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Archives for October 9, 2016

White House Kitchen Garden Gets UVA-Led Facelift

University of Virginia News Release:

CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va., Oct. 7, 2016 — Early this summer, a team of faculty members and students in the University of Virginia School of Architecture landed the kind of client that many architects only dream about: the first lady of the United States.

With her husband’s term drawing to a close, Michelle Obama has been building the legacy of her “Let’s Move!” initiative fighting childhood obesity and promoting healthier lifestyles. Through a collaborative agreement with UVA and the National Park Service, the first lady commissioned UVA landscape architecture professor Elizabeth K. Meyer to lead a team of faculty members and students in designing a communal table and gathering space for the White House Kitchen Garden, which the first lady created in 2009 to encourage national conversations around health and wellness.

The team traveled to the White House on Wednesday for a ceremony unveiling its additions, including an arbor marking a new threshold from the South Lawn and a path to a bluestone terrace where gardeners and guests can gather around the new tables and benches the team designed.

“I want to thank all of the students and faculty at the University of Virginia School of Architecture who did such an incredible job designing the new arbor as well as the gathering area,” Michelle Obama told the assembled crowd on Wednesday. “It really is incredible and you should be very proud of the work that you have done.”

During the Obamas’ time in the White House, the kitchen garden has become a focal point for the first lady’s efforts promoting wellness and nutrition and has welcomed numerous guests, ranging from elementary school groups to visiting dignitaries. Meyer and her team were tasked with providing garden spaces and structures, including a communal table, to support the garden’s mission of cultivating community as well as plants.

“The first lady was interested in the garden not just as a place to produce food, but as a social space where children and adults can gather to learn something about the relationships between gardening, food and their own health and well-being,” Meyer said.

Meyer, director of UVA’s new Center for Cultural Landscapes, has years of experience studying and working on some of Washington’s most prominent landmarks. She is one of seven presidential appointees to the U.S. Commission of Fine Arts, an independent federal agency advising the government on the design of landmarks, memorials, new or renovated public buildings and landscapes concerning federal interests in Washington. Previously, Meyer has also served as an adviser for design competitions held by The Trust for the National Mall, written about memorials within D.C.’s monumental core and taught two design studios focused on the socio-ecological reinvigoration of the Mall’s cultural landscape.

After receiving the call from the National Park Service on behalf of the first lady’s office, Meyer pulled together a team including landscape architecture department chair Julie Bargmann; landscape architecture program director Nancy Takahashi; urban and environmental planning lecturer Tanya Denckla Cobb, a national expert on local food systems; and fabrication facilities manager Melissa Goldman. The team also included six undergraduate and graduate students: architecture students Joshua Aronson, Owen Weinstein and Stephen Grotz and landscape architecture students Anna Cai, Scott Shinton and Mary McCall.

“To have our students working on a project of this stature was really momentous,” Bargmann said. “It was a rare opportunity for them, and they really stepped up.”

Over the summer, the team logged hundreds of hours designing improvements for the garden, speaking weekly with the first lady’s “Let’s Move!” staff and the National Park Service liaisons to the White House, building prototypes and conducting two site visits at the White House to test their designs. Students worked collaboratively sharing their design thinking expertise in site planning, landscape design, design detailing and fabrication.

“We started with what was already a very successfully established garden, and our goal was to give it a sense of place and permanence,” Takahashi said.

The team presented three design concepts to the client in June. The final design emerged from architecture graduate student Owen Weinstein’s concept, which proposed that every element of their design reflect the ideal of “e pluribus unum” – out of many, one.

“We used many different woods and different structural systems, including structures that combine steel and wood, which have different structural properties but come together to create something much stronger,” Meyer said. “We sensed that the first lady’s staff really liked the idea, both for its aesthetic as well as its political and social associations.”

The team created a new garden threshold and gathering space with custom-designed tables, benches and arbors. Continuing the “e pluribus unum” theme, the laminated wood structures – made with a combination of steel and wood – used a wide variety of American wood.

“The different materials come together and become stronger and more beautiful in the process, which seemed to us quite a nice metaphor,” Weinstein said. “We used wood from throughout the United States, so that you have a sampling of American woods with really tremendous variety in grain, tone and texture, all lined up next to each other to become this beautiful assembly.”

The garden now includes wood from sites like Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello, James Madison’s Montpelier, James Monroe’s home at Ash Lawn-Highland, and Martin Luther King’s birthplace in Atlanta. Other wood came from a heritage Osage orange tree on an Albemarle County farm that dates to the time when Meriwether Lewis and William Clark gave Jefferson seeds and seedlings collected during their cross-country expedition. The Osage orange tree, native to Texas, Arkansas and Oklahoma, was frequently used to create agricultural hedgerows across the Midwest.

“Each piece has so many really interesting historical and geographical stories attached to it,” Meyer said.

The new furniture was custom-built by Roger Sherry, a 1998 School of Architecture graduate who now works as a landscape architect and master builder in Albemarle County. After graduate school, Sherry worked on a cultural landscape report for the Petersburg National Battlefield, a cooperative project between the National Park Service and UVA. Sherry’s firm, Plank Road Studios, has designed and built numerous projects for significant historical properties along the East Coast. The UVA students provided Sherry with full-scale prototypes of their designs, which he used to refine and build the benches, tables and arbor unveiled Wednesday.

Aronson, McCall and Weinstein, as well as Goldman and Takahashi, assisted Sherry in the fabrication process. In addition, Goldman used the School of Architecture’s 3-D laser printers to etch the botanical and common names of the legacy woods into one of the benches, offering garden visitors a prompt to ask questions about the broad geographic and cultural origins of the woods.

“I think that what the students came up with, and what Roger put together, is just genius,” Bargmann said. “We wanted to reframe this garden as part of the first lady’s legacy to the White House, and to do so in a simple, understated way that was respectful of the site and recognized its status as an important symbol for our country.”

The team also prepared a short report with illustrated diagrams documenting the history of food cultivation and kitchen gardens at the White House and the evolution of White House gardening through various administrations. Anna Cai, a 2016 graduate of the landscape architecture program, researched and wrote the report, advised by Denckla Cobb and Meyer.

“From a pedagogical point of view, this was an incredible opportunity for our students to understand the cultural and social connotations of what they design and build,” Meyer said. “It was a very good lesson in appreciating the power of ideas behind design projects.”

Presenting their designs to the first lady’s staff each week gave students valuable experience in working with clients and addressing all of the details that must be taken care of during the design process.

“We went through several iterations developing the concept, the details and the details within the details,” Meyer said. “That is what the design process is all about, and I think it was so helpful for our students.”

For the students and faculty, the project was also an opportunity to contribute to the design of one of the country’s most famed and enduring landscapes, the White House Grounds with the President’s Park. It was, as Michelle Obama put it on Wednesday, “a labor of absolute love.”

“I take great pride in knowing that this little garden will live on as a symbol of the hopes that we all hold of growing a healthier nation for our children,” Obama said on Wednesday. “I am hopeful that future first families will cherish this garden like we have.”

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Knoxville Garden Club show blends floral designs and fine art at Knoxville Museum of Art

By Susan Alexander of the Knoxville News Sentinel

The Knoxville Garden Club will pair floral designs with fine art when it presents Master Works: Art from Nature’s Bounty at the Knoxville Museum of Art Tuesday and Wednesday, Oct. 11 and 12. The show is free and open to the public from 1 to 5 p.m. Tuesday and 10 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. Wednesday.

Flower arrangements created by designers from across the country will be on display in a variety of classes. Some of the floral designs will draw inspiration from art in the museum’s Higher Ground exhibit. Some will be “couture designs” staged on a live female model’s torso. Some will be botanical jewelry and embellished hand mirrors. In all, about 60 design entries are expected.

There will be examples of plant specimens on display, from single stems of roses to single branches of trees. There will also be 20 photographs on exhibit depicting plants and landscapes. A conservation exhibit on weed control will also be featured.

A Garden Club of America Flower Show sets standards of artistic and horticultural excellence, broadens knowledge of horticulture, floral design, conservation, photography and other related areas, and shares the beauty of a show with club members and with the public.

The Knoxville Garden Club presents the show every other year. This is the third consecutive show at the museum, says chairperson Melynda Whetsel.

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Garden = eyesore no more

PITTSBURGH — Paula Vietmeier’s garden is snugged among several farms on about one acre in rural Washington County, but it looks nothing like its neighbors.

She and her husband have taken a one-story, cinder-block building on an overgrown patch of land and transformed it into an Italianate villa, complete with fountain and formal plantings in the front driveway, and lush rear gardens. It was chosen as the winner of the large garden, summer category of the Great Gardens Contest, which is sponsored by the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette and Pittsburgh Botanic Garden.

The couple originally bought the former cabinet shop to store Rob Vietmeier’s classic car collection. But his wife saw its potential to be much more when she stepped onto the roof. On a clear day, its panoramic vistas include the tallest buildings downtown. On the Fourth of July, they can see six fireworks displays.

She made up her mind that day to build on top of the existing building, leaving the first floor for up to a dozen cars and the second for the family home. And she made plans for the overgrown backyard.

“I immediately had visions of a woodland garden,” she said.

The couple moved into a trailer on the property, and after two years of construction, they had a new home. Then she turned to the garden. A 100-foot swath of shady slope was covered with briers, poison ivy and saplings, not to mention the two storage trailers that needed to be removed. She cleared the slope and put down landscape fabric, then added boulders for dimension.

“In 2006, I started to bring in lots of my perennials to start filling the sparse landscape,” she wrote in her contest entry.

Among the hostas she planted are “Sum and Substance,” “Praying Hands” and ‘Aphrodite.’ She also used ferns, adding in ostrich, ladyfern and maidenhair, a collection of astilbes and lots of ground covers such as creeping Jenny, lamium, ajuga, sweet William and creeping thyme.

She has created a visual tapestry of both texture and color. Over the years, she has divided the plants over and over again, filling in the 30-foot-wide bed. Each spring, she buys several flats of “Angel Wing” begonias. They add a spark of color, carry the eye down the expansive bed and tie the garden together.

Vietmeier has had some failures along the way. When heavy rains turned part of the slope into a waterfall and washed her plants away, she installed a dry riverbed that is both functional and attractive. She’s also had deer issues, although dogs Tessa and Hanna help keep them at bay.

She’s had no formal training in landscaping, but she has a good eye and a green thumb. The long garden bed is filled to the brim with lush plants. She said the space no longer requires lots of maintenance or mulch because the plants have taken over.

She has carefully chosen garden ornaments and placed them throughout. Bird houses scattered about are home to a variety of species. Large containers are placed around the yard and huge hanging baskets dangle from trees. A tiny fairy garden in a large bowl lives in a gazebo.

In one corner, against a stucco wall, is a large Norfolk Island pine that she rescued from the trash. It now is quite large and overwinters with her husband’s cars.

She said her husband would rather have cement than garden, but it’s clear he’s proud of her creation. Each year, they have a party where their friends can admire his cars and her garden.

“My husband and friends call it ‘Paulaville,’  ” she said, “I love that.”

A visit to Paulaville is a lesson to visitors: How to turn an eyesore into a showstopper.

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The good brown stuff: landscape designer Xanthe White dishes the dirt on soil

Landscape designer Xanthe White says good gardens start from the soil up.

I visit Xanthe White’s Mt Roskill home on a soggy spring day, but Auckland’s relentless rain has done nothing to dampen the wild prettiness of her garden, which is exactly what one would hope of one of New Zealand’s most celebrated landscape designers.

Bold splashes of floral colour daub an otherwise exuberant greenness, lush with texture from plants, trees and leaves of all shapes and sizes, grounded by various organic surfaces in earthy hues.

A winding path overhung with branches and studded with volcanic rock leads up a steepish bank. It’s muddy at present but promises enchanting discoveries at every turn for children with imagination and grownups with an eye for understated detail.

Top New Zealand landscape designer Xanthe White believes Kiwis have a unique connection to their environment.

“It’s a gardeny garden,” says White, who loves the mountainside aspect, the birds (an unseen tui lets off a peal of liquid trills as we step onto the lawn). Her two children, Jacob, 8, and Sophie, 7, have their own spots for a homemade water feature and treehouse and collect insects from the rock walls to keep carefully in jars.

Nor has the wet weather dampened White’s quiet enthusiasm for her passions, chief of which right now – the importance of soil – forms the entire basis of her new book The Good Dirt.

* Five myths about organic gardening
* Beginner’s guide to guerilla gardening
* The scientific reasons that gardeners are nicer than other people

Was it a hard sell, pitching a book about dirt to her publishers?

“It’s funny, because when I first wanted to write it I felt quite certain that everybody else would think it was a really good idea as well,” laughs White.

“I guess dirt’s not very sexy, but in some ways that helped me write the book, because I couldn’t just present it in the way I saw it, and realising I actually had to persuade other people to see it the way I did, to work backwards with it so that people could see dirt in the context of the landscape and gardens that they’re making.”

“I’m always looking at what I’m getting out of the soil, and the different ways you respond to it, and the different processes that are happening in it.”

The result is an accessible guide to the impact that soil – properly understood and treated – can have on gardens and the wider environment, and has all the makings of a New Zealand classic.

“Soil could become a really long complicated subject, but to have a good garden, you don’t need to know all the scientific and geological stuff,” says White.

“So really I’ve just looked at soil types by particle size – from clay, which is really fine, to fertile soils, which are the easiest for growing in, then to sand then to gravel which is quite a bit bigger… because actually the relationship between soil and water, soil and organic matter, is affected by the density of the soil, so that’s kind of the most important thing you need to understand.”

“In lots of ways this is just a book about how to garden, it’s not a soil specialty book. It’s my opinion, with 20 years of experience in garden maintenance and landscape design, on how to garden. And my opinion is that if you want to be a good gardener, you need to think about how dirt works.

“I mean, how do you garden? You dig a hole in the dirt, you put a seed in the dirt, it’s all about the dirt, and yet all the books, all the information, starts above ground. And all the questions are, “What’s that plant? How’s it going to grow? How do I prune it? Where do I put it?’

“And to be honest once you know what’s going on underneath, you’re actually going to work the rest out pretty quickly.”

And it’s an issue that’s far bigger than just better gardens.

“In terms of resources, dirt is equal in essential value as water,” says White.

“While at the moment we live in pretty plentiful times with lots of fertile ground to take from, you only have to look at parts of the world that humans have been occupying for long periods of time to start to see what you end up with when your soil reserves become salinated, eroded and depleted.

“While we are starting to wake up, we’re still a bit blinkered at how massive the soil loss is that has happened in New Zealand over the last decades. You can see it when you look down from the windows of an airplane. A lot of our water pollution is related to soil loss. It’s all part of the same system. One centimetre a year is the fastest that we can form a new topsoil and yet metres will slip away in a single rainstorm.”

White says a love of nature was always a strong part of her family’s culture growing up, and it’s something she in turn has passed on to Jacob and Sophie, “though they’ve tailored it to their own characters.”

“My father was a guide at Aorangi (Mount Cook) prior to having a family and my mother was a traveller and writer, so our holidays and weekends were spent in the bush or the hills. We did a lot of tramping and camping. We lived in Seattle in my early school years and there too we would head to the American countryside, and as we travelled our way back to New Zealand we trekked in the Himalayas.

“I feel clumsier walking on a concrete pavement than I do on a hillside or running over rocks.”

Her love of gardening came later, “perhaps more as a part of trying to fill the gaps or the cracks and crevices of the city with a bit more wild.”

Her first job, at 19, was working in a garden centre.

“My boyfriend at the time was a waif-like hairdresser and muso and he had to sell the idea to the manager that I could beat him in an arm wrestle so would be able to handle the work.”

When she realised that gardening – and later landscaping – would be a career, rather than just a part-time job, she came up against the same stereotypes. “It was pretty unusual to be a girl working in the trades and it was hard to get work doing landscaping rather than gardening.

“I ended up starting my own business because I went through the entire landscape section of the white pages trying to get a trial or a job and they all told me it would be too hard for me. Even as my own boss it was still sometimes challenging being on site. Lots of the builders wouldn’t talk directly to me and the guys who were working with me would be given all the information.

“We made it work though. That time on the jobs was invaluable and I learnt so much about process and how to get things built. You can have all the wonderful ideas in the world but if you don’t know how to get things built they are just like clouds and float away.”

White says some of her most significant projects are from time spent abroad – in London, Japan and Singapore, work that “allowed me to change the context within which I view our work here. The value of our natural ecology and where other things like food and flowers have a place within that. It’s also given me access to a community of designers who are looking at gardens in a range of ways. The friendships and conversations are so important to me as a designer.”

And while she’s won numerous awards including silver gilt and silver medals at the RHS Chelsea Flower Show, White is endearingly hesitant to ring her own bell.

“I find listing awards really strange. Some of my best pieces of work, that I think are far more interesting and beautiful, have received little acknowledgement and others which I think are more imperfect or too obvious have been really well received.

“It’s like music – pop songs grab us and take us immediately but then drive us crazy after a while, while some songs that might be less accessible become better and better with every listen.

“I did a garden in Japan that wasn’t given much attention by the judges, but I think it’s one of the best temporary pieces I’ve done. There was a Japanese man who came to the garden every day and sat there. He looked very serious and I wasn’t sure what he thought. On the last day I was there he said, ‘This is the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen, I’ve been to gardens all over the world and I love them but I have never before wanted to not leave one. When I sit here I remember being a child and I feel completely free again. Thank you,’ and he left.

“To me a moment like this, a connection with someone in a such a real way has more value than a hundred awards. We should work to make people’s lives better and happier, to keep thought alive and make connections. That’s where the real pleasure is. The actual awards I find a little bit embarrassing but maybe that’s a New Zealand thing.’

Her studio on Karangahape Road houses a team of six, and White juggles time spent there with site days, “where I’lI check in on projects and meet new clients,” and time spent with her two budding nature lovers.

Husband Chris Dunn is a history teacher and e-learning director at Auckland Grammar, and while his work roles have less flexibility than White’s, they’ve nailed a healthy balance of work, play and family life that includes both White’s and Dunn’s parents.

“We share the responsibilities of home and work life as it suits the family, and I realise that that’s not how it works in all households but its been great for us. So it’s not really me doing two roles, it’s lots of us doing the parenting and us all having space to have our own lives too.

“The children are also with me a lot while I work, be it out on site or in the studio. It’s good for children to know what you do as long as it’s not disruptive to other people. I don’t think children need to be in a child-tailored environment all the time. It’s good for them to get a sense of the real world.”

And this real world is obviously rubbing off on Jacob and Sophie.

“Jacob had a moment this morning of incredible excitement when I gave him a leaf that had scale insects under their custom built shells and ants farming aphids. He’s the insect and lizard expert in our garden. He’s built a stagnant water feature in the garden that the tuis love bathing in, and went through a period of deep affection towards slaters for a while.

“He came back from a weekend away at Nana’s recently and was so excited to have bought two large cockroaches back with him. He was in tears over my insistence they were not moving in with us, and in the end we decided we would give them as a present to my mum because she would be more understanding. She received them with much grace and put them in to live with the lizards they’ve been breeding. He’s had large centipedes attach themselves to the end of his fingers and some nasty bites from the odd spider but thankfully we don’t live in Australia.

“Sophie almost always plants flowers when we garden and she loves writing and words and dreaming. She loves being in the studio and being in that creative community. We could walk and talk for hours together. I see in her a determination which is terrifyingly familiar.”

 – Sunday Magazine

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First Lady Michelle Obama is going all-out to preserve White House garden

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October horticulture tips

Finally, the summer of 2016 is just about over! With cooler temperatures and fall weather just around the corner now is a great time to get back out in the yard and do some gardening. Here is a list of horticulture tips for October.


• You can continue to replant or establish cool-season lawns like fescue.

• The mowing height for fescue should be lowered to approximately 2 ½ inches for fall and winter cuttings.

• Mow and neatly edge warm-season lawns before killing frost.


• Plant cool-season annuals like pansies, ornamental cabbage or kale, snapdragons and dusty miller.

• Begin planting spring-flowering bulbs like tulips, hyacinths, crocus and daffodils.

• Peonies, daylilies and other spring-flowering perennials should be divided or planted now.

• Many perennials can be planted at this time and the selection is quite nice.

• Plant container-grown trees and shrubs this month.

• Check and treat houseplants for insect pest before bringing them indoors and repot root bound plants.

Fruits and Vegetables

• Dig sweet potatoes and harvest pumpkins and winter squash.

• Remove green fruit from tomato plants when frost threatens.

• There is still time to plant radishes and mustard in the fall garden.

• Remove all debris from the garden to prevent overwintering of various garden pests.

For more fall gardening tips contact your local OSU Extension Office.

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RIDEOUT: Fall gardening tips for the landscape, garden

Winter is quickly approaching, so here are a few tips to put your landscape and garden to bed for the season and be prepared for next spring.

I often get questions regarding leaves used for mulch. Its fine to put a few leaves around shrubs and over dormant perennials, however, be careful not to apply too many. Applying leaves to a depth greater than two inches may cause some problems. A shallow layer, two inches or less, should not pose a problem, but deeper layers of leaves tend to suffocate the plant’s root system and inhibit water movement into the soil. So is bagging leaves the only answer? Not at all. Fallen leaves mixed with freshly mowed grass make an excellent addition to the compost pile. The leaves are high in carbon so if added alone they will be slow to be digested by the microbes in the compost pile. However, the green grass tends to be high in nitrogen, so mixing dry leaves and freshly mowed grass will give the composting microbes a well-balanced diet.

As we prepare to put our landscape to sleep this fall, we should also not neglect our lawn mower and other power equipment that has served us so well over the summer. Start off by running the gas out of the tank, disconnect the spark plug wire and clean any accumulated grass from under the mower. Then move the mower to a clean, dry place for storage.

This is also a great time to change the oil and check and change air filters as needed. Why not go ahead and have the blade sharpened and any other repairs or maintenance taken care of now instead of waiting until next spring? When these activities are put off until spring, there is often a long line at the shop or hardware store. In the hustle and bustle of the holiday season, it’s somewhat rewarding to run an errand and not have to wait in long lines.

Many perennials that grow during the summer will not overwinter well under Kentucky conditions. Among some of the more popular of these are canna, gladiolus, tuberous begonia, dahlia and caladium. If the winter is unseasonably mild, some of these may overwinter, especially canna and gladiolus. However, if the winter is harsh, you can expect damage to most if not all of these plants.

To overwinter these perennials, they must be lifted from the soil and stored in a dry, non-freezing location. Wait to dig until a hard frost has killed most of the foliage but dig before the ground is frozen. Under most conditions, November is an excellent time to dig. Use a shovel or garden fork to dig well below the underground bulb or root-digging too shallow may injure the plant and invite rot and decay during storage. Once lifted from the ground, shake off as much soil as possible but do not wash it off. It is important that the bulb or root stay as dry as possible. Trim off excess foliage to about 1 to 2 inches above where the plant was growing in soil but otherwise leave the bulbs or roots intact as mush as possible. It will be best to wait until spring to divide these structures. Allow these structures to dry for about a week before storage.

Once the underground structures are cleaned they should be placed in a container for storage. The container should not be air tight; a box or open plastic container will work well. The bulbs/roots should be placed in the container with some sort of dry packing material. Suitable packing material would include sand, peat moss, vermiculite, shredded newspaper, straw, styrofoam pellets, etc. Be aware that some of these materials may be attractive to rodents. Completely cover the overwintering structures and place the container in a cool, non-freezing area, preferably 40-45 F.  Replanting can occur in early May, and the structures can be divided by cutting or breaking apart at that time.

Chrysanthemums have put on a great display this fall. Once they have finished flowering, cut them back to one or two inches above the soil surface. This will help root development and make plants send out lots of vigorous sprouts in the spring. Plants for potting can be propagated from the side sprouts that will develop next May.

For more information on landscape and garden tips, give me a call at the Henderson County Extension office; we are happy to help!

If you have questions about controlling your home and garden pests, give us a call at the Henderson County Extension Office; we are happy to help. Contact Andy Rideout at the Henderson County Extension Office at, at 270-826-8387 or stop by the Henderson County Cooperative Extension Service at 3341 Zion Road, Henderson, KY for more information.

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