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March 25th 2014

FLOWER FOCUS: Favorite foliages and fillers

Written by
Floret

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Spring has officially arrived and we are frantically dashing about preparing for the impending season. In order to have a steady stream of material for mixed bouquets, bulk orders and beautiful wedding bouquets I have taken extra care to stock the garden with a huge supply of foliage and filler plants. While often overlooked, these simple but beautiful plants are the backbone of a good flower patch. Filled with fragrance, texture, unexpected and unusual elements the following list carries our farm through a season of floral bounty.

urns

While most of the varieties I’m going to list here are easy to grow annuals, it’s always nice to tuck a patch of woody cuts somewhere on your property for large scale arranging. Nothing is more satisfying than tromping out back, sawing off a five foot hunk of foliage to make up a massive arrangement. ‘Copper’ Beech/Fagus sylvatica, Hornbeam/Carpinus betula , Crabapples/Malus ‘Evereste’, Ninebark/Physocarpus and Bush Honeysuckle/Lonicera tartarica are my top favorites.

ninebark

Pictured above: Ninebark/Physocarpus ‘Nugget’ and a spring bouquet featuring Bush Honeysuckle, Ninebark seed casings and rambling rose foliage.

My favorite source for trees and shrubs is Lawyer Nursery. Their plants are massive, ordering is easy through their website and their prices are super reasonable. Keep in mind that they ship bareroot plants, so you’ve got to order in the winter-early spring and have a spot ready for them when they arrive.

2ammi

Queen Anne’s Lace/Ammi visagna ‘Green Mist,’ majus ‘Casablanca’ and ‘Graceland’: We grow all in large quantity and always use ever single stem. While the smell is a bit off putting (similar to turpentine) Ammi is truly a wonderful filler. Their lacy flower heads, great vase life and clean green/white color provide an invaluable backbone for our late spring-early summer bouquets.

Ammi/ Daucus Black Knight: This new burgundy-chocolate colored Queen Anne’s Lace has been an absolute hit for us the past few seasons! It looks great in bouquets, sells well with designers and blooms almost all summer long from just one planting. The vase life is phenomenal (10+ days), the blooms don’t shatter like traditional Ammi and it’s that coveted chocolate color that is so hard to find. We spaced plants 12×12” but will increase to 18×18 this year and add a low layer of netting to keep flower laden plants from toppling in summer rains.

**Be sure when harvesting all Queen Anne’s Lace varieties that you wear long sleeves and gloves because the sap can actually burn sensitive skin when exposed to bright sunlight.

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Pictured above, a bucket of my favorite early summer fillers: Queen Anne’s Lace, Cress and Wheat.

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Left to right:

Scented Geraniums: Designers will stampede you for fresh bunches of these treasures so be warned! I adore Attar of Rose, Lemon Fizz, Chocolate, Ginger and Bitter Lemon. It’s essential to delay harvest until the plants have matured enough for the stems to harden up a bit or they will wilt and not recover. If picked at the proper time (early morning or in the cool of the evening), slipped right into water and then tucked into the cooler for a few hours vase life is very good.

Bells of Ireland: One of the finest and easiest annual foliages you can grow! Every year we double our crop and every year we run out! This season I have scheduled 6 plantings and hope it carries us through the summer. I’ve found that designers are eager for farm fresh Bells of Ireland since the ones sold through commercial wholesalers are lack leaves, are often smashed flat and tend to be moldy. Ours are planted in heavily amended ground, 18×18” apart with 3 rows to a bed. Netting is essential since one big rain storm will flatten the entire patch. If there is enough greenhouse space available I prefer to plant them inside as well.

Cress/Lepidium sativum: I discovered this fantastic filler a few seasons back and have been a fan ever since. Oh, just a few stems of these seedy treasures and every bouquet is transformed! We direct sows it in the spring staggering 5 plantings 2 weeks apart for an extended harvest. Fresh it persists well over 10 days and any excess can be dried for fall bouquets and holiday work.

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Pictured above (left to right): Bells of Ireland, Queen Anne’s Lace, Flax

basil

Flax/ Linum usitatissimum: We’ve been growing this crop for a few seasons now and I’m still head over heels in love with it!! Its delicate seedy wands almost dance in bouquets and paired with sunflowers it’s hard to go wrong. It can be cut green or left to dry for fall bouquets.

Basil: One of the most fragrant and abundant summer foliages in the garden. In my opinion ‘Oriental Breeze’ is the most stunning variety of all, sporting deep purple flowers, glossy foliage and a fantastic scent. Cinnamon, Lemon and Aramato are wonderful workhorses too. Last year we grew Cardinal for the first time. The flower heads were pretty but a bit bulky. If pinched early on, it produced really nice useable stems that were great in bouquets. In our cool climate, basil must be grown under cover to lessen disease pressure and extend stem length. Plants are spaced 9×9″ apart and planted into pre burned landscape fabric.

cerinthe
Scented Geranium ‘Chocolate’: Hands down my favorite geranium variety. We grow this beauty in an unheated greenhouse and are able to use the tall stems in late summer mixed bouquets. They chocolate vein and large leaves make this guys real winner!

Cerinthe major: I just adore this unique plant. In full bloom one stem can be silver, blue, purple and green all at the same time. Designers love it, brides love it, it looks great in mixed bouquets and is awesome in arrangements. While Cerinthe (also known as Honeywort) has a great vase life once hardened off (7-10 days) it can be a little tricky at first to get hydrated while keeping the stems straight. I wrap bunches snuggly in a newspaper collar, give the bottom 2” a 10-15 second dip in boiling water and stick them in the cooler over night to harden up. By morning the stems are stiff, straight and ready to work with. For an extended window of harvest I stagger 3 plantings, about 3 weeks apart in the spring. One plant will produce 7-10 stems if harvested often. Cut deep into the plant to encourage long repeat blooming stems.

nigella

Raspberries: I started using Raspberry greens in bouquets years ago and they are still on my top favorite list of things we grow. The greens last over 2 weeks in the vase, are wildly productive providing foliage all season long and are adored by our designers and retail customers. The everbearing varieties (Summit and Golden) are best for an extended harvest of fruiting stems, can be cut to the ground in the winter for easy clean up, spread rapidly for increased stock, grow in poorer soil than traditional summer fruiting types and fruit in yellow and red.

Nigella Pods: Designers and wholesalers LOVE the black podded variety while I adore the green in mixed bouquets and arrangements. Plants are easily direct seeded and seem to do better when not transplanted. I aim for 5 sowings about 2 weeks apart to stagger the harvest. If all pods are not used, they can be dried and look lovely in fall bouquets. My Starry Night custom blend mix is available in the Floret Shop,

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Buckets of unique foliage for an event designers order. The mix included Ferns, Scented Geraniums, Grasses, Queen Anne’s Lace, Flax, Cress and Raspberry greens.

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Amaranth: I have grown just about every variety on the market and while all are awesome, only a handful get planted in mass every year. The hanging green virdis is a staple with local designers and looks smashing in large arrangements. Opopeo (pictured right) is my favorite upright dark variety. It ripens in half the time of others, just 60 days, and is an intense burgundy. Hot Biscuits (pictured left) is an incredible brown/gold that is stunning in fall bouquets. Green Tower and Green Thumb are both super useful in mixed bouquets. Coral Fountain is a heartbreakingly beautiful hanging pink variety that looks like faded, crushed velvet. We grow all of our Amaranth with 12×12” spacing, 4 rows to a bed. They get a pinch at 12” to encourage branching and a more useable stem size.

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There are so many amazing varieties I haven’t yet captured with the camera or at least can’t track down at this moment in time. You can google them for general idea of what they’ll look like, but just know, they’ve all made the cut!

Atriplex Green and Bronze: I discovered this fantastic plant in a friends veggie patch some years back and have been a huge fan ever since. Early in the season the leafy stems can be harvested in mass for bouquets. The more you cut, the more it produces. Stems hold best when given a quick searing treatment directly after harvest. Just dip the bottom 2″ of the stems into boiled water for 10-15 seconds and then plunge into a bucket of cool water. If plants are left to grow on you will be rewarded with gorgeous seedy stems by midsummer that are a favorite with designers and are wonderful in bouquets. Seeded stems do not need any special post harvest treatment and often last 2 weeks. For a large flush of smaller, more useable stems be sure to pinch plants hard at 12-18”. Succession plant every few weeks for an extended harvest.

Bupleurum: I can’t ever have enough Bupleurum!!! Just a few stems in a bouquets and the whole thing sparkles. I stopped growing it as wholesale bunched item last year since the price is often too low to bother with. I sow about a 1,000 plugs every 2 weeks from early March through mid May. Plants are spaced 9×9”.We used to net them but found picking to be tricky and have since quit. The trick to germinating Bupleurum is to keep it cool and dark. I broadcast seed into 72”s, cover with a fine layer of potting soil, wrap the flat in black plastic and tuck it under the seed benches. Germination takes 10 -14 days and I consistently get a 90-100% success rate.

Cardoon leaves: The thick silver leaves of Cardoons are a wonderful addition to the cutting patch. They are one of the first greens in the spring and are actually a cut and come again plant so the more you harvest the more the plant produces. They last a surprising long time in the vase and are ideal for large statement pieces.

Grains: Often in the spring we’ll leave a patch of cover crop in place to use as filler in spring bouquets. My favorites to mix into early bouquets are Wheat, Oats, Rye and Barley.

Dill: We grow Bouquet Dill. Direct sown every 2 weeks, it provides a nice fragrant addition to our high summer bouquets.

Grasses: We grow loads of grasses but if I had to pick my favorite I’d chose Panicum ‘Fiber Optic’ and Panicum millaceum ‘Viloaceum’. Both are wildly productive and a super simple to grow. Our plants are spaced 9×9” with 5 rows to a bed. Violaceum resembles miniature, drooping broom corn and looks amazing in bouquets. Fiber Optic is a true workhorse, cranking out buckets of stems every few days. For a summer long harvest we aim for 3 succession plantings.

Millets/ Seteria: I grow Red Jewel, Limelight, Purple Mist, macrostachya and Hylander in mass. They are all super productive and work great in mixed bouquets.

Mint: I was advised to NEVER plant this vigorous spreader but am so glad I didn’t listen. It’s one of the first foliages in the garden and makes early bouquets possible. Awesome vase life, wonderful smell and planting stock increases rapidly! My favorite varieties are Apple, Peppermint, Pineapple (white variegated) and Spearmint.

Monarda lambata: New to me last year, this pretty little pastel Monarda saved my bacon in mixed bouquets. It is very productive, easy to grow from seed, smells nice and holds well in arrangements. I spaced it 18×18, 3 rows per bed with 1 layer of netting.

Parsley Curled: While not an obvious choice, the crinkled rich leaves are super hardy and invaluable in the fall garden. My patch was still going strong late in the season after everything else has faded out or been killed by early frost. Last fall I was able to harvest arm loads for Thanksgiving centerpieces. Surprisingly Parsley also has a great vase life of over a week.

Shiso/Perilla frutescens: A stunning dark foliage plant that is coveted by our local designers. Perilla is easy to grow and if given ample room 18×18”, you’ll be rewarded with 15-20 stems per plant. Be sure to let it get nice and ripe before picking or it will wilt; it’s similar to Basil in that regard. If picked too young, dip stem ends in boiling water for 15-20 seconds and it will perk back up. I’ve had stems last for 2 weeks in the vase! Britton is a beautiful variety with rich green leaves that have a deep red underside.

Sweet Pea Vines: A surprisingly wonderful filler, these wild looking vines add whimsy and interest to arrangements. We typically get about a week’s vase life from plant material.

** Now, we still have time to sow more seed (—>insert maniacal laugh) so I’d love to know what your favorite foliages and fillers are. What are the varieties you just can’t live without!? **

Retail seed sources: Floret SeedsJohnny’s Selected Seeds

Wholesale seed sources: Gloeckner, Geo and Ivy Garth

Scented Geranium plugs can be sourced through Gloeckner and once you have mother plants, you can propagate your own.

64 Comments

  1. Jocelyn on

    By the way, I’m obviously not Erin, just saw your question and thought I’d chime in ;-)

    Reply
  2. Jocelyn on

    We live in the Pacific Northwest so not sure if it’s just a climate thing, but Nigella is so easy to grow in any spacing, it eventually takes over like a week so you need to be careful if you don’t want it everywhere in your garden! I would recommend planting it in its own bed, I’m not sure how well it would do in buckets. A lot of these are “weeds” where I live, I have Queen Anne’s Lace growing ALL over my property, along with Nigella in my kid’s yard that I end up mowing over haha. Just a heads up ;-)

    Reply
  3. Nycole Shrader on

    I just want to say how much I LOVE your blog! I’m just starting out and you give me life and inspiration!! Anyways I was wondering if you do Eucalyptus as a filler? I’ve been looking at so many varieties it’s hard to choose!

    Reply
  4. Rose Robson on

    Hey Erin! What do you think are the best fern varieties to grow? Ghost? Regal Red? Any others you like?

    Reply
    • Team Floret on

      Hi Alissa,
      Scented geranium isn’t grown from seed-you’ll need to buy rooted plugs or starter plants from a local nursery or wholesale plug supplier. It’s a great plant and relatively easy to propagate from cuttings!

  5. Alissa Cockroft on

    Hi Floret!

    Where do you get your Scented Geranium seed? And can it be grown out in the field or is it better if it’s in a hightunnel?
    Thanks!

    Reply
    • Team Floret on

      Hi Alissa,

      Scented Geraniums are only available as rooted cuttings. The best place to find plants is at your local (higher end) nursery. It seems like the fancy nurseries normally stock them.

  6. Anne on

    I am working on adding shrubs for filler as well. Doublefile and cranberry viburnum , spirea, winged euonymus, are all my starting lineup. Of course, large shrubs of ninebarks, and box-leaf azara are staples too. I also live next to a forest, so constantly grab huckleberry which is my all time fave filler in wedding bouquets. Ivy and huckleberry cladding around a chandelier hung in a barn type wedding was dreamy. Thanks for hosting this site, so we can all imagine together.

    Reply
  7. Jenny Modaffari on

    A few that I use for filler are Akebia vine, especially since it is so prolific, and blooms in March, Lady’s Mantle, and Astilbe foliage are favorites. Thank you for sharing your varieties.

    Reply
  8. kathryn cronin on

    Later to comment on your very helpful article. Mine is Ribes sangineum – flowering current – robust and easy to grow with stems of pink fragrant flowers in early spring – I have increased my stock!

    Reply
  9. Vic on

    Hi Floret,

    Perhaps a silly question, but when you mention putting bupleurum seed trays in black plastic and under the seed bench, so they are dry and cool – what temperature is the seed bench environment? Is this within a greenhouse or just outside – fluctuating with the day and night temps of spring? Also, perhaps silly of me to ask – but are you continuing to water them while they are tucked away?

    Thanks so much,
    Liz

    Reply
  10. Drea on

    I found both the Cress (Wrinkle Crinkle) and Panicum (Fiber Optic) in my GeoSeed Cataloge! I can’t wait to try them next year! Thanks Erin! I love your posts! :)

    Drea
    Morning Glory Acres

    Reply
  11. Yajaira Cuesta on

    we are trying to find the seeds for some of the fillers you talk about in this blog and just cant seem to find the seeds, we went to all the websites you posted and were unable to find the ones you mention. could you tell us which seed company you get these fillers from and the name they have them under?

    Cress (Lepidium Sativum)
    Flax (linum usitatissimum) we keep finding blue flower flax
    Optic grass (Panicum)

    thanks so much. I love your site its so beautiful an relaxing :) it makes me want to grow more variety

    Reply
  12. Syreeta on

    It is in reality a nice and helpful piece of info. I am satisfied that you simply shared this useful info
    with us. Please keep us up to date like this.
    Thank you for sharing.

    Reply
  13. allicia on

    I see someone else asked this earlier and I don’t see an answer =( is that any variety of cress? Wrinkled cress will do the trick?

    Reply
    • Floret on

      Allicia, I get ‘wrinkled crinkled’ cress from Osborne seed. I believe Geo Seed also carries it : )

  14. sas on

    Erin,
    What’s your trick to germinating Bells of Ireland… I’m having a hard time with them. Do you soak them?

    Reply
    • Floret on

      they’re a cold germinator so stick your trays of freshly sowed seed in the cooler or basement for 10 days and then bring back into a warm spot. They should pop shortly after.

    • sas on

      Thanks! :)

  15. Jonathan Leiss on

    Erin, thanks for all your fabulous posts. We love using our cover crops as filler. Grains, of course, but this year we’ve also tried our crimson clover with and without blossoms and have been very pleased.

    After reading your post we got really excited about cress, but now comes the hardest part: thinning. Would you mind sharing your final spacing! Thank you.

    Reply
    • Floret on

      Jonathan, the awesome thing is you don’t thin at all. The heavier the better and it ends up holding itself up. We direct seed 4-5 rows per bed and don’t thin. Just wait until it ripens, you’ll see what I mean, it’s the easiest crop we grow : )

      Love the cover crop idea. I’m going to give that a whirl!

  16. Kasey Butler on

    This is wonderful! Thank you so much, Erin. I also love Euphorbia “Mtn. Snow” or “Snow on the Mtn.” which has to be cut and then recut under water as it has a sticky sap that can irritate the skin.

    Reply
  17. Donna Jennings on

    What is the plant with either hips or berries that is between the Nasturtium and Geranium leaves in the last picture posted? I have been searching for this plant but do not know the name. I may have missed is in the article. Thanks!! :)

    Reply
  18. Zoe on

    Hey Erin, Thanks for another very helpful post! I’m excited to grow Scented Geraniums this year and I’m deliberating about where to put them. My farm’s in Northarn California and we do get some frost in the winters and our summers are HOT. Would these bake in a hoop house in the summer months? I could throw shade over the hoop to cool it down perhaps?

    Thanks for continuing to mentor me unknowingly from afar!

    Zoe Hitchner
    Front Porch Farm

    Reply
    • Floret on

      Hey Zoe, they loved it in our hoop but our max summer temp is 90. I think shade would be really nice once it starts getting sweltering or they’d even do great outside. Good luck!

  19. Kim Shaw on

    Euphorbia “Ascot Rainbow” and “Blackbird”,

    Reply
  20. Georgia Miles on

    You are a source of constant inspiration and knowledge thank you so much have a wonderful year xx

    Reply
  21. Cherry (Kilcoan Gardens) on

    Fantastic as always! Thank you so much for sharing your wealth of knowledge, such an inspiration. I also use lemon balm, curly tansy and russian tarragon but can’t wait to try some newbies!

    Reply
  22. Polly ( Dewdrop Florals) on

    Wow! Thanks for sharing all your brilliant info.. Inspired to pick up even more seeds to try!

    Reply
  23. Gretel Adams on

    We are definitely going to have to add some of these to the list. We are always looking for more foliage! Something else that we love are sea oats Uniola Paniculata. You can use them green or anytime throughout the season as cooler weather makes the seed heads red. Great dried also and they perennialize too.

    Reply
    • Gretel Adams on

      **correction: Uniola Chasmanthium Latifolia. River oats from Geoseed.

  24. The Flowe Hive on

    Hello, thank you for great post.Love the cress foliage..what variety of cress is it? It seems imposible to find the right seeds. Thanks a lot for your time and inspiration. Eva

    Reply
  25. Sara on

    Erin this post is fabulous, and so timely as it is the subject we’re covering in #britishflowers hour on Monday 31 March (8-9pm, UK time). It would be lovely if you could join us, but if not, but you’d like a copy of the notes, let me know. Thank you for your generosity in sharing all your wonderful hints and tips, as a ‘seedling’ flower farmer they are so useful and inspiring!

    Reply
  26. Robin on

    When do you dip the sensitive plants in boiling water? Do you take it to the field? Could you please elaborate on that method further. Thank you for all the great advice.

    Reply
  27. kim Smith on

    I looove black lace elderberry sambucus but have a hard time keeping it from wilting!! :( I am wondering if a hot water dip or torch method would help?

    Reply
  28. Catharine on

    Thank you for both a great selections of fillers and the best conditioning tips. Back to searching seed catalogues!

    Reply
  29. Carol Mann on

    I echo the appreciation of all your other followers. There are definitely some varieties added to my ‘to grow list’. I love working with akebia and clematis vine. I have two varieties of zenobia that are spectacular in arrangements. Zenobia pulverulenta is very sturdy and has great fall color. It also grows for me in a soggy area of the farm. Zenobia ‘Woodlander’s Blue’ has smaller, glaucous foliage on more flexible stems. When it arranges itself, it drapes into the composition. Lovely! I have had to baby it along, but the effort is worth it.

    Reply
  30. Andrea Clemens on

    Awesome information!! Thank you for sharing your expertise <3… Happy Spring, Erin!

    Reply
  31. Shari on

    Nandina blossoms, berries & foliage. Pieris japonica. Narrow hosta leaves. Cilantro flowers. Rose hips. Catmint. Japanese kerria foliage (and flowers). Lady’s mantle. Lambs ears (flowers & foliage). Flowering oregano.

    I’m really loving these articles. Thank you!

    Reply
  32. Kim on

    Thanks for this extensive list! I love using oats & cerinthe too– other foliage I cut regularly is bronze fennel, bayberry (it grows wild around here), sedum, and eucalyptus. I’ve tried cutting ferns, but they never seem to hold up. Do you have tips on certain fern species/varieties that don’t readily wilt after cutting?

    Reply
  33. lisa on

    What an amazing list of plants! Thank you so much for this Erin.

    Reply
  34. Amelia Amish on

    thanks for the great post and all the comments.for a shrub I like cotoneaster, it also has fall berries in dark blue along the stem.

    Reply
  35. Rose on

    After reading your post I wanted sooo much want to grow them all but at last not enough land..lol Thanks for the great information.

    Reply
  36. Viv on

    THANKS, Erin! I’m learning a lot from your blog, and I keep going back to look at your life on the farm. I adore it. You are a very, very, hard worker. I know it’s not an easy feat– what you are doing. The flower love you have is amazing. So glad I bumped into you, and Floret!

    Reply
  37. Stasha on

    Wow, thank you SO much for taking the time to teach us! This kind of information just isn’t on the internet in such a usable form. I loved your blog before, but now it’s growing into a reference library I’ll come back to over and over for years to come.

    Reply
  38. Kathy on

    I’ve become smitten by lady’s mantle in bouquets, both the crinkly roundish leaves and tiny yellow-green flowers add so much “extra”. It’s a delight. Thanks for your long list of other fillers… gotta see if I can make some room to try some!

    Reply
  39. Karen on

    I’m taking notes like crazy!! Thanks so much. Do you have suppliers that grow organically or do you produce it all from seed?

    Reply
    • Floret on

      Karen, almost everything is homegrown from seed. Headstart Nursery in CA does offer a pretty wide selection of OG plugs that are great fill ins.

  40. kim on

    great post- I so agree on the scented geranium and chocolate QAL.For branches I love mock orange and last year , for me ,smoke bush was a huge favorite.

    Reply
  41. Clare on

    I LOVE THIS POST!! A couple other suggestions – Orach – when it goes to seed it’s spectacular – gorgeous muted purple seed heads. Also spinach is gorgeous once it’s gone to seed – a beautiful vibrant green. If you send me your address I can mail you some seed ;)

    Reply
  42. Ferriss Donham on

    Nasturtiums, sage, hosta blossoms, cilantro when it bolts, coral bell leaves…

    Reply
  43. Kirsten on

    AMAZING!!! What a wealth of information! Thank you SO much for sharing! This is killer :)

    Reply
  44. Ivette on

    Thanks I was just looking for this kind of info!
    In spring I often use thalictrum, beautiful pale grey foliage.

    Reply
  45. Somerset Flower Farm on

    You’ve done it again, Erin :) I grow a lot of these already, but there are some beauties that I will definitely try … just time for a few more sowings!

    Reply
  46. Shellie on

    Cilantro blossoms – and seedheads! Beautiful fine white flower clusters on tall bright green stems. Heat treat at harvest – cool storage.

    Reply
  47. Lori Witmer on

    Such a great post! I love using many of these amazing feature foliages too, & am always looking for new varieties to mix in! Or be inspired to find a space in my patch to try. Definitely see a few to make the cut :) Thanks for sharing!

    Reply
  48. Margrit on

    Great, great, great / Thank you for all the Information and Inspiration !!!!

    Reply

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