Transplanting a Decades-Old Crape Myrtle Tree

Author: Meera, May 15, 2018

Friends said it was a bad idea. The tree was too large, too old, and too unwieldy to dig up and transport from my daughter’s property to mine. The crape myrtle  would not survive, they told me, because its large root would need to be severely cut. Also, without a crane or other lifting device, three of us would be struggling to deal with such a heavy tree.

 

 

 

The bark of this crape myrtle tree is lovely in winter

The bark of this crape myrtle tree is lovely in winter

 

 

 

 

I won’t say moving the tree  was easy. It had been standing for 28 years next to my daughter’s house, but she wanted to make way for new landscaping. When the family decided to part with the tree, they called on a family friend who worked as an arborist. He would do the cutting and digging of the tree.

 

Crape myrtles (of the genus, lagerstoemia) are available as shrubs and trees and are lovely in bloom with showy paniculate flowers in pink, fuchsia, red, or lavender. They are one of the trees that make little-to-no pollen (great for allergy sufferers). Light pruning during the growing season can produce a second bloom. Much beloved in the deep south, these trees remain stately and beautiful for up to fifty years.

 

My daughter’s tree arrived at the farmette in mid-October strapped onto our friend’s truck. The roots had been cut away. There were no fine root hairs or stems left–just bare wood. Ditto for the tree canopy–just a few hefty branch stubs. I wondered if our efforts would prove futile.

 

Hubby and I prepared a large planting hole just off from the patio. We added amendments to the clay soil and drove in stakes to keep the tree stable for a year or more until it had sufficiently developed roots. I added root hormone to the soil and watered deeply the first day and several times that week.

 

 

 

A leafy green canopy is developing on the limbs of the transplanted tree

A leafy green canopy is developing on the limbs of the transplanted tree

 

 

 

The winter rains came. I watched, waited, and wondered if there would ever be sprouting of any kind on the woody ends where branches had been amputated. Despite a canopy, the tree’s trunk, a beautiful, gray-green wood, afforded a kind of beauty to the austere winter garden. Before spring, I scraped a fingernail on the back of the trunk and discovered the wood was not dried out but as green and moist as a young sapling.

 

A spell of warm weather and the buzzing of bees in early spring drew my attention upward. Our tree had sprouted a flurry of bronze-green leaves. Pink blooms will likely appear in June or July.

 

I’m happy now that we went to all the trouble of bringing that tree onto the farmette for transplanting. We’ll have lovely pink blooms over the remaining summers of my life thanks to the crape myrtle tree being so long-lived.

 

 

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If you enjoy reading about gardening and farming topics, check out my Henny Penny Farmette series of mysteries: A BEELINE TO MURDER, THE MURDER OF A QUEEN BEE, and A HIVE OF HOMICIDES (Kensington Publishing).

 

Each book is chocked full of tips for gardening, keeping bees and chickens, and growing heirloom fruits and vegetables. There are also plenty of delicious recipes to try. Find these books on Amazon.com, Barnes & Noble.com, Walmart.com and other online retailers or purchase at traditional bookstores everywhere.–Meera Lester

 

 

 

My debut novel, the first in a series of three cozy mysteries set on the Henny Penny Farmette

Novel #1 in the Henny Penny Farmette series

 

 

 

Novel #2 in the Henny Penny Farmette series, available September 27, 2016

Novel #2

 

 

 

This new novel is available Sept. 26, 2017

Novel #3

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Heirloom corn shares space with vegetables and fruits in my potager garden

Several patches of heirloom corn shares space with vegetables and fruits in my potager garden

 

 

I’ve long been enamored of the traditional French jardin potager or ornamental, vegetable kitchen garden. The kitchen garden has its roots the medieval jardin de curé, described by garden author Jean-Paul Collaert in Kitchen Gardens of France, by Louisa James (Thames and Hudson 1999), as a “garden of lines . . . not dabs of color” as opposed to the English cottage garden and the traditional vicarage garden.

 

Most potagers grow the traditional four types of plants: vegetables, fruit, flowers, and herbs. What I love is the revival of interest worldwide in heirloom fruits and vegetables, which are perfectly suited for a kitchen garden. On my farmette, I grow plants almost exclusively from heirloom seed.

 

 

Corn and cucumber share space with tomatoes

Corn, cucumber, and tomatoes share ground space; onions, garden peas, and eggplants thrive in boxes, table grapes spill over the fence

 

 

The medieval jardin de curé has been characterized by scholars as having plants in distinct beds laid out along formal lines (the Latin cross was popular). Gardening plots were defined by ge0metric shapes that could be quite complex (for example, the historic knot garden). Plants included herbs and flowers (many for medicinal uses), vegetables, berries, fruit trees, and ornamental trees and shrubs. This type of garden could be rustic or highly formal and could be found throughout France, from small farms and cloisters to country estates.

 

 

Cosmos, corn, pomegranate, and grapes

Cosmos, corn, pomegranate, and grapes work as disparate companions in the potager

 

 

Our farmette garden has characteristics of the jardin potager and also the jardin de curé, although it could not be  described as a true representation of either.

 

When we first moved to the farmette, we created and followed a master plan. The acreage  follows a large rectangular-shape perimeter with our small house situated in the middle. Behind the house, a lawn is lined with gravel pathways. The pathways are dotted with boxes of herbs and flowers, mint, and berries. Between the boxes, the apricot, cherry, apple, fig, and persimmon trees are flourishing and producing bountiful crops.

 

Lavender, lemon, yarrow blur the lines of the fence and walkway

Lavender, lemon, and yarrow blur the lines of the fence and walkway

 

In chaotic disorder, the beds of French perfume lavender and Spanish lavender that we planted have taken over one side of the property (much to the delight our honeybees), effectively erasing any lines that might have been obvious in an early layout. Interspersed with the lavender beds are iris, hydrangea, roses, lemon trees.  Where the lavender turns a corner, bamboo creates a privacy screen, and then the fruit and flower-lined gravel path continues to the chicken house.

 

We moved dirt from the back half of the property and built a retaining wall along an L-shaped gravel path leading to a vegetable garden. Both sides of the path are lined with trees–apricot, pear, and pomegranate. On one side under a massive elm is a bed containing white geraniums and a variety of rose bushes.

 

 

A potager can include space for a lawn and  boxes of blooms

A potager can include space for a lawn and raised beds, enclosed beds, or boxes of blooming flowers

 

 

We are following a plan for our own vision of a potager and, although I wish it had more of the lines of the medieval jardin de curé, our garden has the appearance of gentle disorder while being a prolific producer, in short, an edible landscape.

 

I love this living tableau. The appearance of the garden and grounds changes with the cycles of the seasons. Also ever-changing are the types of wildlife and songbirds frequenting the fountains and foraging on the fruits. There’s always something new to discover.

 

 

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If you enjoy reading about farmette topics, gardening, and keeping chickens and honeybees, check out my series of cozy mysteries from Kensington Publishing in New York. Click on the link.

 

 

Check out my newest mystery (Sept. 2017)

http://tinyurl.com/ya5vhhpm

A HIVE OF HOMICIDES

 

 

 

 

 

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Revisions Done

Author: Meera, January 12, 2017

 

 

The third novel in the Henny Penny Farmette series is due out in September 2017

The third novel in the Henny Penny Farmette series is due out in September 2017

 

I’ve enjoyed working on my latest offering in the Henny Penny Farmette series of cozy mysteries–A Hive of Homicides. I’m at the stage where a few revisions have been requested, and I’ve complied.

 

This story has to be one of my favorites involving the sleuthing powers of ex-cop turned farmer Abigail Mackenzie and her coterie of friends in the small Northern California town of Las Flores.

 

In this book, Abby becomes embroiled in the mystery surrounding the death of the husband of her good friend and truffle maker Paola Varela. Paola is a young Argentine woman who is married to the heir of a local winery. The couple have just renewed their wedding vows after seven years of marriage. Locals must now move past this man’s reputation as a philanderer.

 

With as many twists and turns as a summer grapevine, the mystery strikes close to Abby’s heart when another murder occurs and signs point to Abby and Paola becoming the murderer’s next victims. Since this novel arcs the entire series, reading the first two novels before this one will give you a good basis for knowing Abby’s character and the small town her friends . . . and enemies populate.

 

 

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Winter Solstice Day

Author: Meera, December 21, 2016

It’s that time of the year when we mark the shortest day of the year, the beginning of winter, and the return of the light. I like to think of it as a day when I decide what I do and don’t want to take with me into the coming New Year.

 

 

Cold winter night with moon's wan light

The moon casts its cold light over the farmette through trees hanging onto their leaves.

 

 

 

We’ve had a run of cold nights with temperatures in the upper 20 degrees Fahrenheit. But the light will soon return and warm the Earth. Late January-early February marks the beginning of bare-root season. My work now includes pruning and spraying and clearing out the old to make way for rebirth and renewal.

 

 

 

 

Among the plants that renew are the fruit trees.  The pruned branches, garden clippings, and old vines are being recycled into compost for next spring’s garden. Come late spring, I’ll have trees with gorgeous canopies and tons of fruit to make into jam.

 

 

 

This DIY birdhouse is crafted from a repurposed fence board. Not all birds will take up residence in a house, but many will.

This DIY birdhouse is crafted from a repurposed fence board. Not all birds will take up residence in a house, but many will.

 

 

 

Garlic and onions are growing now and will through the winter months, thanks to our mild Mediterranean climate. But there is so much cleanup of the property that needs doing, I can only hope to start that today.

 

 

I’m putting out seed balls for the birds as well as refilling feeders and suet holders. Easy-to-find food keeps our feathered songsters around through spring when they start their families. For directions on making a birdhouse for your garden, check out https://hobbyreads.wordpress.com/category/crafts.

 

 

 

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Enjoy reading about farming topics? Check out my cozy mysteries–A BEELINE TO MURDER and also THE MURDER OF A QUEEN BEE  (both in the Henny Penny Farmette series from Kensington Publishing).

 

 

JOIN THE CHRISTMAS EVE FUN–Read a short excerpt from my newest book, THE MURDER OF A QUEEN BEE and check out blogger Brooke Bumgardner’s interview of me at http://www.brookeblogs.com

 

My farmette and bee-based novels are chocked full of recipes, farming tips, chicken and beekeeping tips, sayings and, of course, a charming cozy mystery. For more info, click on the links under the pictures.

 

The books are available through online retailers such as Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Target, BAM, Kobo Books, and Walmart as well as from traditional bookstores everywhere.

 

 

The first novel in the Henny Penny Farmette series

See, http://tinyurl.com/hxy3s8q

 

This debut novel launched the Henny Penny Farmette series of mysteries and sold out its first press run. It’s now available in mass market paperback and other formats.

 

 

 

 

The second cozy  mystery in the Henny Penny Farmette series, available Sept. 29, 2016

See, http://tinyurl.com/h4kou4g

 

NEWLY RELEASED! This, the second cozy mystery in the Henny Penny Farmette series, is garnering great reviews from readers and industry publications. Get your copy while you can. It’s sure to sell out like novel #1.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Today’s blog will be a short one–I’m tracking down the foxes that showed up on my front porch after snagging a chicken from my neighbor’s hen house.  The foxes stood on my front porch late last night. My hubby saw them and thought they were cats. He checked on our chickens to make sure they were safe and called me.

 

 

I am house-sitting and pet-sitting for a relative who lives a mile away. This means I am running back and forth between the two properties, while trying to blog, do farming chores, and clean.

 

 

 

But today is special because it is the official release day for THE MURDER OF A QUEEN BEE, the second cozy mystery in my Henny Penny Farmette series. So I’m taking an extra hour or two here and there to blog and post publicity.

 

 

The second cozy  mystery in the Henny Penny Farmette series, available Sept. 29, 2016

Enter the Goodreads giveaway to win a copy of Lester’s newest offering

 

 

I’m thrilled that already the book is garnering praise from industry publications like Kirkus Reviews, Publisher’s Weekly, and Booklist. Additionally, it is creating buzz in the cozy mystery and new fiction blogosphere.

 

 

Goodreads has a giveaway for three autographed, hardbound copies of THE MURDER OF A QUEEN BEE. The giveaway drawing runs from midnight September 29 through midnight August 6. See more at https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/28439447-the-murder-of-a-queen-bee

 

 

Happy birthday/release day to my second novel, and good luck everyone entering the drawing. I hope you like ex-cop turned farmette owner Abigail Mackenzie’s newest adventure involving the murder of her herbalist friend Fiona and Fiona’s links to a New Age cult.

 

 

 

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Blue tomatoes are an heirloom variety and among other old favorites you'll find at the farmers' markets

Blue tomatoes are an heirloom variety among other old favorites you’ll find at the farmers’ markets

 

 

Nothing beats eating farm-to-table fresh vegetables, fruits, and berries. But what if you don’t have time or the room to grow wholesome, healthy foods yourself?

 

 

Our California farmers’ markets offer a dazzling variety of fruits, vegetables, berries, and nuts. These items are trucked or otherwise brought into our communities from local area farms and orchards.

 

 

 

Peaches are perfect this month

Peaches are perfect this month

 

 

 

Many fruits and vegetables are certified organic. That means the farmers and growers are registered and in compliance with state and local regulations designed to protect consumers and ensure food quality and safety.
Annually, California produces nearly half of the nation’s fruits, nuts, and vegetables, according to the California Department of Food and Agriculture. See http://www.cdfa.ca.gov/Statistics/ 

 

 

 

The San Joaquin Valley of central California has earned the moniker of the World’s Food Basket since its crops account for 12.8 percent of all agricultural products from California. https://www.cdfa.ca.gov/Statistics/PDFs/2015Report.pdf

 

 

 

A white bloom in spring heralds the formation of succulent strawberries

California produces 88% of the nation’s strawberries

 

 

 

In fact, California leads the nation in production of figs, dates, plums, melons, nectarines, peaches (Clingstone and Freestone), pears (Bartlett), persimmons, raspberries, and apricots.

 

 

 

Apricots are beginning to turn from green to the reddish orange color of ripeness

California apricots are available May through July

 

 

In the Golden State, you can find dozens of types of fruits offered at 350 farmers’ markets (some open all year long).

 

 

 

Ripe apricots can hang on the tree only so long before they drop

Ripe Blenheim apricots

 

 

 

From the Pacific Coast Farmer’s Market Association, the following list (recapped below) reveals when these fruits are in season in California.

 

 

Apples: January-February; August-December

Apricots: May-July

Blackberries: June-September

Blueberries: May-August

Boysenberries: June-August

Cantaloupe: May-September

Cherries: April-June

Citrus: January-March; November-December

Dates: September-December

Figs: September-November

Grapes: August-November

Kiwi: January-April; October-December

Melons: June-September

Nectarines:May-September

Peaches: May-September

Pears: September-December

Persimmons: September-November

Plums: May-October

Pluots: May-September

Pomegranates: September-November

Prunes: May-September

Raspberries: May-October

Strawberries: February-November

Watermelon: July-September

 

 

*          *          *

 

 

If you enjoy reading about farmette topics (including gardening, beekeeping, and delicious recipes), check out my cozy mysteries A BEELINE TO MURDER and also THE MURDER OF A QUEEN BEE in the Henny Penny Farmette series (from Kensington Publishing).

 

 

 

Both area available through online retailers such as Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Walmart as well as from traditional bookstores everywhere.

 

 

The first novel in the Henny Penny Farmette series

Now available in mass market paperback, this novel launched the Henny Penny Farmette series of mysteries

 

 

 

 

The second cozy  mystery in the Henny Penny Farmette series, available Sept. 29, 2016

The second cozy mystery in the Henny Penny Farmette series, available Sept. 29, 2016

 

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My farmette looks like some kind of ghostly haunt after sunset. That’s because of all the bed linen I’ve draped over citrus trees and frost-sensitive plants. On moonless nights, the backyard looks like a gathering of ghosts illuminated by the warming lamp in hanging in the hen house.

 

 

Orange and tangerine trees draped against freezing temperatures

Orange and tangerine trees draped with bed linen to protect them against freezing temperatures

 

 

That heat lamp splays light across the back of the property. I didn’t realize right away that the claw marks in the dirt near the chicken run are from a large raccoon who, thanks to the light, now knows exactly where to find the chickens and has come prowling over the last few nights. My locks and the buried wire fencing of the chicken run are keeping the hens safe.

 

 

For the last few mornings, the water in the Italian fountain (the motor is turned off now) has been frozen and doesn’t thaw until mid-morning. Still, I see wild birds bathing in it. And we have plenty of wild birds now, thanks to twenty pounds of bird seed we’ve poured into feeders around the property.

 

 

I’m looking forward to the weather changing again in a couple of days–rain is on the way. The last storm brought a new blooms to the roses and caused the daffodils and some summer tulips to push up green shoots.

 

 

Since some of my trees perform better with a good winter chilling, I feel obliged to appreciate the cold. Besides, I can stay inside and bake, read books and seed catalogs, and write on my third cozy mystery novel.

 

 

Book and its author

Book (left) and its author (right)

If you enjoy reading about farmette life, you might like the farmette milieu featured in A Beeline to Murder, the first book in my Henny Penny Farmette series of cozy mysteries. See, http://tinyurl.com/p8d6owd

 

 

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Happy Thanksgiving!

Author: Meera, November 26, 2015

Up at seven o’clock today meant I caught the sunrise while letting the chickens out of the hen house to forage around the farmette in frigid temperatures.

 

 

Basted turkey is ready to slice

Basted turkey is ready to slice

 

 

I got a good head start on prepping the turkey today. I popped it into the oven by 7:30 a.m. before starting the other side dishes like cornbread stuffing, butternut squash with cranberries and cinnamon-spiced nuts, and the other vegetable and appetizers.

 

 

The pumpkin pie is made. I only have to make homemade whipped cream for a dollop on top. Last night, I whipped out two versions of cranberry relish–the traditional stove-top relish and the other made with fresh cranberries.

 

 

Cubes of butternut squash with dried cranberries and cinnamon-spiced almonds

Cubes of butternut squash with dried cranberries and cinnamon-spiced almonds and just a hint of honey for a little sweetness

 

 

 

The fresh cranberry relish was exceedingly easy to make–two small pippin apples and an orange right from my backyard tree, plus three cups of freshly washed cranberries. I washed the apple and orange, cored the apple and removed the seeds from the orange. Then I just pulsed everything together in a food processor, poured it all into a glass jar and put it in the fridge.

 

 

So all the food goes into the car around lunchtime. We’ll serve it at my daughter’s home where the rest of our family will gather together to give thanks for our blessings. We’ll pray for those far from home and those without a home and the less fortunate on our planet.

 

 

Some have ordered my novel,  A BEELINE TO MURDER, for me to sign. I’ll give them jars of lavender honey as a thank you.

 

 

God bless you, my readers. Happy Thanksgiving.

 

 

For more tips on farming and beekeeping, plus delicious recipes, check out my newest mystery–A BEELINE TO MURDER. See, http://tinyurl.com/p8d6owd

 

 

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Northern California Nut Trees in a Nutshell

Author: Meera, June 19, 2015

Take a trip into Northern California’s great Central Valley and you’ll notice how the landscape becomes dotted with nut tree farms along with vegetable fields, fruit tree orchards, and dairy farms. While Texas dominates the pecan tree market, California’s big three nut crops are almonds, walnuts, and pistachios. With nut prices on the increase, backyard gardeners might consider planting a tree or two if they have the space.

 

 

This backyard almond produces a bountiful crop

For it’s size, this almond in my neighbor’s yard produces an abundant annual crop

 

Some nut trees, such as almonds, require pollination assistance–a couple of different cultivars and honeybees will do the trick. For this reason, commercial almond growers pay beekeepers to bring their hives in to pollinate California’s early almond crop each year. Growing almonds is big business in California (it’s the third leading agricultural product in the state); the decline in honeybee populations is bound to affect this profitable crop.

 

The Central Valley has the perfect climate and growing conditions for almonds. It’s estimated that there are roughly 5,500 almond growers in the state. Many are commercial growers who capitalize on the rich, well-drained soil, and the hot summers and cool winters of Northern California. But California’s continuing drought is causing concern to almond growers since almonds require a lot of water. Backyard gardeners, too, must consider the water requirement of almonds before planting trees.

 

A newly formed almond on the tree looks like an unripe fuzzy peach because almonds are related to the peaches. Mature almond trees reach 20 to 30 feet tall. Some popular cultivars in zones 5 through 8 are Hall’s Hardy, Nonpareil, Peerless, and Mission. My neighbors have gorgeous, healthy almonds growing on their farmette.

 

 

Young Franquette walnut will provide shade and nuts for years to come

This young Franquette walnut will provide shade and nuts for years to come

 

 

The California Black Walnut and Persian Walnut (with cultivars of Franquette, Chandler, and Hartley) are valued for their stateliness, shade, bountiful crops, and longevity. Walnuts contain healthy nutrients. Cultivars of the English walnut are fast-growing and the nuts are thin-skinned and bountiful.

 

If a walnut is planted at the birth of an individual, and he lives 75 years, that walnut tree might could still be growing when the person breathes his last breath. The black walnut can reach 100 feet in height. The nuts have an thick outer hull that can blacken sidewalks and driveways with their stain; also, the tree also can be toxic to other plants.

 

In comparison to walnuts, filberts/hazelnuts are considered small trees (achieving heights of only 10 to 40 feet), they are often the nut tree of choice for backyard landscapes. DuChilly and Daviana are excellent pollinizers with Barcelona. Other cultivars are Bixby, Royal, and Hall’s Giant.

 

Pecan trees grow much larger than filberts, often towering 70 to 150 feet. Some cultivars include Major, Peruque, Stuart, and Colby. The cultivars of Wichita, Western Schley, and Cherokee are excellent pollinators for each other. Of all the nuts valued for their antioxidants, pecans rank the highest.

 

There is a pistachio tree growing a mile or so from my farmette. While pistachios love the Mediterranean climate of the Central Valley, in some places the trees perform better than in others. The nuts are highly valued by consumers. Growers have taken notice. Pioneer Gold, a varietal that’s been around since 1976, remains a popular choice. The trees are wind pollinated and require a male and female tree for a crop set.

 

If you have room in a backyard garden or on a farmette or field, consider planting one or more nut trees. You’ll be rewarded with shade and heart-healthy, nutritional snacks for years to come.

 

 

 

 

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Trying New Plants in the Garden

Author: Meera, March 24, 2015

While some people might like to stick to tried-and-true types of plants in their gardens, I’ve always enjoyed experimenting with botanical specimens that are new to me. Recently, I purchased two smoke trees–plants I’ve never before cultivated.

 

 

This tiny smoke tree will become a tall specimen in just a few years

This tiny Royal Purple smoke tree will become a tall specimen in just a few years

 

 

 

The smoke tree’s value is in its satiny leaves that are blue-green or deep purple. In addition to the gorgeous round leaves (so very Feng Shui), the plant has very tiny flowers that appear in summer along feathery inflorescences that, in the purple variety, are nearly the same color as the leaves. The blue-green smoke trees have tiny yellow flowers.

 

The great thing about this plant is is adaptability to poor soil. That includes even rocky soil. The downside is that the plant requires pruning to achieve a denser tree since it tends to be open branching. The blooms appear when the wood of the tree is three years old. My trees are small, however, one already has sprouted the feathery inflorescences.

 

The smoke tree adds drama to shrub borders and mass plantings because of its dark color. I’ve placed it amid fuschia geraniums, purple and lavender irises, citrus trees, and Abbaye de Cluny roses. I also planted climbing Sally Holmes, which will cover the front fence with 3 1/2-inch creamy white blooms and dense green foliage.

 

The smoke tree tends to grow eighteen to twenty feet and its lovely purple color does not fade, even in intense summer heat.  I look forward to many years of enjoyment, watching this tree take center stage in the long rectangular beds at the front of our farmette.

 

 

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