Mary Jo Putney interviews Anne Gracie

Mary Jo here. I had the great good fortune to get an early read of our Wench Anne Gracie’s upcoming release of THE HEIRESS’S DAUGHTER, which will be released May 21st.  It’s third in her Brides of Bellaire Gardens series.
MJP: Anne, your set-up for this series is unusual since many readers probably aren’t familiar with the private gardens that are sometimes created within blocks of London houses.  The space is shared by residents so they must interact together.  Do you have any idea where this lovely idea came from?

Anne: I saw some of these gardens on line and I instantly wanted to set a series in one. At the time (some years ago) I was thinking that I might set a mystery series there, where some of the residents might notice a few odd things and eventually put their observations (and heads) together and solve the mystery, but that never eventuated and I set a romance series there instead. It’s ideal for having people interact in a different setting.
Interestingly, after the first book came out, Wench Christina told me she’d lived in a house backing onto a garden like this.

MJP:  The Heiress’s Daughter has a number of continuing characters who share that space.  This story’s heroine, Clarissa, was there from book #2, The Rake’s Daughter.  Can you tell us something about her?

Anne: Clarissa and her illegitimate half-sister Izzy arrived at Bellaire Gardens in book #2. Clarissa is the daughter of a heartless rake and an heiress. Having watched her father break her mother’s heart over and over again, she’s extremely wary of being married for her money, and especially of marrying a rake. Like her mother, she’s not particularly pretty and is shy and a little plump and not very confident. You can see why in the prologue.
But she’s a loyal and loving person, and readers really warmed to her in the previous book. After the previous book, I got a flurry of emails asking when Clarissa’s story would come out.

The garden setting is also vital for Clarissa’s happiness. As well as the serenity it gives her—she was raised in the country and doesn’t love the city—she makes beauty lotions and herbal ointments, using flowers and herbs.

MJP: A good part of the conflict comes from Clarissa’s extreme and highly justified desire to avoid rakes, so please tell us about Race, the charming hero, another secondary character who now steps to center stage.

Anne: Race is handsome, charming and flirtatious and numerous society ladies claim to have had an affair with him. But there’s more to Race than meets the eye. For a start, he fell for Clarissa when he saw her publicly claim her sister, Izzy, regardless of the fact that it could have ruined her socially. (It’s a scene in the previous book.) He sees a beauty in her that others do not, and the more he sees of her, the more attracted he is and the more he wants her. But he’s widely known to be a rake, so he’s got a difficult task ahead of him.

MJP:  The storyline of The Heiress’s Daughter is shaped by the social pressures of reputation and gossip.  Do you have any particular thoughts about that?

Anne: I actually love exploring the idea of gossip and reputations. It’s not just in the Regency era, either — look at all the “scandals” about celebrities and royalty that fill the internet today. But in the Regency the pressure on young women to confirm and to be seen to be innocent and untouched was real. And the consequences of being thought to be otherwise could be dire.

“Reputation” is built in the minds of other people: you don’t have a say in it, and huge damage can be done when the story is wrong — accidentally or on purpose. And in The Heiress’s Daughter, reputation and its truth or otherwise affects a number or characters—female and male.

MJP: An interesting young lady is found, and I believe she will have a future in Bellaire Gardens.  Would you like to tell us a bit about her?

Anne: Yes, young Zoë just popped up unexpectedly, and she was such a livewire, I knew she had to be the heroine of the next book. The Secret Daughter is up for pre-order already and will be published on Christmas Eve.

MJP:  Can we have an excerpt of THE HEIRESS’S DAUGHTER, please?

Anne: Yes, here’s the first scene with the hero.

Horatio, Lord Randall, known to his friends as Race, ran a finger around his stock, which suddenly felt so tight about his neck it was near to strangling him.

It was ridiculous. He was merely doing a favor for a friend. Leo was, after all, Miss Studley’s guardian, and Leo was Race’s closest friend. He’d been best man at Leo’s wedding.

“It needn’t be a hardship,” Leo had assured him. “I know Clarissa’s devilish shy and not much of a conversationalist—not your type at all—but you can’t deny, the girl can ride. Just take her out on the heath from time to time—you know how she loves a good gallop, and her chaperone doesn’t ride.”

Race had promised. It wouldn’t be a chore to take Clarissa Studley riding—far from it. Besides, she was an excellent horsewoman.

“And I know how much you dislike society events,” Leo had continued, “so I won’t expect anything of you there. I’ve told her chaperone, Mrs. Price-Jones, to be especially vigilant for any lurking fortune hunters. I’ll deal with them when I return from my honeymoon. Clarissa’s fortune makes her a target and according to her sister, she’s too softhearted for her own good. I wouldn’t put it past some plausible rogue to persuade her into an elopement. So if there are any problems, I’ve told Mrs. Price-Jones she can call on you for assistance in my place. I hope that’s all right.”

Of course Race had agreed, and so now here he was, on the front step of Leo’s aunt’s home, where Clarissa lived, facing Lady Scattergood’s butler.

“I’m sorry, Lord Randall, but Lady Scattergood is not at home.” The ancient butler delivered the message in a sonorous, faintly smug voice.

Race frowned. “Dash it all, Treadwell, Lady Scattergood is always at home.” The old lady had been housebound for several years, and on the rare occasions she ventured out of her home it was inside a covered palanquin with all the curtains drawn—the very palanquin he could see sitting in the hall, unoccupied.

The butler repeated without a blink, “My lady is not at home.”

He made to shut the door, but Race shoved his boot in to prevent it. “Then be so good as to inform Miss Studley that Lord Randall is here and wishes to speak to her.”

“Miss Studley is not at home.”

“Her chaperone, then, Mrs.—” Race couldn’t recall the chaperone’s name, blast it: something Welsh and hyphenated.

“Mrs. Price-Jones is not at home.”

At that moment the sound of female voices followed by a gust of feminine laughter floated from somewhere behind the butler.

“Damn it, Treadwell, I can hear the ladies. They are at home.” It was too early for morning calls, which for some unknown reason invariably took place in the afternoon, so who else could it be but the ladies of the house?

Through the butler’s granitelike mien, a faint smirk was allowed to escape. “Perhaps, my lord, but not to you—ever.” He closed the door in Race’s face.

MJP:  Please tell us a bit about what lies ahead in your writing future:

Anne:  I’m not sure. The Secret Daughter is the last book in my current contract, and I need to think up a new series idea and submit it before negotiations will begin for the new contract. In the meantime, I plan to republish a Christmas novella that was previously published as The Virtuous Widow. And while I have some space between contracts, I’m working on Marcus’s story – Devil Riders #6.

MJP: Will there be a giveaway? 

Anne:  Yes, indeed. I’ll give a copy of The Heiress’s Daughter (paperback or e-book) to someone who leaves a comment or an answer to this question: Do you have access to a garden, and do you have a favorite flower or plant?

47 thoughts on “Mary Jo Putney interviews Anne Gracie”

  1. I live in a condo complex which was constructed on some then empty land south of MGM Studios property back in the 1970s. My complex has grounds with lawns, pathways and many trees and shrubs – tall Canary Island Pine, Ficus, Eucalyptus, Melaleuca and random contributions or suggestions from the Grounds Committee. My favorites are the dwarf hawthorn and pittosporum shrubs that line the pathways between buildings; in spring they are covered with tiny pink and white flowers. The residents can contribute plants as suitable, but we can’t make our own gardens except on our patios and balconies where we can have potted plants. It’s not like having a back yard as I grew up with, but it’s a lot better than the newer Big Box apartment complexes, where they have no gardens and maybe a couple of potted plants out front if they’re lucky.

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    • Janice, that sounds lovely. I have a friend who’s in an apartment complex here, and he looks out into a lovely tumble of trees and bushes. As well as screening all the tenants from each other, it’s so peaceful and green. It’s an older style complex — as you say, some of the newer developments don’t bother with gardens. It’s a shame.

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  2. No need to enter me in the giveaway, as I preordered The Heiress’s Daughter – and so know what I’ll be doing tomorrow! Can’t wait to be back in the Garden, Anne – thank you!
    It is prime garden time here in New England and I am lucky to be married to a very diligent gardener. My favorite flowers are daffodils, which just ended, and peonies, which should open this week, along with the irises – at last count, we had 9 different peonies, and I have my eye on a couple more. Our garden is not locked away; in fact, all can be seen from the street and this is the time of year when I hear cars slowing down as they pass by – a tribute to all my personal gardener’s work!

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    • Thanks for pre-ordering Constance. It makes a real difference to authors. I hope you enjoy being back in Bellaire Gardens.
      I love most spring-flowering bulbs, and daffodils are such a splash of sunshiny color. But I’m so envious of your peonies. The flowers are positively sumptuous, I think. I’ve tried to grow them twice, with no luck. And I love the idea that your garden’s beauty is shared with passers-by. Well done to your personal gardener.

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  3. Great interview and I’m reading the book at the moment – enjoying it immensely! I was indeed lucky enough to live in a garden square in London so this setting really resonates with me. They are little oases (is that the plural of oasis??) among all the buildings and very tranquil – perfect!

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    • Thanks, Christina. And yes, in London I’ve seen even tiny squares of green crowded with people on a sunny day, soaking up the sun and a little patch of green, so to have such a large and private garden would be a constant joy.

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  4. I’m so happy to hear we have one more Bellaire Garden book coming. I’ve been keeping fingers crossed for more Zoe. Plus, hopefully, that means we’ll be seeing more of Clarissa and Race too. I so enjoyed them. Thank you for another wonderful story that had me laughing, sighing, and oh so happy at the end.

    About the only flowers I’m able to keep alive are geraniums. Good thing I love them. 🙂

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    • Thanks so much, PJ — I’m so glad you enjoyed the Heiress’s Daughter. And yes, Zoe will get her story — I’m doing the final page proofs now, and there’s already a cover and it’s up for pre-order. It comes out on Christmas Eve.
      Geraniums are brilliant, especially for people in apartments or who aren’t natural gardeners. Think of all those glorious window boxes you see in towns and cities in Europe overflowing with geraniums of all colors. I have one in a pot that I grew from a piece that a friend gave me. She calls it ‘the ancestral geranium’ because it came out from Switzerland with her grandmother.

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  5. I have 25 acres here in Virginia…..not a garden per se, but lovely still. When younger I planted “stuff” here and there…hydrangeas, clematis, Carolina allspice, Daphne, etc. Those have survived nicely. Unfortunately, many things I planted did not survive the hubby….he is hell on a tractor!! If he can get to it – it’s a sure goner! My favorite I think would be Lily of the Valley.

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    • Cathy, that sounds lovely, though 25 acres is a lot to look after. But all those plants you planted sound lovely. I had to look up Carolina allspice. And daphne is one of my all-time fragrant plants. My elderly neighbor in my old house had a large patch of lily of the valley, and every year when it flowered she would pop in with a bunch for me to put in a vase, and the house would smell gorgeous. When she died and the house was sold, I asked the new owner if I could dig up a patch of it. He said no, he wanted it — and then he bulldozed her entire garden. I was furious. But now my own former garden has been bulldozed. What is it with people who don’t appreciate gardens?

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      • My mother loved lily of the valley and had to hide them in the garden because my Dad couldn’t tell them from weeds. He was banned from weeding and told to do the lawn only! Every year when they bloomed my sister and I would sneak out when he was not at home and admire the lily of the valley when Mum showed us the hiding place.

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  6. I’ve always rented since I moved out of my parents’ house, so no access to gardens for me. But my current apartment has a patio area (albeit facing south, without any shade, so much too hot to spend any time there in the summer), so last year I bought a small cheap potted Chrysanthemum plant. Purposely picked one that wasn’t currently blooming. Gave it minimum care – daily watering on non-rainy days, and turning it so each side would get some sun. After a couple of months, it suddenly had flowers galore, and those lasted another month or so… so I plan to buy several again this year.

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    • Thanks, Mirium — I love chrysanthemums. My uncle used to grow and breed them and he’d pass some onto Dad, who then passed some on to me. So I’ve left them growing in a few former houses. You’ve inspired me to buy some now. I generally get a bunch of cut flowers, but it would be nice to have them flowering in a pot, too.

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  7. At the moment, I live in a town house with a patio and one end has had different things I’ve planted there. Right now, wild flowers will be blooming and I will be gone. Which means someone else will see the loveliness. I have also had pots filled with plants. I have planted different trees and when they got to big, I gave them away to people so there would be more trees in the world.
    In the house, I have African violets, and I am a fan of those. They are pretty easy. Out side, right now I have a pot of begonias from a start that was probably 15 years old. I also have a pot of mums. They are a couple of the plants I have not given away and will go to my new home with me.
    This series is like every other series of Ms Gracie’s that I have read. Lovely! Thanks for the interview. And I am looking forward to the next book…..of course.

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    • Thanks Annette. I think taking pots of african violets, begonias and chrysanthemums sounds perfect. I have several different begonias in pots, and also some from cuttings I took from begonias my mother grew. I often gave her a begonia in flower for Mother’s Day, that or a cyclamen in flower. Best of luck in moving to your new home.

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  8. I have access to a number of neighborhood gardens when I travel to lower Manhattan. They are so peaceful. There was a real fight to keep them as greedy developers wanted to destroy them to build expensive high-rise apartment buildings. Many have been saved by people who live in the neighborhoods. Other more benevolent developers see how important the gardens are, so it’s moving in a positive direction.

    One of my favorite flowers I see in these gardens is a purple orchid and a variety that is shades of pink. They are beautiful. One of the gardens has a treehouse. It’s a lovely retreat with a small balcony with a table and chairs for two, a small bookcase, a curving bench with pillows for those who rather be indoors.

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    • Thanks, Patricia — and how wonderful that people have fought to save gardens from greedy developers! I hope more developers realize how much gardens add to a place.
      Those purple and pink orchids sound lovely. My dad used to grow orchids and they are stunning. One time the cleaner in a place I worked brought me a long stem with about 20 orchid flowers on it, some still in bud. It lasted for weeks in a vase.
      And how delightful to have a tree house for the kids — of all ages. I don’t think we ever lose the magic of tree houses, do we?

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  9. I’ve been working on my flower garden this spring. Finally. Two rose bushes were there and I’ve added a hydrangea, a transplanted peony (please survive), bee balm, and day lillies. I love peonies, and the smell of honeysuckle and gardenias.

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    • Thanks Pat — I’m praying for your peony to survive. Mine didn’t. 🙁 And I join with you in loving fragrant flowers. I think your garden is going to be beautiful.

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  10. Thank you for this fun and informative interview, Mary Jo and Anne. And best wishes for the success of THE HEIRESS’S DAUGHTER, Anne.
    My husband is the gardener here, and he mostly concentrates on things to eat. We do have some delphinium blooming now though as well as colorful hydrangea and rhododendron.

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  11. Thanks for the chance to win a book! I’ve been enjoying this series, and I’m also really looking forward to the return of the Devil Riders!
    I have perennial borders around my house, and flowering shrubs, but it’s hard to pick a favorite. There’s a couple of huge Prague viburnums that screen my back fence, a wisteria vine, lilacs, and the next thing I look forward to seeing is the peonies! Possibly they’re my favorite.

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    • Thanks, Karin. I joined an interstate friend for dinner last night and she had a message for me from a friend of hers — Will Marcus ever get his story? And I told her I was working on it.
      I love perennial borders. I made one once many years ago in a share house, using cuttings we struck from our parents’ gardens. It was beautiful and I was sad to leave it. And I’m with you on loving peonies — they’re so lush and lovely.

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  12. I don’t have access to a garden, unfortunately–or fortunately, for the plants, because I do not have one single cell of a green thumb in my body! I love really fragrant flowers, like jasmine and magnolia.

    Happy book birthday!!

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  13. Great interview, Anne and Mary Jo.
    I once was locked inside a private garden in London with a friend. We were exploring and saw the open gate, but then were locked in. It took a while until someone was able to let us out. A fun adventure!
    The book doesn’t come out in Canada until tomorrow. I can hardly wait.

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    • LOL Carol. I’m glad you managed to get out eventually. But what a fun memory.
      When I first went exploring in London as an adult, I had no idea of “private gardens” as they are there — big gardens that look like parks. Until then I’d always assumed “private gardens” meant gardens in people’s yards. I remember staying in one hotel and asking about the beautiful garden opposite which was surrounded by an elegant iron fence, and had big locked gates. I was told only residents had the key.

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  14. It’s been joyful reading about all these lovely gardens! What an appreciative lot of people! We have a lovely – but rather overgrown at the moment – garden on a slope in our English village in the Cotswolds. I have loads of plants I have added but I think the one I could not live without would be ‘Grandpa’s paeony’! I saved a root from my mother’s garden after she died and now have about three or four plants which are about to bloom. They are pink on the outside, with ruffled cream centres but the very middle has a few petals with a ‘raspberry ripple’ effect in deep magenta. They also have a beautiful scent. I am still trying to find out what variety they are – even the Paeony Society doesn’t recognise them, but Mum always took a root with her to each new garden she had, and the original plant was in her own father’s garden – hence the family nickname. I guess the original plant could have been planted over 100 years ago, as my mother was born in 1921 and ‘there was always one in the garden’! Very special!

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    • Andrea, thanks so much for sharing the story of “Grandpa’s Peony” — and the description of the flowers is lovely. I don’t know how these things work, but maybe the peony society should agree to name the peony after your grandfather. Wouldn’t that be good?
      All these posts about peonies is making wonder whether I should try again to grow some.
      As for your “rather overgrown” garden — that’s the trouble, isn’t it? With a busy life, it’s hard to keep on top of the weeding and pruning, especially in spring when everything explodes with life.

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  15. Thank you, such a lovely and inviting interview. I love the premise of the block garden, how wonderful to be a part of this space.

    I have a garden but it’s been quite neglected over the last two to three years. Not so many flowers abound now. One of my favourite times was walking through the garden with Mum and enjoying our flowers. Our favourite was the Iris.

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    • Thanks, Anne. I’m very fond of irises too and will often buy a bunch at the market. I grew tall white and yellow ones and shorter blue ones in my old garden — the white ones from a friend’s garden and the blue ones from my dad’s garden.

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  16. I live on an estate in the middle of the city – all the flats are built around a garden (and a car park). I own 1/161th of the garden (there are 161 flats) but have no say in the planting and gardeners come and take care of it. There is a little children’s play-park too, fenced off. It is delightful and in the pandemic very popular for picnics and socially distanced meetings of friends. I love that I live in the city centre and can still see flowers, cherry trees, hear the birds and see urban foxes. A friend said “Oh I love that little park”, not realising that it was a private garden because it is not fenced in. I don’t mind non-owners using it but I do object when they leave litter or don’t pick up after their dogs.
    Got The Heiresses Daughter on order and looking forward to catching up with Clarissa and hopefully the other families in the Gardens. Also wondering if there is any redemption on the horizon for Milly? Wonder what her story is (or her mothers?)

    Quite excited about a return to the Devil Riders too.

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    • Thank you, Christine. What a boon that garden must be for the residents, especially during the CoVid lockdowns. And I totally agree with you about dog owners not picking up after their dogs — it’s rude and anti-social — and I’m a dog owner.
      As for Milly and her mother, their story comes up in book #4.
      And nice that you’re looking forward to Marcus’s story. Thanks.

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  17. I live in a senior/handicapped community next to a town park with a beautiful garden and a wonderful playground for children.
    My favorite flowers are lilacs. I love the fragrance and delicate blossoms.

    I’m looking forward to the next Devil Rider book as well as the last Bellaire Gardens story.

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    • Cathleen, that sounds like an excellent location — a gorgeous garden that you don’t have to weed yourself, and a children’s playground. I also love lilacs, and was heartbroken when the lovely old one at my previous home was bulldozed.
      Thanks for the Marcus encouragement.

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  18. Living in beautiful countryside around the Malvern Hills, I take frequent car rides to enjoy the scenery. At this time of year the roadside verges are thick with blooming cow parsley, there are meadows of yellow buttercups and the white flowers of elderberry are much in evidence. A few weeks ago there was a hillside covered in blue bells and each month brings new delights. Such is the Garden of Hereford and Worcestershire!

    I also have my own private garden where my favourite plant is a yellow climbing rose growing over an arch. It towers to about 12 feet and is covered in gorgeous yellow blooms throughout the summer. I often sit in a garden chair and admire its beauty while listening to the abundant bird song.

    I have greatly enjoyed the Bellaire Garden audio books and eagerly await the latest contribution. While studying in London I saw a couple of these enclosed gardens and can see that they make an intriguing location for a mystery or romance. Good luck with the sales!

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    • Thanks so much, Quantum — and thank you for that lovely mini cyber-tour of your district. It sounds magical. I’ve mainly been to the UK during winter, but would love to be there for spring and summer.
      Your yellow climbing rose sounds gorgeous. If I’d known about it earlier I would have pinched it for Clarissa’s favorite arbour. Hers is smothered in fragrant pink roses.
      Thanks for the good wishes for the sales.

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  19. I pre-ordered “The Heiress’s Daughter” and it showed up this morning. I am so excited to read it. The interview was delightful. I love your books and hope many more are on their way. It is exciting that Marcus is finally going to get his story. Thank you for the joy you share with all of us fans.

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  20. I do have access to a lawn & garden, though I’m ashamed to say I haven’t been very diligent about weeding this spring. My excuse is that we’ve been discouraged from disturbing the old ground cover to avoid disturbing bees and other insects that overwinter in it.
    My favourite flowers are spring bulbs, such as tulips, tulipa, grape hyacinth 🪻, scilla and irises, which bring such welcome colour after a cold winter.

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    • Anne, I’ve seen several UK gardening shows where they’ve encouraged people to let their lawns and other areas go wild, to support the beneficial insects and the local fauna and birdlife, so I understand the weeding issue. It’s hard to recover a garden from “weeds” which are always more robust than the ones you deliberately plant. And yes, spring bulbs are such a joy when they appear.

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