooper, was Head Gardener at a large country estate. He taught me how to force rhubarb, thin bunches of grapes, pollinate glasshouse peaches and grow asparagus. I was fortunate: how many people have these skills to share nowadays? What I remember most vividly are drifts of cheerful daffodils scattered through the grass beneath ancient apple trees. There, deep in the Buckinghamshire countryside, my love of narcissi and other bulbous plants began to grow.

I have many happy memories of my grandparents' cottage at Liscombe Park
I have many happy memories of my grandparents’ cottage at Liscombe Park

On my mother’s side, my grandmother, Florence Pope, was a thoroughly modern ‘lady gardener’. Her children having flown the nest and my grandfather having passed away, she filled her Cornish garden with heathers, conifers, camellias, hydrangeas and phormiums. Her informal island beds were inspired by the likes of John Brookes and Alan Bloom; designers and plantsmen who elevated gardening to new levels in the 80’s and 90’s. The photograph below was taken some years after my grandmother passed away, when the garden was no longer maintained to her immaculate standards.

Lansing, St Agnes, circa 2003
My Cornish grandmother was a great advocate of heathers, conifers and hydrangeas

By the age of fourteen I had acquired a greenhouse, and took to filling the borders in my parents’ garden (now near Bath) with a myriad of colourful annuals every summer. Dahlias, petunias, marigolds and nasturtiums were firm favourites, along with obligatory mesembryanthemums. I would spend hours each spring browsing seed catalogues, often choosing the newest, quirkiest varieties. That thirst for the new and usual has never been quenched, although I reach my limits when a flower is hybridised beyond recognition.

Whilst I relished the immediacy and vibrancy of annuals, over time I developed a taste for perennials. I discovered Hannay’s of Bath, a specialist nursery (now sadly defunct), and started to indulge in all sorts of plants, many of which were uncommon at the time. They included Inula magnifica (giant fleabane), Cephalaria gigantea (giant scabious), Phlomis russeliana (Turkish sage), Zauschneria californica (Californian fuchsia) and the very beautiful Antirrhinum sempervirens (silver snapdragon). Salvias were a speciality of Hannay’s’, and though I indulged, I cannot recall the varieties I purchased. I know that they did not survive long in the garden’s heavy clay soil, but the inula, cephalaria and phlomis survive to this very day.

Salvia patens in the Jungle Garden

University followed. I read Landscape Management at Reading, ultimately gaining a first class degree. My dissertation explored the ‘new’ ecological style of planting design, involving perennials which might co-exist in naturalistic groups. ‘Perennials and Their Garden Habitats’, a rather dry book by Richard Hansen and Friedrich Stahl, became my bible. I would not recommend it for bedside reading, but it’s a superb reference for identifying plants for specific growing conditions.

It was at the same time that I was introduced to the landscapes of Wolfgang Oehme and James van Sweden, and of Roberto Burle-Marx, three of my gardening heroes. Oehme and van Sweden popularised the ‘New American Garden’ style, characterised by vast, swathes of grasses and perennials – not mixed as in a prairie but in groups of a single variety. One can still find their book ‘Bold Romantic Gardens’ on Amazon and I heartily recommend it to anyone planning a new garden, whether it be large or small, town or country. Roberto Burke Marx was of a similar ilk , designing parks and gardens of unparalleled scale and artistry. In creating the largest of landscapes he considered every detail of a plant’s character and what it would lend to the overall design. He is probably best known for the two and a half-mile mosaic promenade which runs alongside Copacabana Beach in Rio de Janeiro.

A section of Roberto Burle-Marx’s Copacabana Beach promenade

From university I embarked on a short career as a Landscape Architect in Wantage, Oxfordshire. Discovering that the world of commercial landscaping involved the smallest palette of relatively dull plants I quickly became disillusioned. Within the year I had been made redundant and after a few months of freelancing I decided enough was enough. A new career in retail ensued, and I have never looked back.

For a number of years my passion for plants and gardening lay dormant, although it never died. I made a small courtyard garden behind my first home in Reading, growing ferns, acers, camellias and woodland perennials. The soil was terrible and there was no sun after midday, but it kept my passion alive.

At The American Garden, Hythe, Kent, May 2008
Being photobombed by rhododendrons at The American Garden, Hythe, Kent

Having moved to London in 2005, the following year I decided to buy a weekend home on the Kent coast: I find cities claustrophobic and like to be beside the seaside. I knew nothing about the area, but on recommendation paid a visit to Broadstairs and bought the first and only property I looked at. It was called The Watch House. The story of how I created the garden, which I refer to as the Jungle Garden, can be found here. Ten years later I purchased an adjoining cottage and knocked through the following year, creating a library, garden room and two additional bedrooms in the process. These rooms are still collectively referred to as ‘next door’. The garden that came with the cottage is referred to as the Gin & Tonic Garden because the sun reaches the back door at 5pm, when a G&T is compulsory.

Since 2015 I have opened The Watch House for the National Gardens Scheme on the first weekend in August, and will do so again in 2020. Initially we welcomed around 200 visitors each time, rising to 440 in 2019. Meeting neighbours and garden lovers from further afield is the best part of the garden opening experience.

The Frustrated Gardener at The Watch House.

Moving forward to 2020, I live full-time in Broadstairs, commuting daily to London; a four-hour round-trip. I share my home and garden with my partner John (aka The Beau) and his two pedigree mongrels Max and Millie. Earlier this year we took on a large allotment plot just around the corner at Culmer’s Land. A new world of fruit and vegetable growing lays before us, and my adventures in gardening continue. TFG.

Lead Photo Credit – Marianne Majerus

Dan Cooper, The Frustrated Gardener, September 2014

94 thoughts on “About The Frustrated Gardener

  1. thankyou so much for taking time to look at my blog, and starting to follow it. I am a self employed gardener here in Shropshire, and try to find time to write about what I love doing – which is making big and bold gardens whilst enjoying the fantastic Shropshire landscape around me.

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  2. Thanks for checking out and following my ofttimes neglected blog! I completely understand your frustration over never enough time to garden!! But we need those jobs to fuel our obsessions don’t we? Fantastic photos and journeys to follow here!!

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  3. Spectacular blog and interesting to see how ‘the other half’ gardens. I live in the Portuguese Algarve where everything is about conserving water and hot summers. I have a smallish fruit orchard, but brilliant drip-irrigation system and grape arbor which provides nice shade. Always something in blossom. Seemingly bougainvilla just go on and on, tho’ said blossoms do need to be swept from patios from time to time. Amendoeiras (almond trees) in bloom currently. I’m simply itching to get more fragile veg planted but have learned the hard way not to be hasty. I’m seeding some Thai basil now – we’ll see how that turns out. Shiitake mushrooms a surprising success. Nature’s pathogens. Suppose I should organize herbs neatly rather than having them scattered about hither an thither but no rush there. Confess to be wildly envious of your BBQ area.

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    1. Thank you for your lovely comment. Your garden sounds wonderful. We’re being drowned alive this winter in England, so drought and hot summers seem a million miles away. I love bougainvillea, but no hope of keeping that alive here. We love our barbecue area too, although being outside year-round it requires quite a lot of upkeep. Good luck with all your seed growing and do keep in touch 🙂

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  4. What a lovely website – lovely photos too . . speaking of which, as garden/location photographer, I am always on the look out for beautiful small gardens to photograph . . is this something you might consider?

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  5. Just found you..not sure how..just fell in…then picked myself up and signed in…Interesting to see you garden in two places too..I sit in small apartment garden in Gent Belgium amongst my pots each summer then to New Zealand the following one to garden with abandon and trust Nature will have surprises for me at my beach house..Enjoyed your latest and archival posts …adds little freshness to my jaded and fading lists go blog reading

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Well, I am delighted you stumbled upon me in the almighty blogosphere. It’s a wonder anyone does. We love Gent, in fact most places in Belgium, and have visited a few times. Do you overlook one of the canals by any chance? The differences between Gent and New Zealand must be pretty extreme, but what a super contrast…and summer in two hemispheres! Please keep in touch now that you’ve found me 🙂

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  6. Have only just discovered your web site and are absolutely intrigued. As we live in Broadstairs will try and come to see your garden next weekend
    Celia and Bill

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  7. ‘Frustrated’, my dear freshest-cut friend, I must say, from all of my recent observiant splendors throughout your posts, you sir, cannot be that which you ever so modestly name yourself. Possibly moreso appropriately named: ‘Expertised’, ‘Seasoned’, ‘Eloquent’, or ‘ENVIED’ gardener perhaps?! *wink* Such beautiful collections, and the knowledge you hold in just the miniscule scapes you’ve shared have delighted me.
    Thank you for sharing and please keep in touch! I would be most delighted to keep to date with any and all the postings of new additions to your gorgeous gardens.
    Xoxo!
    Envious Cass

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  8. I’m lucky to have learned about flowers and gardening on my knees beside my father and maternal grandma, Mama. My first flower words were ‘ellow waygum’, I’m told. Nobody knows what it was except it was a yellow one! Great post!

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  9. Hi
    I have just come across your website and i really love it. It is so informative, the images are fabulous (you should be a professional photographer!) and the planting is great. I see you mention Declan Buckley as an inspiration and i can see why. I have worked with Declan before on a project where i currently work in central London (i am a Landscaper Designer) and he has a very good and different plant knowledge which is terribly exciting. Like you, my partner and I have a small central London garden which is crammed with goodies of all sorts. I just cannot get another plant in – well that is what i thought until i saw your lovely coastal garden so, i may be off to the plant nursery again!!! On that note, can you recommend any very good central London nurseries as they are like hens teeth? I find that i use a lot of the same plants for my garden as access and indeed inspiration is lacking in central London.
    Not wishing to appear forward but, if ever you are passing Camberwell (SE5 8QF) then come and have a cup of tea with us and we can share gardening talk/experiences. It would be lovely to meet you.
    Best wishes
    Bradley Viljoen

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi Bradley. Thanks for your lovely comments. Declan is great and we had a lot of fun working on the garden design together – without him it would have ended up being a lot less ambitious. This is why I think it’s a good idea to get someone else’s perspective. I was landscape designer once, but felt too rusty to tackle it on my own just then. I think nowadays I might be brave enough. Our London garden is full to bursting at the moment – I don’t know when to stop – but apart from scaffolding looks as good as it ever has. May is a flattering month! Sadly, I have to admit that the only plants I buy in London are from the RHS shows in spring and autumn (in Westminster) and from the GROW show, which is on Hampstead Heath in June. That’s a cracking event if you can make it with some top nurseries: Crug Farm plants, Special Plants Nursery etc. It’s a bit of a schlep from Camberwell but a nice day out in a nice part of town. Most plants I buy when visiting gardens, or more and more by mail order as I have so little time. Would be great to meet up – drop me a line to the frustratedgardener@gmail.com and then I’ll have your contact details when an opportunity presents itself. Meanwhile thanks so much for dropping by the blog and good luck with your own garden – I’d love to see some photos. Dan

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  10. Hi Dan, Could I please ask where you found the inset barbeque for your coastal garden? I am trying to design and build something similar, but cannot find such a thing for sale anywhere. My desperate searching of google images for an inset/worktop bbq led me to your splendid blog which I am now enjoying thoroughly. Many thanks, Martin

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    1. Thank you Martin. I am really chuffed you managed to track my blog down. My barbecue came from Fire Magic in the UK http://www.fire-magic.co.uk/. It is nearly 8 years old and still going strong. Not a blemish on the steel and only a tiny bit of wear inside. Have found it easy, although not cheap, to obtain replacement parts and covers. Would highly recommend, although other brands are available! Dan

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  11. I too inherited my love of gardens from my grandfather. Despite spending my life as a teacher, I have always interfered passionately with other people’s gardens as well as trying to keep my own going, although the fugit of tempus makes the physical part more difficult these days! I visited your Broadstairs garden when it was open, and loved it, especially for the ideas it gave me about small space gardening. Still involved in a local (U3A) garden group and in the town team ‘Brush up Broadstairs’ endeavour.
    Currently plagued by vine weevils, especially their effects on my beloved Primulas and Heucheras. Any tips?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Vine weevils, ughhh! They are very tricky to keep under control. Main defence is to pick of the adults under the cover of darkness through the summer months. It’s tricky at first but you soon get to know where they’ll be hiding. I haven’t had much success with Provado, which is a nasty chemical anyway. The other answer is not to grow plants they like to eat (advice I wouldn’t take!) which is quite a sacrifice. If you have pots that are contaminated with the little white grubs then make sure it goes in the bin and not on the compost heap!

      I do hope you will come and visit again next year June. Please say Hi and let me know how your battle with the weevils is going!

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  12. Thanks so much for following as well…It’s a bit daunting when one is very much a rookie, as well as fairly technically challenged…So impressed with the quality of the material in so many blogs, and also heartened by how welcoming and supportive fellow bloggers are… Hope to be in touch again : )

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  13. Dan and Alex,

    Have seen your Daily Mail spread, and the NGS website. How wonderful of you to open your Broadstairs garden for charity. Grateful if you could confirm which two days in August. Cheers! John. .

    Liked by 1 person

  14. Thanks so much for your splendid photos of Chelsea 2016 – the best I’ve seen anywhere, so much appreciated by those of us who can’t get there!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Well, that’s most kind of you to say Val. Happily, I think I have some even better photos to come after another day at the show! Fortunately I have especially sharp elbows which help get me to the front of the crowd 😉

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  15. I found your blog as I was looking for details about Gernaiums palmatum and maderense, and your detailed note told me everything I could possibly wish to know. Thank you for following my blog – I am now following yours, which is way more advanced than anything I can produce!

    Liked by 1 person

  16. Hi. Fantastic blog – especially the photos and the bits about the gardens in Saltwood, Kent, where I live. I thought the information about Archdeacon Croft and his gardener William Acomb particularly interesting and I was wondering where you found it? Thanks!

    Liked by 1 person

  17. Hello Dan, I love the photos, and the blog posts are brief. I too have a blog and have had a lot of views but really want to know how to connect with them! It is such a lot of work and if you can help me in any way I would be most grateful.

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  18. Hello Dan. Where did you buy the Lyonothamnus floribundas asplenifolius because I can only find one supplier and it is only about 18 inches tall; I understand it is a slow grower and want a more mature one. Thanks

    Liked by 1 person

  19. Hi Dan. Met Andrew Montgomery, at Stowting Hill House for the Ngs last month, at the meeting of South East Gardens opening this year, and mentioned you and your blog. Great reading what youve done and are acheiving here in Thanet. Im Head Gardener at the Michael Yoakley Homes, on the St Peters Road, next door to the QEQM Hospital. We are opening up are grounds for the very first time this year on July 14 / 21, would love to see you and have a chat. We are 2.5 acres in size, with extensive lawns, spring summer bedding, shrubs , perennial borders, trees and shrubs. We garden the old fashioned way, and recreate the old fashioned victorian style of gardening of whish i am passionate about. We grow as much as we can on site, in our glasshouse and polytunnel, turning out 60,000 plants last year. If your passing would love to see you. Gardening is a love and a passion. Best Wishes. Paul Twyman.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Lovely to hear from you Paul. I will certainly be visiting on one of your open days, and perhaps in advance if we can arrange it. Andrew and I have hatched a plan for me to write some preview posts to help promote the new gardens opening in the area. I posted on Friday to introduce some of them and mentioned Yoakley House, which I am sure is going to very popular. I have been telling everyone I know in the area about it. I’m amazed how many people don’t know you are there. I’ve seen some photographs online and it looks wonderful. Very much the style of gardening I was brought up with and still enjoy. Dan

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  20. Just moved into Albion St Broadstairs, I need advice as I have never lived by the sea before. The garden is basically a neglected shell, I’d like to know how to create something green, colourful and interesting can you help? Happy to pay for good advice.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I can’t be far away, surely? It seems to have gone straight from winter to summer here in London. The parks were full of people sunbathing yesterday afternoon. We have to take the opportunity to bask when and where we can with our unpredictable weather. It’s expected to be 28°C here today ☀️ 😎

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi Rizqi. I have an oldish Canon 450D and 4 lenses – the one it came with, wide angle, zoom and macro. I don’t use it so often nowadays, finding my iPhone more convenient in many circumstances and often better at capturing colour accurately. Thank you for your kind words. Dan

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  21. Hi Dan. Just read your reply on your blog. Be lovely to see you at Micheal Yoakley Charity. Yes, so many people, do not no we exist. We are Thanets hidden gem. Busy stripping out are spring bedding, and prepairing for the summer bedding. Thanks for helping promote are garden days in july, we do hope the sun shines, and we get lots of garden lovers , to veiw these wonderful grounds. If youre passing do please call in to see us, the gardens come into there own end of may through to end of sept. All my best wishes, Paul.

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  22. I am not sure if this is the correct place to leave my comments on your blog about canary geraniums. I have never read a blog before never mind replied to one. So here goes. After visiting a magnificent tropical garden in a small suburban garden in Broadstone near Poole in Dorset, I decided to have a go. I am a Scot but have lived in England for many years although always in the North. I now feel I am living on Lanzarotealthough it is know as Broadstone , Dorset and am planting plants I have never heard of never mind grown before. Hence my interest in geranium madernes( sorry probably spelt it incorrectly). It is fabulous. It has taken over the bed it is in and is definitely in the wrong place but the pleasure it has brought us for breakfast, dinner and tea (you can tell by my language I am northern) is immense. Thank you for all your tips about not cutting off the red upporting leaves. They’ve gone. As to no frost and a bit of shade our plant was planted last back end and has had snow, frost, rain early in the spring and for the last 30 days no rain whatsoever. It bakes in sun all day long and we pour water on it at night. Here’s to the bills.
    We bought ours in chestnut nursery in Poole which has just got a new tropical nursery man. I am longing for the seeds to form and to see what happens next year. Thank you so much for your informative and enjoyable blog.

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  23. I thought you might be interested in taking a look at a study I just completed. I analysed annual flower sales across Europe and worked out which countries spend the most.

    Did you know that the Germans buy 62% more flowers than any other European country?

    I put together this map showing Europeans spending by country (see attached), and also published the full details here http://whatshed.co.uk/heres-much-europeans-spend-flowers/

    Liked by 1 person

    1. This is fascinating Richard. I am very surprised that the UK lag so much on potted flower sales, and wonder if that’s because succulents and foliage plants are so fashionable or if these are included in the numbers. I’ll admit I don’t buy as many flowering potted plants as I find them relatively hard work in comparison.

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  24. I’ve just recently discovered your great site, now a subscriber. Thank you! I garden in a yet more challenging US climate (hot hot summers, cold cold winters) but share your mild dahlia addiction.

    For Recommended Reading: do you already know the acerbic, grumpy, utterly readable Eleanor Perenyi? The book is Green Thoughts. An addictive bedtime read.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I know the book Chris, but I haven’t bought a copy yet. I have so many books to get through that I am trying not to add more, but I know this to be an absolute classic so I’ll succumb eventually!

      Thank you so much for subscribing. Great to have you along for the ride. Dan.

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  25. Hi Dan,

    Sorry for the delay, but am just following up on ourconversation about opening our garden for the NGS. Would you be able to put me in touch with the relevant person? We’re near Maidstone.

    Ali

    Liked by 1 person

  26. Dear Frustrated,
    I meant to let you know (over Thanksgiving) that I am thankful for you. I forgot to do so two weeks ago which I why I am doing it now. I am grateful for the time you spend writing your post, the lovely photos you add, and the positivity and encouragement you so freely give. I don’t have a garden yet (I have a huge piece of St. Augustine grass / developer “Special” that is typical here in Orlando,Fl). But in my attempt to take baby steps, I recently started seeds using 6 Jiffy Seed starters. And I have little “plant-lets” already showing. While I can’t attribute this to any skills you or I may possess, I can attribute my excitement over these new babies to you. Even with all of my babies still in their pods, and not yet in the ground, my aspirations have soared to owing a greenhouse, alas the hurricanes here make that notion a bit dodgy for me. So I will try to be patient as my sprouts gather nourishment and strength before I move them to cups and then onto the vast green yonder that is my “lawn” . Of course I’ve dug up various patches of the green carpet, hammered down 10″ (!) deep borders, laid cloth, etc. Aside from my baby sprouts, I have already planted a red lime “tree” (it’s rather small), a dwarf avocado, a few Plumeria cuttings that I “started” post Hurricane Irma, when a neighbors tree was uprooted leaving them to give away cuttings. And recently a friend gave me dozens of bromeliads (which will go on the shady side of the house) and a red Crepe Mertle as well. I also moved two potted hibiscus from the shady front porch to the back hoping more direct sun will make them happier, and moved the two potted ferns that were in the back to the shady front porch. A fair swap, I think. So more will be reveled as my sprouts (blue fescue, poppies, lineria reticulata (I adore this stuff’s bright colors), passion flower, sunflowers, blanket flower, and purple cone flower) decide whether or not they want to live in my back yard.
    Wish me luck!
    Lisa

    Liked by 1 person

  27. I live in Richmond, VA. I saw your article in the NYTimes. I have been drawn to the dead or dying world of plants. The photos of your arrangements are so beautiful. I’ve been making watercolors of plants around my home that I’m killing (because I don’t know what I’m doing) and weeds that I can’t kill. My husband died, who was the outdoor garden guy. I was so distressed by the chaos that I decided to “own” them by painting them. So my paintings are about chaos and balance. Can I share them with you? There’s 8 of them, and they are large botanical illustration-like, with Italian words referencing the emotion, hanging below them.Your love of the garden – both the growth and the death, attracted me. It’s the first time I saw anyone else addressing this idea. (Maybe there’s more artists like you out there?) well, I’ve been holding onto your article to write to you. Thank you for further inspiring me.

    Liked by 1 person

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