Size Matters-A Rant


Spending each morning watering, watering to apply CPR to the garden until the precious rains return, gives time for the mind to wander. Today it wandered down a path not usually taken. Through the years it has been decided that it is better to dwell on the positive aspects of daily living, look for that silver lining, accentuate that which is good rather than dwell in the land of negativity. The blog posts are written, we hope, with that philosophy as well.


But today, with hose in hand as the sun illuminated the garden so enchantingly, giving the evergreen shrubbery a hard blast of water to dislodge and annoy the red spider mites that love to suck the life from conifers during times of drought, thoughts turned to the size of the many Chamaecyparis cultivars growing in the Fairegarden Click to read about them here-Chamaecyparis.


Standing there spraying the trio of C. pisifera ‘Boulevard’ that anchor one of the only shady spots in this garden, the size attained in eight years of growth is noted, with some puzzlement. It must be explained that the plants purchased are always the smallest size available, usually one gallon pots. That was the case with the three Boulevards. Buying such small specimens means that the mature size is of extreme importance with optimum spacing for best growth in mind. Knowing the correct identification and then doing research to obtain the height and width in addition to whatever information is given on the tag makes for proper placement decisions. We do our homework!

But. There has to be a but, doesn’t there? It seems that those size measurements are given with a caveat not discovered until recently, that being….wait for it…WITH PRUNING! What the???? Anything can be any size with pruning, she says with clenched teeth. Let us use for example the beautiful blue foliaged Boulevard. Height: eight feet. Width: two feet. Okay, being cautious if impulsive, the one gallon plants were placed three feet from the edge of the pathways so as not to have spreading branches hitting passersby in the face. The height stated sounded good for the three Japanese maple seedlings given by neighbors Mae and Mickey planted in the same bed to be able to rise above the shrubs over time with some limbing up. At present, Boulevard is topping out at twelve feet before even ten years in the ground and branches have been severed to allow free movement on the pathways. There has been some pruning and even then the shrubs are outgrowing their britches.


The importance of knowing the mature size of trees and shrubs cannot be stressed enough. Take these two Arizona Cypresses, Cupressus arizonica growing near the arbor. These are replacements for two such trees that were purchased when we lived in Texas as Christmas trees flanking either side of the fireplace with lower limbs removed for a twinkling lollipop effect during the holidays. Kept in the five gallon pots, the trees were brought as part of the Noah’s Ark of plants in the move to Tennessee and planted on either side of the steps leading up to the knot garden. When the property next door was purchased, one was moved to the center of the daylily hill for some vertical interest. The one left on the slope died. The one moved to the daylily hill soon grew upwards into the branches of the nearby multitrunk siver maple. Even with hard pruning, the cypress was growing too large and had to be cut down. Poor planning on my part resulted in the loss of a perfectly good tree due to not properly researching about size. We thought we could just keep pruning it back. But the blue foliage was missed and two more were bought a few years ago and planted to provide a privacy screen to block the house next door on the eastern side of our yard. The mature stated height is forty feet tall, width is fifteen feet. There are named cultivars that are shorter. These may or may not have names, but there should be room for the stated size. Unless that size is some sort of code that translates to *With Pruning*.


Here is a C. obtusa ‘Crippsii’ newly planted at the corner of our property next to the power pole. The given dimensions are fifteen feet high by six feet in diameter. Three feet from the pole should cover it nicely, for the first fifteen feet anyway. We have two other Crippsii and have found them to be as advertised sizewise. So no complaints about these. Yet.


Various trees and large shrubs ring our yard. We want to pretend that we are out in the country with lots of acreage instead of near the center of downtown among fifty plus year old modest homes on smallish lots. Even with our three lots, the view from windows, decks and seating areas is wished to be free of roofs, windows and gasp, people. It’s not that we have anything against our neighbors, we simply enjoy nature. And privacy. Arborvitae, Thuja occidentalis ‘Emerald’ has been used in several of these screening hedges, including along the back property line of the house next door lots that form the back wall of the veggie strip garden. Cheap, fast growing and evergreen with the perfect size of fifteen feet tall by four feet wide to not take up much floor space in the garden, these were barely two feet tall when planted in 2002. Next year the dreadful satellite dish will be invisible! The house behind us already is out of sight, out of mind. They seem to be following directions well, sizewise.


So far, this is just piddling stuff really. Now we come to the meat of the rant, the thorn in my side, the pebble in my slogger, the C. pisifera ‘Gold Mop’ hedge. Forming the front wall of the veggie bed, the lovely frost cloth covered end visible in the photo, a row of eight one gallon shrubs were planted as a lower hedge to the dark green taller arborvitae. On the front side of this row of evergreens are my prized deciduous azaleas and the Hamamelis ‘Diane’, all properly spaced to accommodate the specified size of five feet by five feet of the Gold Mops. What has happened in eight years is aggravating. The Chamaecyparis are enveloping the azaleas and blocking the pathway of the veggie bed. We won’t even talk about what it is trying to do to Diane. Pruners, loppers and saws have attacked the branches resulting in the loss of the natural cone shape on the front side. The veggie side has been hand pruned up to now and is a neat and flat golden living fence, with regular pruning. A large electric hedge trimmer has been purchased to keep it in bounds. Irony is involved since the Gold Mops replace a Japanese privet hedge that needed twice a year trimming with, you guessed it, an electric hedge trimmer. It was too much work for me, and a ladder was involved, so over time the one hundred feet of privet was cut to the ground and the roots dug up. It was an ordeal to say the least. The replacement shrubs were selected for the criteria of not needing to be trimmed. Or so we thought until they grew so large. Various nursery personnel were questioned about the size issue of the Gold Mops. That is how we came to discover the words never mentioned in the literature, *with pruning*.


While we are complaining, please direct your attention to the poor shot of the number six Gold Mop. With no forethought and sheer luck this shrub is planted in the middle of the space. It seems that Six began life as a C. pisifera, which means pea like for the cones are small, round and greenish, although for most Chamaecyparis species it denotes thread like foliage. It is hoped that the photo above illustrates that the foliage of Six has changed midstream to fern leaf, usually described as obtusa, meaning blunt tipped.


Not only has the form changed, which is odd if acceptable, but Six has aspirations to touch the sun. The Peegee hydrangea standard is six feet tall. The other Gold Mops are between eight and nine feet tall, slightly over the expected five feet and still growing. Six is right now standing at fifteen to sixteen feet and is still a strapping, growing child. We are not sure what his final measurement will be, but the saw is at the ready if things get out of hand concerning the diameter. Final, ultimate height should not be an issue, she says optimistically.


We are feeling calmer about the whole thing now. Writing about it, like speaking to a friend over the phone when we are upset has that effect sometimes. We understand that the sizes of things are based on averages, results can vary, just like in humans. Having trees and shrubs grow larger than expected can be dealt with, even if that dealing means cutting down healthy specimens. It is part of gardening. The beautiful backlit leaf of Physocarpus opulifolius ‘Summerwine’, a shrub that has grown larger than the tag described, brings us back to garden gladness. It gets pruned right after blooming to keep it the size we want. Not a problem, we like to prune. Within reason.


In case you were wondering about the opening shot, it was taken at Mouse Creek Nursery recently. The plant is Colocasia gigantea ‘Thailand Giant’. Owner and friend Ruth kindly snapped this picture of me standing next to it for some perspective. And smiling.

Frances

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29 Responses to Size Matters-A Rant

  1. gardeningasylum says:

    Dear Frances, it’s such a battle – selecting the perfect backdrops and accents for our gardens. In another house “dwarf” mugho pines would stay under 6 feet only with severe pruning twice a year – possibly mislabeled, or I missed the “with pruning” tag – that’s an amazingly weaselly phrase. I’d never mind the bigness of ‘Thailand Giant’ though…

    Hi Cyndy, thanks for weighing in here. I believe this may be a problem for many gardeners, not having the proper size at maturity info. Buying shrubs and trees in small pots, tiny but with the potential to become gigantic, is a leap of faith for sure. The giant elephant ear is amazing. Ruth has it is a very large container that will have to be moved mechanically into a heated greenhouse for the winter. It was only recently planted, by the way. πŸ™‚
    Frances

  2. sequoiagardens says:

    I would say the bottom-line is ‘never trust a conifer’ And even more: never trust a eucalyptus – I am contemplating financial ruin in order to get rid of the mess from several specimens, the tallest over 100 foot and just behind the house…
    Even your rants tend to be amusing and informative, Frances!

    HA Jack, that is a good phrase to garden by! I know about the mess of eucalyptus from our time living in southern California. We ended up having it taken out, sharing the cost with our next door neighbor whose property received the brunt of the falling debris. I appreciate your take on the rant, that is the goal for all the posts. πŸ™‚
    Frances

  3. Randy says:

    Frances,
    That Colocasia gigantea actually has bigger leaves than my Zebrine Banana which is putting out 3 ft plus leaves right now. Lovely start to the week huh?

    Hi Randy, thanks for stopping by. It is a good way to start the week. Everytime I look at that Colocasia it brings a smile. What a specimen. And Ruth has the room in her many greenhouses to keep it safe over the winter. I love those leaves! πŸ™‚
    Frances

  4. Les says:

    I have found that ‘Gold Mops’ in particular does not read tags, poorly researched or otherwise. Unfortunately it also does not respond well to pruning. I think the main problem is in the wholesale trade, where ‘Gold Mops’ cuttings are taken from many different sources, all over the map of height and width.

    Dear Les, where were you when I was buying these guys is what I would like to know!!! LOL I could have used your wisdom then! These gold mops were bought at a very small local nursery. The owner is friends with a collector who used to run a larger nursery down the interstate and has retired. They were $8 each and he gave me a couple that were straggly looking for free. I never would have guess at the growth rate. The taller one that has changed DNA might have to be removed. The two on each side will fill in. The veggie bed is being threatened and my husband might have to be drafted into hedge trimming at some point. The trimmer is so heavy I can hardly lift it, let alone wield it.
    Frances

  5. Eileen says:

    Frances, how right you are, eventual size is always a concern when planting. My daughter and I just had a coversation yesterday about the placement and eventual size of her new boxwoods. It is so hard to believe how big something is going to be in just a few years.

    Eileen

    Hi Eileen, thanks for joining the conversation. Boxwoods are another shrub that needs careful research and placement. Although they take well to pruning, I have a short hedge of them around the knot garden, getting the dwarf cultivar is key to healthy living, human and botanical. πŸ™‚
    Frances

  6. Lisa at Greenbow says:

    My DB always fusses at me because the shrubs etc I plant never stay in the bounds I tell him they are meant to be. Of course I am only repeating what I have read. I have never seen the “with pruning” in those descriptions. Hmmmmm Thank you for giving me the tip that is to make them the correct size. Your green fence is beautiful to me. I hate that you need an electic trimmer to keep them in shape. What a bother.

    Hi Lisa, thanks. Tell DB that it is not your fault! The magic words *with pruning* have never been seen in writing. It is a secret kept to themselves by nurserymen. That way you have to hire them for a maintenance contract. As for the trimming, we could have kept the stupid ten foot tall privet hedge with much less cost and bother, but the chamys are much more attractive. I am nearing the point physically of not being able to do the trimming, especially if it involves holding the machine above my head. Ladders are out of the question.
    Frances

  7. Donna says:

    I usually test unfamiliar plants for a few years before sending them to clients. I am lucky to work with a good friend and grower. And you are very much correct. THEY LIE ON TAGS. I am not as nice as you in your rant. I have noted this phenomenon to anyone who would lend an ear. Even some that I plant at home, getting them as leftovers, go on to be monsters in the garden. I am tired of trimming the cotoneaster for one. What they need to say on the tag, besides height and width is ‘fast grower’. Then homeowners can beware.

    Hi Donna, thanks for joining this rant! I am so naive, never thinking for a minute that the tags are not truthful! Why do they do it, I wonder? It so misleads the innocent gardening public who do not have savvy designers to help them. When I say something to nursery people, they look at me like, so what. Just prune them. Sigh. Fast growers, along with *short lived* (a rant for another day!) would be good information to have when selecting just the right specimen.
    Frances

  8. Hi Frances! Boy, do I hear you here! Partly my error, partly the tag’s, I’ve got some messed up areas in my own garden, due to this same issue. Frustrating!
    Wow…that Colocasia is amazing!

    Hi Kylee, thanks for chiming in! This seems to be a common complaint. I am sorry it is not an isolated one with the Gold Mops. Lazy marketeers! The Colocasia is wonderful. I marvel at it every time I visit Mouse Creek, which is often. πŸ™‚
    Frances

  9. Layanee says:

    There is no experience like experience! Love that Colocasia. A keeper in any landscape. You could hide in there if you wanted to do so.

    Hi Layanee, thanks. You are so right. If only we knew then what we know now….applies to everything! lol That Colocasia makes me smile. πŸ™‚
    Frances

  10. You’ve learned the hard way the truth about conifers – they continue to grow. Even that little dwarf will someday reach towering heights, it might take a thousand years, but it will, eventually. So the lesson is: site those conifers with great care, in a position where they can either soar and spread or choosing a type that can take pruning and can be pruned regularly with care.

    Why don’t they tell us these things, MMD? I have been a religious tag reader my whole gardening life, which is most of it! No fair. If I ever get to start over with a new garden, I will take your words to heart. It is too late for many things here. At least the Arborvitae are behaving.
    Frances

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  12. Jenny B says:

    Well, if that don’t beat all! All these years I thought I was spatially challenged! The old adage, ‘Truth in Advertizing’ comes to mind. How in the world are we supposed to know if their dimensions are for pruned specimens or not? Thailand Giant is impressive–can you imagine digging a hole for that pot?!?

    Hi Jenny, HA! It seems so unfair, if not downright lying to us about the size of these things. Some are true to labels, some not at all. I am not sure if the photo is showing how large that Colocasia, and the pot it is in are. We would need a Bobcat just to lift it. πŸ™‚
    Frances

  13. Gail says:

    Dear Frances, One of the first gardeners I met in the neighborhood had a mugo pine that was engulfing her mailbox…She told me that nano and dwarf were big fat lies. I love the photo of you and the Colocasia gigantea~you are both beautiful! xxoogail

    Hi Gail, thanks, you are too sweet! πŸ™‚ Big fat lies is right. Why, is my question? Why not tell us the whole story about the growth of these trees and shrubs? Are they afraid of scaring us away from buying them? It would be better customer relations if they were honest and helped with the selection to make sure it will fit the spot. One would think.
    Frances

  14. Cindy, MCOK says:

    Like Gail, I love the picture of you with the Thai Giant. Conifers don’t grow that well here so I can’t empathize with you on those, but I certainly do in general. Size matters. As you may remember, plants here frequently outgrow the proportions on the labels.

    Hi Cindy, thank you for those kind words. If you could see that plant at Mouse Creek, you would laugh out loud! It is just so huge, and out of place with the Tennessee countryside! Where we lived in The Woodlands, pine trees were sacred, but few others would grow. We won’t even talk about the roses that ate our garage. I wonder if the new owners are able to keep them in bounds. I would guess that Mermaid probably had to be removed. Perhaps without the irrigation system they might have been smaller. HA πŸ™‚
    Frances

  15. Tracy says:

    Hi Frances, I am convinced that all plant tags are developed by people in the north east – short growing season and hard winter. I live in SoCal, so the plant tags are usually irrelevant.

    Hi Tracy, thanks for adding to the conversation. I used to think that all of the full sun/part shade tags were also developed in the northeast, very different from our conditions in the hot and dry summers of the southeast US. Having lived in SoCal for three years in the ’80s, we understand exactly what you mean. It is a different world there.
    Frances

  16. chen says:

    I am surprised that your conifers grow so fast in spite of the dry, hot and shady conditions; must be responding to the tender loving care they received. I found that the conifer growth info even among a wide spectrum of authoritative sources are highly inconsistent, partly because it depends significantly on local growing conditions and correct identification. I also found that when a conifer is sited on a wrong location, the only real solution is to move or cut it regardless of any pruning practices. (Yes, it can be very painful and sad.) On the ‘Boulevard’, A. Bloom said:’At its best, it can be an eye catching plant; at its worst, if left unpruned, it can be quite dreadful’. I find it often necessary to replace the ugly ones since their cuttings are so easy to root anyway. Your blog is always so enjoyable to read.

    Hi Chen, thanks for those kind words and for joining in. While we are hot and dry during the summers, it is true, our winters are wet and the soil is clay. It is some kind of mix that makes certain plants grow without irrigation. We marveled at the plants when we first moved here. Few things get tender, loving care, I am ashamed to say. We have not amended the soil or dug deep. We dig the smallest hole that the plant will fit into and hope for the best. A. Bloom is right about the Boulevards. We are keeping an eye on them, for developmental pruning time is way past due. Same with the Gold Mops. We do have saws. πŸ™‚
    Frances

  17. Rose says:

    I think you must grow things big in Tennessee:) The Colocasia is indeed a giant; I’m not sure where I would plant such a thing. And your number 6 Gold Mop must have had an extra growth gene to get so big.

    I’ve finally learned my lesson about tag reading–I think. The first garden I started I ignored the spacing suggestions and thought planting perennials closer together looked better. It did–for about one year. Now I’m reading labels more carefully as I look for some shrubs to put in front of the house; I don’t want anything to cover up the living room window in a few years!

    Hi Rose, thanks. Things do grow better in this garden than anywhere else I have ever lived, one reason we are here! And with little help from me. Many people space plants according to the size they are in the pot, especially bushes and shrubs. Rookie mistake! Of course they have to be removed down the line, or should be. We often see junipers trimmed to within inches of the main trunk because they were planted too close to a sidewalk. Just pull them out of their misery, I say! Do be watchful for those shrubs blocking your window, tags can lie! πŸ™‚
    Frances

  18. Barbarapc says:

    Good to hear a rant – helps clear the mind – and I think if you pound hard enough – scares the plants. My little whopper is a Heptacodium – Seven Son Flower – height 12 feet….turns out no one in N.A. had a mature one – next photo will be from the treehouse I’ll build at the 25 foot mark. Let me know when you’re having the party to celebrate the missing sat. dish – I’ll toast a glass of wine up here from my deck to yours.

    Thanks Barbara. How funny you are! I will raise my glass in your direction when we no longer gaze at the satellite dish from the lazyboy in the addition. I believe my neighbor Mickey has that shrub. It is no higher than twelve feet, certainly not like yours! Maybe yours has rooted into an ancient dinosaur buried beneath the soil, feeding it super nutrients! πŸ™‚
    Frances

  19. Great photo, Frances. And… you know what? A few of those plants and you’d have great shade. πŸ˜‰ Gardening… a wonderful challenge.
    Oh! Btw: In honor of Grandparents . . . a reminder to check my Sept. 1 post.

    Hi Shady, thanks. There is shade emerging from the towering Chamys. The hostas are sooo much happier there! I will check you out on Sept. 1, we are in favor of honoring Grandparents. πŸ™‚
    Frances

  20. I hear your rant; I feel your annoyance. Our landscaper (as I was still working in the corporate world and burned out from building a house) planted our “backbone” shrubs. I’ve removed privet, abelia, weeping cherry….and am unfortunately trying to decide if our gorgeous Japanese maple that he planted is too close to the sidewalk and the arborvitae that he also planted.

    Love the colocasia — I’ve seen that one growing at Plant Delights Nursery (Tony Avent’s) as well as in a home garden. It is fabulous!

    Hi Cameron, thanks for joining. I am sorry about your problem plants! Japanese maples are special, hope you can find a way to prune out of the problem. I believe Ruth’s Colocasia came from Tony. She is quite active among the nursery owning folk nationwide and beyond, past president of the Perennial Plant Association. πŸ™‚
    Frances

  21. linda says:

    A rant-worthy subject Frances! It’s so frustrating when, despite our best efforts to acheive low-maintenance gardens, the lies on plant tags compel us to prune and edit, sometimes at considerable expense (which often benefits landscapers and plant growers/sellers,) far more often than we intend.

    The old addage, “Buyer Beware!” has never been more applicable than it is to certain nursery stock.

    Hi Linda, thanks. Inadequate, or just plain wrong information can discourage some newbie gardeners to give it up altogether. That is a real shame. I do believe it benefits the mow and blow crowd of landscapers, they just buzz those shrubs and blow the stuff away. You see it all the time at businesses and homes. Some of us might want to let a tree of shrub grow into its natural shape once in a while!
    Frances

  22. Great post Frances with wise words to those who buy and plant shrubs or trees without truly knowing what they will become. I am never afraid of taking out my pruners but what a bother especially if you thought the form of purchase would not need them… I have never heard of plant info saying “with pruning” … good grief. Your arbors and garden do look enchanting in the light and I wish you good luck with the green wall. I had a perfect one for over a decade and then suddenly a new buck on the block decided to munch and taught all the does to do the same. Now I have an open wall across the bottom five to six feet! The top fifteen or so is still lovely and full. I must think of what to plant there to fill in. ;>)

    Hi Carol, thanks. I had never ever seen or heard the with pruning caveat either and was enraged when they told me! It is the same as lying, I think. I am sorry about your deer problem and hope you can find something less appetizing to them for the lower part. I have no experience with deer, so can be of no help. πŸ™‚
    Frances

  23. Alice Joyce says:

    Hi Frances
    I’m laughing at the thought of size and C. arizonica: I fell in love with a blue form and planted one around Year Two in my garden. Along the fence, as in really close to the fence! A very well-known, much written about artist/gardener came for dinner, took one look at it and said, “You know that’s going to get very big.” No, I’m from Chicago, and didn’t know a thing about the vast palette of plants sold at West Coast nurseries. Only what caught my eye.
    Needless to say, the lovely specimen was removed a few years later when I realized how inappropriate it was for the site in my tiny garden.
    And by the way, I love Colocasias but have never had any luck with them:-]

    Hi Alice, thanks for dropping by and hopping into the conversation! The Arizona cypress is so beautiful, I can easily see how you were tempted. When I was still in high school I planted some arborvitae against a concrete wall, and I do mean against. The last time I visited the house, several years ago, the shrub was still there, leaning outward and quite tall, looking totally ridiculous. I guess my parents thought since I planted it, it was meant to be there and look like that. They were very indulgent. I don’t grow the Colocasias at this house, but they did well in Texas. Too well! πŸ™‚
    Frances

  24. leavesnbloom says:

    Frances I can sympathize with you. When we acquired our last house the previous owner had planted what he thought were dwarf conifers only to discover that the plant label gave the estimated height and width for its 5th year in the ground rather than its ultimate height. We ended up sawing some of them down as we couldn’t get them dug out. Its a pity we can’t spray something on the leaves to stop them growing!

    Hi Rose, thanks for adding to the conversation! Maybe that is what happened here, five years of growth equals x, mature growth , who knows? I am sorry for your losses, but know you have learned the hard way to find out how large something will be before planting it, for the next time.
    Frances

  25. debsgarden says:

    Hi Frances, Plants certainly have minds of their own and don’t read those labels! I have learned to be hard hearted and to edit my garden (almost) without remorse. Another pet peeve of mine is the practice some landscapers have of putting in too many plants too close to each other in order to give a more mature look to the planting. This also allows them to charge more money! Later, some plants need to be removed, but owners are reluctant to remove plants, and may not even know how to prune them, and their landscape turns into an overgrown mess.

    Hi Deb, thanks for coming on board to the discussion! Sometimes I think the homeowners demand that full look, so the landscapers give them what they desire. Most landscapers will get a maintenance contract to come do the pruning, keeping the plantings forever static instead of growing larger over time like real gardens do.
    Frances

  26. Here, everything grows slower and smaller. Truly. Of course, the blasted tags are incorrect. For our climate, I never look at the sun/shade part because I know many things can’t take the Death Orb in August and July. I think everything grows so large and lovely in your soil because you have super soil. πŸ™‚

    Hi Dee, thanks for stopping by and giving us your take. I am sure you are right about the sun/shade. Even here, most plants enjoy a respite from that glaring sun in late summer. I know the gardener sure does. I am not sure why things grow here like they do, but there is definitely something going on. It is even different than our other TN garden, we are a zone warmer here. Maybe the proximity to the mountains, who knows? Our normal rainfall used to be the same as Seattle. That is no longer true and the maps have been changed to reflect our more drought prone climate, sad to say.
    Frances

  27. Catherine says:

    It is really frustrating when you spend the time to research the size of something only to have it get much bigger than expected. I guess those trees really like what you’re doing with the soil, maybe they wouldn’t have gotten as big in a garden that wasn’t so well taken care of? I also buy most of my shrubs in 1 gallon pots and it’s tempting to space them closely when they look so small. Your post is a good reminder that they will eventually grow as big or bigger than the tag says.

    Hi Catherine, thanks for visiting and giving your two cents worth on the subject! Frustrating is a good description of the feeling we gardeners get when trying so hard to get it right. Invalid information certainly doesn’t help when we are standing there looking at the one gallon pots set in the space with tape measure in hand.
    Frances

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