Anne Marie Van Nest
Anne Marie Van Nest: Gardening Expert
Anne Marie Van Nest has worked as a professional horticulturist for the last two decades. Most recently at the University of Texas at Austin in the Plant Resources Center (Herbarium). Formerly, she was an instructor at the Niagara Parks Botanical Gardens and School of Horticulture.

For over ten years, Anne Marie has worked as a contributing writer and horticultural editor for Canadian Gardening magazine. She is the author of Niagara in Bloom: The Gardens of the Niagara Parks Commission and for five years wrote a weekly gardening column for the St. Catharines Standard newspaper.

An honorary Toronto Master Gardener, Anne Marie is also a volunteer greenhouse manager for the Travis County Master Gardener Association in Austin, Texas.

Anne Marie has been a member of the Garden Writers Association for twenty years and currently is on the Executive Committee. She is a freelance garden writer and photographer, frequently traveling around the world visiting gardens and nurseries.

Anne Marie gardens at home in sunny, hot and often dry, Austin, Texas.
  • Best Rain Gauges
    Rain gauges are essential weather tools for professional and amateur meteorologists, but their usefulness goes far beyond weather buffs. Gardeners and farmers have an innate need to know how much rain has fallen from the skies in order to keep their plants and crops healthy. And there’s also those that are just plain curious about the amount of rain that falls. A simple rain gauge, sometimes called a pluviometer (in scientific terms from the Latin for rain and meter) or udometer (from the Latin for wet and meter) was first used by the ancient Greeks. Today these devices can be of three main designs: a single tube of 1-5” capacity, an inner cylinder that spills into a bigger outer reservoir when the inner one reaches capacity, or an unlimited self-tipping mechanism.

    No matter what the design, all must be placed level in an unobstructed location away from houses, trees, and garages with no overhead obstacles. Many are secured to a stand on the top of a fence so they don’t blow away during a big storm. Place rain gauges at a distance that is at least 2 x the height of nearby objects. For example, rain gauges should be 20 feet away from a 10-foot tree.

    Take rain gauge readings daily, preferably at the same time and empty the reservoir after reading. For many rain gauges, once the inner tube fills up with rain, then it automatically overflows into the larger reservoir. To measure the rain in the larger reservoir, empty the full inner tube, pour the water from larger reservoir into smaller tube and measure. Keep pouring out the inner tube when full and repeat the measuring. Calculate the total rainfall by adding the total rain poured into the inner tube + the initial amount.

    When measuring rain in some gauges, a curve will form on top of the water and may cause some confusion about the true reading. This is normal, and the measurement should be from the bottom of curve (or meniscus) for the most accurate result.

    If rain gauges are going to be used to measure the amount of melted snow in winter, check the durability of it to make sure it does withstand freezing temperatures. Some rain gauges recommend that the inner tube and funnel be removed for snow measuring. The snow is melted and decanted into the inner cylinder for a measurement.

    Rain gauges that are manually checked often are available in over-size models that are easier to read from a distance. Others have designs that magnify the numbers when water is in the cylinder.

    If squirrels are a problem chewing up plastic models, choose glass and brass ones.

    Watch for leaves, pine needles, spider webs and other debris that could distort rain readings inside the cylinder.

    Rain gauges are very useful features in the garden and can often be an attractive architectural accent, too.
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  • Best Hose Pots
    Tired of wrestling with an ugly snake’s nest of unwieldy garden hose? Does the sight of an unsightly garden hose connected to the faucet raise your blood pressure and bring about thoughts of vengeance for past tripping events? Hose pots are the solution! Designed to contain and control, these vessels are perfect to coil garden hoses within so hoses stay out of sight and away from foot traffic.

    Many hose pots are beautifully decorative and enhance the outdoor décor immensely. Made of steel, copper, terra cotta, or poly resin, these durable hose pots are a work of art specifically designed to hide an ugly garden hose and solve the eternal struggle of keeping it neat and contained. Many hose pots are made of copper that dulls over time to a beautiful patina finish - perfect to blend into the garden environment. Others have a patina finished added. Whatever the material, they are functional and attractive.

    Hose pots are available in several sizes to accommodate hoses up to 150 ft. Some even have discrete hose reels inside to help with the coiling process. Look for hose pots that are heavy (stable) enough to stay upright when reeling in the hose.

    There are several features that are important in a quality hose pot. Look for drains in the bottom of the pot to prevent stagnant water from sitting around the hose and breeding mosquitoes. A reinforced, non-abrasive side exit hole is handy for easy connection of the hose to the faucet. Lastly, a center post is very beneficial to help coil the hose in an orderly manner and avoid tangling.

    An architectural feature in the garden, hose pots perform a valuable service too!
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  • Best Books on Annuals
    A good book on annual plants (those that sprout, grow, flower and seed all in one growing season) and others that act the same is one that has information on a broad selection of plants. Expectations are high for a Best of the Best book. It has to include many more plants than could possibly be used in a residential garden and have all the required basic growing information (plant description, soil preferences, culture and sunlight rating) in addition to handy tips from the author. These extra tips can be valuable information and a good reference book is the culmination of many years of growing, research or observational experience possessed by the writer.

    Good reference books are not totally about “glowing praise.” A valuable reference book will mention the downfall of some plants, too. Good authors will include justified candid comments about the good or bad of annuals, biennials, or half-hardy perennials that will be important information for gardeners.

    Many good reference books have equally good images to accompany the quality text alongside. For books on annuals this is vitally important. A good visual picture of a plant through the seasons in leaf, flower, and seed (if appropriate) and a landscape picture to show the scale is essential for readers to judge whether that plant is a worthy consideration for their garden.
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  • Best Books on Trees and Shrubs
    What makes a good reference book on Trees and Shrubs?

    It is a book that has information on a broad selection of trees and shrubs. Many more plants than I can possibly use in my garden. The book also has to have all the required basic growing information (plant description, hardiness, soil preferences, and sunlight rating) in addition to handy tips that the author has observed. These extra tips can be valuable information like pruning instructions to encourage trees to grow with a good form (so important when young to set the framework for good strength at maturity). Also important when selecting a tree or shrubs for a garden are characteristics that differentiate one plant from another. When often only one tree will fit, it is important to get the perfect tree for a garden. A good reference book is the culmination of many years of growing, research, or observational experience possessed by the writer.

    Good reference books are not totally about “glowing praise”. A valuable reference book will mention the downfall of some plants, too. Good authors will include justified candid comments about trees and shrubs, good or bad, that will be important information for gardeners.

    Many good reference books have equally good images to accompany the quality text alongside. For books on shrubs, this is vitally important. A good visual picture of a shrub through the seasons and a landscape picture to show the scale is essential for readers to judge whether that plant is a worthy consideration for their garden.
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  • Best Books on Perennials
    What makes a good reference book on perennials?

    Personally, it is a book that has information on more plants than I can possibly use in my garden. I am a person that needs lots of choice when I make a plant selection decision. The book also has to have all the required basic growing information (plant description, hardiness, soil preferences, and sunlight rating) in addition to handy tips that the author has observed. These extra tips can be valuable information like pruning instructions to encourage the plants to rebloom or characteristics that differentiate one plant from another. A good reference book is the culmination of many years of growing, research, or observational experience possessed by the writer.

    Good reference books are not totally about “glowing praise.” A valuable reference book will mention the downfall of some plants too. Good authors will include justified candid comments about plants, good or bad that will be important information for readers.

    Many good reference books have equally good images to accompany the quality text alongside. For books on perennials this is vitally important. A good visual picture of a plant flower and a landscape picture to show the scale is essential for readers to judge whether that plant is a worthy consideration for their garden.
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  • Best Hose Nozzles
    The thumb only works well for a couple of seconds breaking up the stream of a hose before alternative methods are needed for longer use to rinse the car or water garden plants. There are plenty of hose end nozzles to consider for the job. To decide which one is best, consider what the hose nozzle will be asked to do. Useful for a multitude of situations, hose nozzles can blast water for concentrated deck cleaning, washing lawn chairs or adjusted to a gentle shower to water tender plant seedlings.

    Hose nozzles can be plastic, brass, aluminum, titanium, and yes, even stainless steel. Many have rubber “bumper” guards to protect the nozzles from the damage of unintentional driveway dropping accidents. Some have removable nozzle faceplates that allow easy debris cleaning and re-lubrication of moving parts.

    Whether a rotating turret with front or rear triggers, adjustable jet spray, or a fire hose style; garden hose nozzles offer many choices for controlling water. From watering containers of pansies to cleaning house siding or deck, rinsing cars or misting seedlings, there’s a nozzle and spray pattern for each task.

    Hose nozzles are available that rotate to change from jet, shower, flat spray, cone, shower, mist, blast, and more spray settings put water right where it is most needed. These hose nozzles with rotating turrets typically have from 3 to 10 spray settings.

    The other type of hose nozzle offers an adjustable jet spray with an infinite number of settings for a multitude of uses.

    Hose nozzles have to be leak-proof at the hose (even when the water flow is shut off and pressure builds), able to tolerate dropping on the driveway without breaking, and very importantly, won’t accidently spray water if dropped on the rear handle.

    Hose nozzles should also have a durable, easy to use, lock on feature that prevents hand fatigue when continuous flow is required. Holding down the trigger (whether front or back), should not be tiring, nor freeze fingers from un-insulated nozzles.

    Quality materials made with durable ingredients are essential for a long-lasting hose nozzle. Consider the benefits of rubber protection for nozzle heads made of plastic, brass, aluminum, or stainless steel for long-term durability.

    A molded, ergonomic handgrip with cushioned rubber insulation is essential for a hose nozzle to reduce hand fatigue.

    With so many choices of front trigger, rear trigger, spray patterns, lock-on feature, ergonomic grip and construction material; pick the hose nozzle with a design that best fits your needs, select quality materials, and then consider the best spray pattern fit. Choosing a hose nozzle is about more than just taking into account the price.
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  • Best Garden Stools and Kneelers
    If you find yourself letting the weeds grow to knee height because it’s easier to pull them, wonder if it is possible to hire a gardening-aid dog to fetch pruners and trowels, or secretly plan a raised bed garden; then a garden stool or kneeler bench is the ideal accompaniment. Garden seats and kneelers are very handy and reduce the stress and strain on ankles, knees, hips, and the back when doing tasks low to the ground.

    Some seats and kneelers also have the added function of lending support when rising from a kneeling or sitting position, too. Garden seats and kneelers are particularly helpful for people who have difficulty bending, those with varicose veins or arthritis, those that can’t stand for lengthy periods, or have weakness in their legs. Young or older, garden stools and kneelers also prevent sore knees from kneeling on hard surfaces and keep your clothes clean by avoiding soil and grass stains.

    No more kneeling, squatting, or stooping. Now gardening chores can be done with sitting ease. Some garden stools even have wheels to scoot along.

    Points to consider:

    - If possible, try out the kneeler/seat before you buy it. Some have width restrictions and all have weight maximums

    - Garden seats and kneelers must be sturdy! Some are more unstable than others. Look for ones with good handgrips and a wide base for extra stability

    - Always place stools and kneelers on flat, solid ground and test the stability before using. Hard surfaces such as garden paths, sidewalks, and drives are the most stable surfaces and the best places to use garden stools and kneelers

    - Most garden seats and kneelers are shipped folded flat and have to be assembled before using them

    - Be careful when getting up from the kneeling position if you have circulation problems (and your feet have gone asleep). Use the side supports for extra assistance

    - If the kneeling pad is only one-sided, use stickers to identify which way is up

    - Do not use the kneeler/seat as a stepladder
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  • Best Organizing Garden Seats
    What can be more welcomed than a comfortable place to sit upon in the garden while doing your work? Rest your weary muscles and take the strain off your legs, knees, and back with a garden seat that can be picked up or rolled around the garden with you. There’s no end to the benefits of having a garden seat nearby with lots of handy storage places for all these essentials-tools, a drink, your cell phone, seeds, string, and more!

    With tools and a drink nearby, these handy multi-purpose units offer both a convenient seat and secure place to stash your essential work items. Look for garden seats that are durable and sturdy, fast to clean, easy to maneuver and simple to store. Many offer convenient, secure places to store the tools.

    A real knee saver, garden seats are designed to be a comfortable height to weed, prune, or dig in the garden and also provide a boost when rising back up to standing height. Many wheeled types are also designed to sit and propel around the garden. Try them out to see if they are the right height for your purpose. Some innovative gardeners have even attached a towrope to their rolling garden seat and easily pull them from one spot to another. Garden seats naturally roll better on hard surfaces so consider where they will be used (lawn vs. patio vs. mulch path vs. driveway) when selecting which design works best for you.

    Whatever type of garden seat, all these selected provide a much appreciated resting spot or working area and plenty of places to store all those little items so essential for working in the garden.
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  • Best Garden Tote Bags
    It’s time to organize your gardening life! No more wandering and wondering where your keys, cell phone, pruners, _________ (fill in the blank) were left. No more lost hand tools in the garden. Garden totes are the answer! Portable, to carry all your indispensible smaller garden paraphernalia and also designed for numerous smaller sections to keep everything orderly for easy access. Of course, a big center compartment is essential for including all the other last minute “stuff” that gets tossed in too (such as sun screen lotion, insect repellent, portable radio, snacks, dog throw toys, and a paperback book).

    The ideal totes are large enough to have room to store a multitude of items (tools, pruners, bottled water, note pad, garden plans, cell phone, gloves, etc.) without being too heavy or cumbersome. Long, sturdy handles allow for easy picking up, swing over the shoulder action, and it’s off to the garden.

    The ultimate garden accessory, totes are essential in the garden, but also are very attractive to pick up and use for a neighborhood garden work party or even for a day at the beach.

    Other tote essentials qualities include reinforced seams, a thick sturdy handle, a material that resists soiling and wear. Many totes have elastic cord or securable pockets to make sure that tools stay put in the handy pouches.

    With all your hand tools nearby, garden totes save time and energy by reducing the number of trips back to the garage or garden shed for forgotten items. Now all the essential garden items are contained in one spot. Garden totes are a great way to get organized and stay organized.
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  • Best Garden Hats
    Garden hats announce to the world that the wearer loves the outdoors, cares about protection from the sun, and does it all with comfort and style. Whether in the garden with the crows or garden touring with the crowds; garden hats make a statement. Boonie or bucket, cowboy, safari, outback or baseball cap; there’s a hat style for every gardening mood (and some nicely suited just for garden lounging).

    Choosing a garden hat is more than just considering how it looks in the mirror. Style is one thing but there’s also wearability, comfort, function, and practicality.

    Garden hats can be made from hemp, raffia, nylon, paper, straw, palm, cotton, and many other materials. Each has specific characteristics of flexibility, UPF, durability, and ventilation.

    A hat for truly working in the garden should be washable, crushable, dirty finger print proof, compatible with mosquito repellent ingredients, have a wide, sun-blocking brim, and a chinstrap to stay put when the winds blow or pulling a wayward weed.

    The ability to stay on in the wind is an important criterion for a good garden hat. The adjustable chinstrap should hold securely in a strong breeze but not clamp down like a vice. Chinstraps also have to be well behaved when not in use. Chinstraps that are too heavy to sit patiently under the hat during calm days are just plain annoying. Some hat styles use the chin and back of the head strap to adjust the hat tightness for a better fit. By the way, using just the back of the head strap is great for holding down your hat in light breezes.

    Depending on the hat design and material, one size can fit many people if it is stretchy and flexible enough. For hats that are made in specific sizes, measure around the head where the hat would naturally sit. If a hat does end up too big, insert a length of foam weather stripping under the sweatband at the front and back for a better fit. Garden hats should fit well on the head and not hang down so low they obstruct vision. Hats should be held on by gravity and not be a painful vice on the forehead (creating a nasty red groove).

    Many people wear garden hats mostly to block the damaging UV rays. Hats with a wide brim (on all four sides) and tight weave are the best to block UV rays. Hats (and clothing) are rated for their sun protection factor. Called Ultraviolet Protection Factor (UPF), it is similar to the SPF rating in sunscreen but uses fabric in the testing, not human skin. UPF 50+ is the highest rating.

    Garden hats must be ventilated! All heads perspire (sweat, too) and hat wearers will be much more comfortable with a little air movement for evaporative cooling. A sweat wicking inner band doesn’t hurt either.

    Lastly, write your name and contact information using indelible ink on the inside of your cherished garden hats so that inadvertently lost ones can find their way back home. A good garden hat is like an old friend, better reunited than apart.
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  • Best Garden Hoses
    Who would have thought that picking a hose would have so many choices? What length should it be to get to that juniper in the far reaches of the yard? Should it be made of rubber, vinyl, or a combination? Is a reinforced hose needed to withstand high water pressures? Should it be kink-proof or ultra flexible to roll easily onto a hose reel? Finally, some hoses even come in designer colors!

    With so many choices, one of the easiest to make is the length. Most hoses are available in 50 ft. (15 m) or 75 ft. (23 m) lengths, but frequently 25 ft. (7.6 m) and 100 ft. (30 m) lengths are also available. The longer the hose, the lower the pressure at the end. The longer the hose, the heavier it is to move, too. A 75 ft. (23 m) hose weighs about 10 lbs. (4.5 kg) and 100 ft. (30 m) weighs 15 lbs. (6.8 kg). So stringing two 100 ft. (30 m) hoses together and going uphill with low water pressure probably won’t result in much water coming out of the end. Sometimes the hose diameter is variable, 5/8” (17 mm) is a common size, but 1/2” (12.5 mm) and ¾” (19 mm) are also available from some manufacturers. The larger the diameter, the greater the amount of water delivered.

    Psi (pounds per square inch) ratings generally range from 50 (3.5 kg/cm) to 600 (42 kg/cm) for garden hoses; the higher the psi, the stronger the hose. For a typical home that has water pressure of 50-60 psi, (4 kg/cm) a hose with 150 psi (10.5 kg/cm) should be adequate.

    Hoses are usually made of rubber, nylon, vinyl, or a combination of these materials. Many have multiple layers (7-ply like tires) to give them greater durability and burst strength. Often reinforced hoses bend without kinking, have greater burst strength, better durability, and a longer lifespan.

    Although many hoses are UV stabilized, they will all last longer if they are not left out in the sun. Also reduce pressure and drain hoses when not in use.

    When looking for a quality hose, consider the coupling. Are the washers sitting inside snuggly and have a good tight fit? Many couplings are made of solid brass and are crush-proof so there’s no detrimental effect of rolling over the end with a car tire as it snakes across the driveway.

    Be wary that most garden hoses are not intended for drinking (and often have a statement to this effect under the label). Use a white RV hose rated for drinking water if a hose is needed for human or pet water consumption. Do not drink out of garden hoses.

    Many of the newer hoses have added antimicrobial features to their hoses to reduce the growth of mold, bacteria, fungus and yeast inside the dark, damp hose. That’s another reason not to drink out of garden hoses.

    Tired of hoses that continually kink at the slightest provocation? Try the non-kinking (or at least kink-resistant) versions, but be prepared to contend with a heavier hose and in some cases, a tough time getting hoses to coil up - somewhat like a wrestling match with a boa constrictor. And cold weather makes the situation worse.

    If you are prone to stabbing your hoses with a garden fork while working in the garden bed, try a light green (or even bright yellow or red) hose for better visibility. Having these hoses will also avoid the nasty black hose marks on hands, legs, and pants where the hose beast left its mark.

    Finally, lifetime or multi-year warranties are a great security blanket if hoses happen to “spring a leak.”

    For a quality hose, look for kink proof, crack, or burst resistant, heavy-duty fittings and flexibility in the cold weather.
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  • Best Garden Hand Pruners
    It’s the same as asking if Ford is better than DaimlerChrysler or General Motors. Are Bypass prunes better than anvil or ratchet types? All of them will cut off a dead rose bloom. But not all of them will do it the same way. Anvil type pruners have one sharp blade and one fixed, non-cutting surface- the “anvil”. The sharp blade swings against the plant stem and with pressure cuts the stem. When anvil pruners get dull they tend to crush the stem instead of cutting it. Ratchet pruners use a gear type mechanism to multiply hand strength to make the pruning job easier. Often ratchet pruners are also anvil types. Bypass pruners cut like scissor with one sharpened blade passing another duller one. The bypass cutting action, using a properly adjusted and sharpened pruner will give a very clean cut. Many gardeners prefer the clean cut of a bypass pruner.

    And what is a secateur? It’s a French word dating back to 1881, derived from the Latin word secare meaning “to cut”. The British have adopted secateur as a term for hand pruners.

    So when choosing a great pair of secateurs (or pruners as well) additional considerations should include…

    * Comfort, size and weight in your hand
    * Pruner adaptation to provide extra cutting power?
    * Ease of dismantling for cleaning, sharpening and replacement parts
    * How long it holds its edge and stays tightened? Will the pruners make a clean cut without twisting and tearing?
    * Sap and rust resistance and the convenience of a wire cutting notch
    * Durability of handle coverings, springs, shock absorbing bumpers, and other parts
    * Strength of blade material to resist nicks from accidentally pruning wire or stones
    * Is it pocket or holster sized?
    * How easy is the locking mechanism to use? Can it be used one handed? Is it durability and secure? There’s nothing more frustrating than a pruner that won’t stay locked!
    * Can you find your pruners in the garden after you put them down?
    * Is it slim design for reaching tight areas? Perhaps two sizes of pruner are needed
    * Ergonomically designed to keep the hand in a comfortable neutral position to ease strain on wrists, arms and hands?
    * Left and right handed models (or ones that can be used by both)

    Know the size of your pruning job. Check the pruner branch diameter rating. Maybe loppers are a better choice instead of causing arm, wrist and pruner strain by cutting a branch too large for the pruner.
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  • Best Garden Trowels
    Gardener’s know when they have found their ideal trowel. It’s a similar feeling to that of a violinist stroking a Stradivarius. It just feels “right”, like it belongs in only your hands. A great trowel is evenly balanced (blade with the handle) and sits nicely so that the weight of it doesn’t feel heavy. A smaller blade will often have a smaller handle and be lighter weight for smaller hands. The handle has to feel comfortable and be well-formed to fit your hand (either turned hardwood or synthetic plastic material) or else nasty blisters will put a halt to work in the garden. Holding a well-designed and crafted trowel in hand should be an energizing feeling.

    When picking a great trowel, blade materials affect the amount of after work clean up and frequency of sharpening. Are they smooth, rust-proof and hold their edge?

    Does the trowel have shaped wooden handles (lacquered for protection from water) or a cushiony gel-filled, spongy, contoured plastic grip in a bright color?

    Can you safely stick the trowel handle into your back pocket while doing other jobs in the garden? Versatile trowels can be used in a dagger motion for bulb or transplant planting or in a scooping motion for soil moving. Then many trowels can be flipped over and the end used to tamp the soil.

    The trowel blade size should also be matched to the type of gardening job. Choose a narrower trowel (with depth markings) for bulb and transplant planting or a larger blade for big digging jobs or planting perennials. Pick a serrated edged trowel for weeding and opening fertilizer bags. Hmmm, a gardener needs more than one trowel? You bet.

    Many new trowels are ergonomically designed to keep the hand in a comfortable neutral position to ease digging strain on wrists, arms and hands. Some handles are angled to change accommodate a less stressing angle, other trowels have long angled tangs (necks) between the blade and handle to also address the wrist angle. This tang clearance also saves knuckles from being scraped!

    Lastly, many wooden handled trowels have metal ferrules on the handle. What’s a ferrule? It is from the Latin meaning “small iron bracelet”. This term is used to describe the circular clamp holding together fibers, wires or posts (like the metal ring at the end of a pencil to hold the eraser in place). For garden trowels, it is the metal ring securing the wooden handle to the metal tang. Often stainless or brass, good ferrules are deeply buried into the handle and glued into place.
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