Disease of Fava Beans--Be Very Afraid
Some Links for Seed School Class 1 August 20, 2011

Naked Ladies--Wildly Successful Plant of the Month

In California, August is the month of the naked ladies. They are to be found dancing in gardens and along roads up and down the state. They dance, however, only in the wind, being rooted firmly in the ground--not wild California women, but pink lily-like blossoms of the plant Amaryllis belladonna. The fanciful name was inspired by the fact the plans have no trace of leaf when they are blooming.

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These, in our neighborhood, were planted behind a low privet hedge, so they peek modestly over the top when viewed from the street. (Not everyone finds them shocking, though, in Italy, they have the much more modest common name of Madonna lily, and in Spain, a name that translates to "Girls going to School.")

Below, I shot a cluster of them close up, so you can see the big bulbs at the top of the soil.

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This is a plant of mysteries. The first is the absence of leaves when it blooms. The explanation for their lack is that they have strap-like leaves in winter that you could easily mistake for Agapanthus leaves. They dry up completely well before the flower stem emerges.

The second mystery is why they sometimes refuse to bloom. In the wild, in the chaparrel-like fynbos of the Cape Province, they bloom only after a wildfire strikes--which happens every 5 to 40 years. In gardens, they tend to bloom every year, but if they are in shade in winter and spring, they may not bloom at all. One guess is that the wildfires remove other plants that shade the leaves in winter.

In South Africa, botanists puzzled for a long time about how the flowers were pollinated, considering a hawk moth, carpenter bees, and other bees. Whatever does it there, something also does it here, because seeds do form. They are soft pearly pink or white balls the size of BBs. I germinated them in pots, just to see, but they don't usually germinate in the garden. This is probably because fall rains are later here than in South Africa, so the delicate, fleshy seeds dry out before they can grow.

These plants grow nicely in unwatered parts of the garden. They rarely need any irrigation at all, being from the western, Cape region of South Africa that has a climate very similar to ours--wet in winter, dry in summer.You'd only need to water a bit in an unusually dry winter. And, while the plant has no need for summer water, it can tolerate a moderate amount of it in spring and summer in soil with good drainage, meaning you can grow it in the same bed as other plants that are moderately drought-tolerant. The bulbs are best left alone for a number of years to produce large clumps.

A good time to plant naked lady bulbs is late summer, when they are most dormant. If you are dividing an existing stand, dig them as soon as the blooms fade.

In South Africa, naked ladies are often interplanted with native bulbs that bloom at other times, such as spring blooming Agapanthus or winter blooming Chasmanthe. (Chasmanthe is a tall, orange or yellow-flowered plant often mistaken for crocosmia here.)

These were among the South African bulbs Thomas Jefferson obtained and tried to grow in his greenhouse, though in general, he wasn't a very successful greenhouse operator and soon gave up, deciding to use the greenhouse as a sun room instead. By 1850, the bulbs were introduced to California, which accounts for the fact they are sometimes seen blooming in places where no one lives now. They have survived in abandoned farm sites and on Alcatraz Island, where they were part of the prisoner or employee gardens recently rennovated. (While they persist, and multiply, they don't generally spread far from the original planting, so if they were planted in a row, the row remains, just blooming more profusely after many years.)

Gus Broucaret, instructor of Horticulture at City College of San Francisco tells me that as a boy in San Francisco in the 1930s or 40s, he would have dirt fights with his friends on undeveloped hillsides, and then dig up a naked lady bulb, slice it open and use the sudsy sap inside to clean their hands before going home to face mothers who didn't much approve of their dirtying play.

Naked ladies are deer and gopher resistant and are fragrant. If you have enough to cut as well as ornament the garden, you will find they are excellent cut flowers.

A similar plant, of interest to those with smaller gardens is Nerine bowdenii, which has pink flowers on bare stems to 2 feet tall in late summer. 

There is much more on Amaryllis belladonna and other easy heirloom California garden plants in my book Wildly Successful Plants: Northern California, available in many local bookstores and nurseries. (See cover at right.)



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richard smith

thank you for the information!.....here in Santa Cruz, California they seem to do well all over.....we are hoping to learn what other benefits their growth provides the soil besides the beautiful flowers with their wonderful fragrance.....our question about the benefit that they may provide the garden is related to the fact that a nectarine tree and a brown turkey fig tree have had exceptionally large and delicious harvests this year and we are wondering if this might have something to do with the large clumps of Amaralysis growing near the trunks of these trees. Do any of you have any insights about this? Thank you!

Pam Peirce

What finally worked to kill the woolly apple aphids is 70% rubbing alcohol, sprayed directly on the insects every few. days. We still lost some branches, but there are very few of the woolly apple aphids now. In addition, we put tanglefoot on the lower trunk over winter, so the root-dwelling ones can't climb up in spring. (We wrap the trunk in a narrow band of polyester batting, then a strip of duct tape, then apply the tanglefoot to the duct tape.) I also put a bag or two of earthworm castings on the soil near the tree in the fall. Fruit trees need extra help to produce all that fruit.

Pam Peirce

If the flowerstems of naked ladies are cut, this should make little difference to the performance of the plants next year. They might have a bit more.energy, in fact, since the cutting will prevent them from forming seed. All of the energy for next year's bloom comes from the leaves that grow in the winter. However, my condolences for the loss of your flowers!

Lynn McDougal

Hello, I came across you wonderful article about the Naked Ladies. I hope you can help solve a question for me. Someone came and cut every single stem of these from along an entire fence line. I guess you can say the stripped them.😉 What if anything will that do to the bulb and it's blooms next year

Thank you in advance,
Lynn McD

Ashley Aubel

I live in Manhattan KS zone 5. February was definitely lower end of that zone. We had minus 35° wind chill that ate up my uncovered shrubs. My naked ladies appeared on time at the beginning of August. So why do ppl insist they don't survive less than zone 7? I oddly seem to be harboring an intrusive zone seven vine as well.


These flowers are beautiful, I live in Australia in the Adelaide Hills, we had a massive fire last year, so I guess that’s why they’ve sprung up everywhere.

Pam Peirce

You have not understood the life cycle of these bulbs. They are to be planted in late summer, not fall. They were given to you just before they began to bloom. You should have planted them immediately, following my instructions for how deeply to plant them depending on the USDA zone you live in (see main article, above). I suspect the poor things are trying to bloom in the box. I think you had better plant them, even though it is rather late. They would normally bloom in August or September and then, after you cut the spent flower stem, they would grow leaves. These would grow in the winter, making food to prepare the bulb to bloom next year, then die back in spring. I don't know what your late planting will do to the bulbs' ability to bloom next year. They may be OK, or may take a year off from blooming next year.

richard preston

someone gave me naked lady bulbs in July. They have been in a dark place since in an open box. 3 of the bulbs have already put up new stems, 10 to 14" still in the box. Should I plant them now? Sierra foothills, CA elevation 3500' Oct 2 2020

Merilee Estes

The deer eat the flower of our Naked Lady plants, but haven’t bothered the green leaves.

Pam Peirce

The naked lady bulb would probably not be toxic to a squirrel, so it could eat it, but, mammals being what they are, they are unpredictable. It would depend on how hungry they are, I imagine. Do they eat other bulbs in your garden? Then be more concerned. If you worry, there may be some way to plant the bulbs with chicken wire protection, but there has to be an opening through which the leaves and flower stems can emerge. I do not have experience protecting bulbs from squirrels.

Pam Peirce

What happens when you cut the leaves off while they are still green depends on how much energy the bulb had been able to store before you did it. If there is not enough energy to form blooms, your naked ladies won't bloom this year. But they are perennials, so if you don't cut the leaves off in future years, there is a good chance they will resume blooming. The plants can be temperamental, so I cannot predict if they will bloom this year if prematurely cut back, or if they don't, how many years their bloom will be interrupted. I shall cross my fingers and hope you didn't prevent bloom this year, or, if you did, that your bulbs will recover and bloom next year.

Pauline Von Stetten

Thanks for all the input. A member of our garden club dropped off about 7 of the many
Naked Lady bulbs she had removed from her garden after they began damaging a fence.
One place I thought would accommodate them is on a hillside,some distance from the house.
I'm glad to learn that hey need very little water because there is no way for me to supply it in that area..
We do get visiting wild animals in our garden, including squirrels. Did you say that they like to eat the bulbs?

L graham

Well I already messed up and cut off the leaves before I should have? So what happens when you cut off the leaves before they are ready?

Pam Peirce

It is fine to cut the stalks of naked lady lilies after they bloom. You might want to leave an inch or two to mark where they are, so you don't damage the bulbs before they have a chance to grow new leaves,

Janice Kelly

Once naked ladies are done blooming is it okay to cut the long stalks? Will they bloom again the following year if I cut them too soon?

Pam Peirce

If you cut green leaves from the Naked Lady plant, you will reduce the amount of energy the plant has to bloom. However, as summer progresses, the leaves turn yellow and wilt, then turn brown, and when they pull off easily, you can remove them.

Incidentally, for smaller gardens, consider planting nerine bulbs. The plants are smaller, but with a similar habit.


If someone would answer Patrice and Karen's questions, that'd be most helpful for my situation as well.
Thank you, C

Spooky Boo

We get these randomly in our backyard and sometimes growing out of our palm tree.

Pam Peirce

Naked ladies are not hardy in Michigan. That is, they will not survive a winter outside. They are hardy to USDA Plant Hardiness Zone 7, which reaches, on average, 0 degrees in winter. Even the mildest areas of Michigan are in Zone 6, which reaches minus 10, and much of the state is Zone 5 or 4, which reach minus 20 or 30.
As to the ones you have indoors in containers, so far so good. They have made winter leaves and died back. I suppose when danger of deep cold is past, the dormant bulbs in pots could be set outside, and perhaps would bloom in late summer. Put them In a sunny spot, which will warm the container mix.
I wouldn't mess with putting them in the ground. Theoretically, you could dig them up every fall, but the plant doesn't like being disturbed, and might not bloom if you keep replanting it each year. (In fact it might not bloom in the container, having been there only a few months.)
If you leave the bulbs in the container, they will probably need some fertilizer in fall when the leaves start to grow again.
Please do not chop up any bulbs. This will kill them outright. They will make side bulbs that can be carefully separated when they are dormant. The best time to do this would be right after bloom, or right after the time they should have bloomed, in about September.
If they do bloom, they sometimes do set seed. It is pink or white and fleshy. Because this plant is from a mild winter area (the Cape region of South Africa) the seeds will not overwinter where you are. They would have to be collected and hand sown that fall, indoors. They will require several years to form bulbs big enough to bloom.
The bulb plant Lycoris is similar to naked lady, but hardier. It is sometimes called magic lily because it also blooms on bare stems in late summer. If you live in a part of Michigan with at at least Zone 5b (minus 10-15 below zero the coldest of a typical winter) you should be able to grow Lycoris radiata, which has red flowers. Lycoris squamigera is even hardier, to Zone 5, and has pink flowers.
Find out what hardiness zone you are in before you decide what to do.

Jean Taylor

We were given several Naked Ladies bulbs.. about the size of a fist.. in N. CA and send them back to MI . They were potted/planted.. and didn't do a thing.. figured theyw ere dead, and when I dug them out.. they had rooted nicely.. so we left them.. Now they're inside.. really COLD MI winter.. and have produced the leaves.. now dying off.. we water them with warm water.. ocassionally. When can they be transplanted outside? and how can the big 'bulb' be split.. simply chopped apart??? or should I rely on.. hopefully.. the seeds to nurture later?

Pam Peirce

Hi Bonnie, I don't know that anyone has studied how many trumpets, or flowers, can form on older naked lady stems. You may be the one who can report on that. Thanks for your report.

Bonnie fain

I have wild naked ladies, some of the very old clusters have 15 trumpets , I just found one with 17 trumpets the old one have dried up but new ones are still developing ,is that normal ? If so what is the most trumpets I can except

Pam Peirce

Richard, You should think before you plant any bulb. There are much worse ones to have spreading in your garden, some of the smaller ones can really go. At least these are big, not hard-to-locate bulbs that, at least in mild winter areas, are at or near the surface. And such a lovely flower! Think about where you want them and enjoy them for years.

Richard Ishizue

Think before you plant them.They will spread very easily and becomes harder to dig them out.

Pam Peirce

Hi Joan,
Whether you can grow your germinating Amaryllis belladonna seeds outdoors over winter really depends on where you are--how cold it gets. But if you live where the plants are growing, chances are the seedlings can also overwinter. However, remember that the potting mix in a small container will get colder on cold nights than soil in the open ground, because of its small volume, so if you have frosty nights, you might need to bring the pot inside. An unheated basement or garage would be warm enough. It will take several years for your seedlings make bulbs large enough to bloom.

Joan Thompson

Hi Diana,
I have saved some naked lady seeds to plant. Because I procrastinate, they are sitting on my desk, and I just noticed they are starting to sprout. I will get them in the ground and/or pots today! Can you recommend how much soil should cover them? Is it too cold to plant them outdoors?
I appreciate your advice. Thank you, Jo

Elaine Annunziato

I saved 5 belladonna bulbs and planted them in a large pot and put them in the sun. In the spring they grew a nice bunch of leaves which eventually died off. In August one of them flowered. It is now October and they are all growing a good bunch of leaves. Isn't this awfully early for the leaves?

Lavinia Lipp

I got some bulbs from a friend that she said are Naked Ladies. They grow well with a bunch of bulbs together and have long narrow green leaves. The flowers are long and pink that are single not a cluster of flowers when they bloom. They bloom mid summer to fall. I have them in pots for years and bring them in in the fall. In North Dakota I take them in in the fall. All I do is not water them after they are in and let them go dormant. When it is time for them to go outside I just put the pots out clean all the dead leaves away and start watering. Soon they are growing and have late summer flowers. I give them Miracle- Grow at the beginning of the spring which helps them and again later in the summer. I have to watch the squirrels they love to eat them.

Pam Peirce

Hi Marilyn,

I see bulbs in local SF Bay Area nurseries every year. They are usually available in late summer, since right after they bloom is the best time to dig and replant the dormant bulbs. If you don't find them locally at that time of year, you'll have to do a web search and try to find some online. Just be sure that you are getting Amaryllis belladonna, and not the plant commonly called amaryllis, which is really in the plant genus Hippocastenum, because that is a very different plant!

Marilyn Mansfield

I really, really would like to buy some bulbs of the naked lady!

Please tell me how and where and how much?

They are beautiful. I live in San Dimas,CA always sunny.

Thank you, Marilyn

Pam Peirce

To answer the question of whether naked ladies are hardy in Grant's Pass Oregon: This location is in USDA Hardiness Zone 8b. Naked lady bulbs are hardy to Zone 7, so they should be fine in Grant's Pass. However, they need to be planted deeper in colder winter areas. In Zone 10 (such as San Francisco), the bulbs should be planted with the tops just at the soil surface. They should be planted progressively deeper where winter will be colder, until, in Zone 7, the tops of the bulbs should be six inches under the surface. So in Grant's Pass, I guess they should be about 4 1/2 inches deep. Plant them in late summer or early fall, as that is when they are most dormant.
In your climate, you can also grow red, orange-red, white, and pink flowered Lycoris species. Some species are like a shorter naked lady, some have spidery flowers, with projecting stamens.


Good afternoon. Can Naked Ladies grow in Grants Pass Oregon?

Pam Peirce

In answer to the question of dividing naked lady bulbs, I think bulbs that large should be able to thrive after separating, assuming the separated bulbs all have roots. The smaller ones may take a while to bloom again. In the best case, naked lady bulbs that were moved often skip a year of bloom.

Pam Peirce

In answer to the question about growing naked ladies in a pot, I can only say that bulbs I planted in a large pot never bloomed. Maybe it was my rather chilly microclimate? The fact I couldn't provide all day sun? I do know that the plant can be a bit temperamental and may not bloom for a couple of years after they have been moved. Good luck!

Azita Lo

Hello, I found this article searching for the answer to my question. Sending this email is a shot in the dark as the article is from over four years ago. Can naked ladies be grown in a pot? I have a small yard and need the space they occupy for a vegetable garden.




I need to move my Naked Ladies. I have dug them up and the bulb is about the size of a grapefruit. Can these bulbs be split or would that hurt the flower?

Pam Peirce

Hi Cindy, Your naked lady bulbs can't be stored dry, since they need to grow and make leaves this winter for next year's flowers to form. Your best bet, if you can't replant them in the ground, would be to put them in potting mix, in containers, preferably 10-12" pots a foot or so deep, or a box a foot deep that allows for them to be set 6 inches or so apart. Don't forget to keep them moist in the winter, They will die back in late spring, and then you can remove the papery dead leaves. Ideally, you'd transplant them back into the ground in about August, when they are again most dormant, but if you don't disturb the roots much, I think you can do it when the leaves die back. This whole process may cause them not to bloom for a year or two, but with a chance to grow leaves, they should survive.


Hi Pam,
I am having to dig up my naked ladies as we are putting in a new fence. How is the best way to store the bulbs until I can replant them back along the fence. Also is it best to plant them in the next month (Mid to late Oct) or wait until spring?
Thank you,

Pam Peirce

Best to wait until the leaves of naked ladies turn brown. Then they practically fall off and need only be picked up. (They'd make great compost.) If you cut the leaves when they are still green, and possibly even if they were yellow, on the way to dying, it could reduce blooming, since they are busily transporting all the food they made to the bulbs before they die. This is always a problem in a small garden. What to do with plants when they are out of bloom. The best idea is probably to choose mostly ones with year-round interest, but keep the seasonal ones you love. You might decide waiting for your 100 naked ladies to shed leaves is worth it, or might decide 100 is a bit too many of them in the off season, so reduce your planting of them. There is also an option to hide spent plants while they are dying back, but you must not grow something over the bulbs, as they need heat and sun to stimulate flowering.


Can naked lady leaves be cut off? Will they still flower if this is done. I have about 100 and the leaves are everywhere. I don't like things looking messy.


I live in the foothills near Chico, CA at about 2000 feet. I planted 6 Bella Donna lilies about 6 or seven years ago and have only had two blossoms in all that time. They all get glorious leaves in late winter/spring that last a long time. Then the leaves die back until next year...but no flowers appear. They do get watered along with the iris near them, and quite a bit of shade. Is the situation hopeless? I love these flowers as I remember them from my childhood in Hayward, CA. What to do?

Pam Peirce

Note that the offer of 5,000 naked lady bulbs has been placed in February, when the plants are in leaf. This is a poor time to transplant the bulbs. Better would be August or September, when they are about to bloom or have just bloomed. Then is when the bulb is dormant and can handle transplanting best. To learn more about propagating and growing naked lady bulbs and many other common plants, read my book Wildly Successful Plants: Northern California, available in many bookstores.

Ken Hettman

Hello, Our church purchased a Farm in Half Moon Bay, CA. We have about 5,000 Naked Lady bulbs we would like to sell. Our Farm web site: www.anandavalleyfarm.org Please contact me at 650-595-5422 or E-mail. Thank you, Ken

Pam Peirce

Sounds like you have had some mayhem in the amaryllis area! If the leaves are destroyed, the plants won't have the energy to make any new flower buds for the next year. They could even be killed. Time will tell, I guess. If they do bloom, and you can move them to a safer place, the time to do it is during or just after bloom. In fact, that might be a good time to dig them all and get them out of harm's way, just before they start to grow leaves again.


My husband mows that area with a riding mow so the leaves didn't actual grow so will that keep the flowers from blooming. When Is a good time to moved them.will it take another 5 years for them to bloom.

Pam Peirce

Sloat Nursery in the Bay Area was advertising several different varieties of naked lady bulbs last month. Shouldn't be hard to find them in this area. Call local nurseries.

R M Fisher

Can you suggest where to purchase Pink/Naked Lady BULBS - thanks roger

Pam Peirce

Chris, I think you mean that when the flowers fade small bead-like things that look like pink or white pearls form on the stalks. They are not bulbs, but are the seeds of this plant. Unlike most seeds, they do not dry out so they can remain dormant to grow later, but must be planted right away.
I planted them one year and sure enough, they produced little leafy A. belladona plants. I planted in a pot, in potting mix. But it took a few years to make full-sized plants. I gave them away before they bloomed, which can take at least 3 years and up to 6 years. Water them when they have leaves. They may not go dormant as long as older plants do.
This information and much more about 50 common plants and about ornamental gardening in Northern California is in my book Wildly Successful Plants: Northern California.


When the stocks die off and I picked all the pods of the dead stocks on top, and they look like small bulbs, Is this true, or am I crazy, didn't know if they were like seed bulbs?

K Kline

Will naked ladies do well in decomposed granet, and will they tolerate extrem heat for at least 3 1/2 months out of the year? I have a hillside I would like to plant them on.

Peter Carey

Where can I buy naked lady bulbs ?

Pam Peirce

Your description is perfect for Lychoris radiata, or red spider lily, a bulb plant that is native to Japan. It has similar habits to those of Amaryllis belladonna, but, as you noticed, the flowers are red with narrow, divided petals, while A. belladonna flowers are usually a mid-pink, and are shaped like funnels. Red spider lily is better adapted to your location than ours, being hardy to your colder winters and blooming best in hot summers.
The two plants both tolerate dry summers and have toxic bulbs that repel gophers and other rodents. These traits explain why both, in their areas of adaptation, survive without care to establish semi-wild stands.

Dorothy L. Bird

I lost my naked ladies and want to buy more.where my I order them? Thank you

Mimi H

I'm in east central Oklahoma. The 'naked ladies' here are a real bright red and the petals are very narrow like a delicate orchid. Other than that the plants sound to be the same. I've found huge areas of the bulbs just under the surface. There had been no flowers there and no foliage apparent. With advice from a neighbor I dug them up, separated the bulbs, let them air dry out of the sun for a few days and then planted them so the top was about an inch under the surface in places that I wanted them. The bloomed just fine. I did this in late April. The foliage ours get is like a little puff ball - a slightly bluish green with a lighter stripe down the center. Flower stalks are 12 to 18" and the foliage puffs are about a foot high and about the same wide. Foliage stays nice all winter and dies just before it is time to mow the grass, and there is no sign of them until they bloom in early fall.

Pam Peirce

Hi Glena,

Naked ladies will bloom in late summer and are most dormant right after they bloom, not before. The best time to dig them is while they are blooming or right after they bloom. I think your best bet would be to plant them now, in a place that will get little water and that has good drainage. Set them with the tops showing aboveground. Because you dug them early, I don't know whether you will still get bloom this year, but you might. If you think of it, write to this blog and let us know if you did.

Glena Herrington

I dug up a box full of bulbs from a friend's house and I need to know what to do with them until I plant them in late summer.

Pam Peirce

Hi Sylvia,

When naked lady leaves are pale beige and barely attached to the bulb, you can just lift them away and compost them. By this time, the bulb has extracted all the food it can from the leaves and is using it to make a flower later in the summer.
However, please do not tie or fold green leaves of iris, daffodil, or any other plant. The plants need these leaves to remain exposed to light in order to photosynthesize the food they need to store over winter so they can bloom well next year. I assume here you are talking about bulbous iris. I know they can be unsightly, but when they are ready to be removed, the brown leaves pull readily from the plant. If you have to tug, they are not ready. I just removed leaves and stalks of my bulbous irises this week, though I had cut brown parts of some back earlier to tidy up.

Sylvia Grider

I have a few clumps of these in my yard. What should I do when the leaves die and just lie on the ground? Is it OK just to pull them off and compost them? Or do I need to fold them up and bind them like irises? I don't want to disturb the rhythm of the flowering process.


I'd forgotten about 'Nakid Ladies' till i read this. I had a patch growing in the garden but they have obviously died during last winter. I will be buying some more now to grow in the garden as they have been gorgeous for the previous 5 or so years.

Pam Peirce

Hi Diana,

Thanks for sharing this story. I can just see Mom trying to x-rate the name of these flowers and giving away the x-rated name as she did it! But as we can see, from the story of your grandmother, children's imagination is not necessarily to be thwarted!

Diana Peirce

Hi Pam
Just wanted to say we loved your blog article about Naked Ladies. As you no doubt recall,we have a veritable bevy of them here on the property in Vista...so many that we've needed to separate and move them twice now. Scott remembers your mother telling him and his sisters about them as children. She told the kids they were to call them "Pink Ladies" because their "real" name was "Naked Ladies" and that was an improper term for them to use. (Being kids, that just served as a challenge to see how often they could say "naked"!) That made me think about my grandmother...a proper lady for sure! When navel oranges first became available in the Northeast, Grandma showed them to us and explained why they were called navel. We immediately (at age 6-8 or so, I think), called them "Belly Button oranges". She was appalled and forbid us to say it again...which of course served as our own challenge...because it was an improper term for us to use!
Anyway, although we know that alot of your blog and column topics are centered hundreds of miles north of us, we continue to read and enjoy weekly, as we acclimate to the West Coast life....now 18 months and counting!
Much love
Tim and Diana

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