Tag Archives: willow

Backyard baskets for Summer blooms

The closing of the month of May and the opening of the month of June for me marks a season change, as my gardening brain moves on from Spring to Summer. Although the deep temperature dips we’ve experienced this past week did make me double-check the calendar! But sure enough, it is June so Summer has arrived – and that means it’s time to spruce up my backyard and plant up my Summer baskets.

Willow basket planter and willow garden screen
My original willow basket planter and one of the two willow screens

I’m keeping my crochet jute and willow garden screens going for another year so that I can continue to make use of the vertical space that enjoys the best of the sunshine in my rather shaded yard. The willow basket planter I have on my wall needed a bit of mending too and at the same time I decided to add a few more willow rods at each end to hold the weaving in place. In my photo you can probably spot the new green willow that I’ve added.

This year, I’ve decided not to go with the same air-pruning plant pots as I’ve used previously because I found my smaller pots dried out too fast when they’re planted up with the climbing plants that I needed them for. Instead, I’ve made a new hanging plant basket from hazel rods and woven willow.

Willow and Hazel Plant Basket with Summer plants
The new willow and hazel plant basket

The new hanging plant basket is very similar to the original hazel and willow basket I successfully used last year for my Violas on my backyard wall. That’s last year’s Violas you can see on my Summer blog header at the top of the page. The new basket has a sturdy hazel frame. I made the frame a few months ago in early Spring as I used natural green wood hazel rods and I wanted to bend the rods into the basket shape whilst they were still very flexible. I then added the woven willow to form the full basket.

Green willow rods stored in a bucket of water
Sprouting green willow rods stored in a bucket of water

After harvesting them last December, I’d kept my willow rods green and flexible by storing them in a bucket of water in a sheltered part of the garden. The willow is now well-sprouted and rooted and I will probably plant a few of the cuttings out in a suitable spot. But most of the willow is reserved for basket-mending and making.

Which flowers have I chosen to go in the baskets? Building on my successful plantings from last Summer, I’m growing trailing, mixed colour Nasturtiums again. (You can see last year’s Nasturtiums in my header image on this post.) These flowers scrambled beautifully up the willow screens and they were extremely popular with the bees. As the Violas were also lovely last year (and admired by the neighbours 🙂 ), I’ve decided to grow them again too.

Violas, Nasturtiums, Marigolds in Willow Planter
Violas, Nasturtiums, Marigolds in my new willow basket planter

My new flowers for this year are bi-coloured French Marigolds in orange and crimson and a deep purple-blue compact Verbena. I’ve planted up both baskets with Nasturtiums, Violas and French Marigolds so far and left some space to add the Verbenas very soon. I’m sure I’ll be posting again as the flowers grow and develop their full Summer blooms.

Now all we need is some Summer sunshine 🙂

J Peggy Taylor

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Hazel and willow basket planter with yarn bombing

Yarn bombing and willow weaving in my yard: gardening meets craft

This Spring I’ve been building on my back yard gardening ideas from last year but to make sure there’s always colour in my yard – regardless of whether the plants thrive or fail – I’ve also gone in for a bit of yard yarn bombing this growing season too.

I’ve tidied up the wild crochet jute and willow garden screens that I made for my Sweet Peas last year and turned them into slightly neater, but still very rustic, willow arches.

Willow garden screen rustic arch
Rustic willow garden screen ~ now an arch

This Summer the willow garden screens are going to support the nasturtiums I have sown in their fabric growbags in some of my upcycled air-pruning plant pots. The fabric growbags and air-pruning plant pots have been made the same way as last year.

Nasturtiums in air pruning plant pots
Nasturtiums in air pruning plant pots

If you’re interested in seeing how I made these upcycled air-pruning plant pots you can see the process here and here.

Keeping with the rustic woven willow theme, I’ve added a large basket planter on the outside wall of my yard, overlooking the street.

Willow Garden Screen Arch and Hazel rod basket frame
Willow arch garden screen and hazel rod basket frame
Hazel plant basket frame with coloured yarn ties
Hazel plant basket frame with coloured yarn ties

The basket frame is made from green hazel rods, carefully bent around into an oval shape and fastened with some brightly coloured crochet chains. I added some thinner willow rods that I had to hand to make the top half of the basket. I plan to finish off the weaving with some green willow rods at some later time.

I then lined the basket planter with a sliced-open empty plastic compost sack and I filled up the basket with a soil and potting compost mix. I used some soil to create weight in the base of the basket and also because the soil will help to retain water better than just potting compost alone. My old-fashioned ‘Johnny-jump-up’ violas had grown on well from sowing at the end of March and were just beginning to flower when I planted them out into the new hazel and willow basket planter on my back yard wall. I do think the violas look lovely with their little purple faces nodding in the breeze.

Johnny-jump-up violas flowering in rustic basket planter
The Johnny-jump-up Violas in their rustic basket planter

With so little growing space, I’ve gone further overboard with vertical gardening this year in my back yard gardening, with a new plant shelf to take more advantage of the fence area that sees plenty of light and sunshine.

Yarn bombing plant pots - header
Pots of dahlias and irises on the plant shelf with their colourful yarn plant pot slings

This new plant shelf is now home to pots of dwarf dahlias, which are growing on well since I potted up my seedlings, and some irises that don’t seem to be growing on too well at all just yet. To secure the pots onto the shelf, I devised a strong crochet plant pot sling and crafted these in different colours to give this new growing area an instant colour splash.

First dahlia bud
First dahlia bud

As I was watering my pots yesterday, I was excited to see the first dahlia flower bud appearing on one of my plants … I will be watching and waiting – what colour will it be!

J Peggy Taylor

Our Christmas wreath

Our Christmas wreath 2014
Our Christmas wreath 2014

Most of our Christmas decorations have shared many festive seasons with us. Several of them have their own tales that are retold each year as we retrieve them from their packing boxes for their next seasonal display. Some are items that have been hand crafted by our children over the years.

One such item is the willow base on which each year I craft our Christmas wreath of evergreens with holly, ivy, pine and two ‘ears’ of yew. Collecting the greenery is something of a family ritual, but also a welcome excuse for a woodland wander. I love the woods at all times of year and mid-Winter has its own magic.

When complete, we hang our Christmas wreath outdoors on a wall-hook. We used to hang it on the door but modern uPVC doors don’t seem to lend themselves well to ancient earthy rituals like wreath hanging!

J Peggy Taylor

How to make a lighweight roll-up trug

How to make a crochet string and willow lightweight trug

Collecting bundles of long-stemmed plants or flowers can be awkward, especially if you need to carry them any distance and don’t want to break the stems. If the plants in question are Stinging Nettles, then that makes collecting them even more difficult.

I collect both nettles and Comfrey in Spring or early Summer as I use them to make plant food. I will also be collecting a quantity of nettles fairly soon for a fibre art project I’m working on. Thinking about the practicalities of these tasks this year led to me designing and constructing a basic, lightweight and readily portable trug suitable for my long-stemmed-plant-carrying activities.

Completed trug in use
My trug with a small load of Comfrey and nettle … its first outing

In recent months I’ve had a bit of a ‘thing’ about crafting in willow and jute, so I had some of these natural materials to hand with which to try out my trug-making. I thought I’d share this little project with you. The design I’ve created is very simple and could be made in other, or more sturdy materials, as suits the purpose of your trug.

The Materials I used

15 Willow rods (I selected the rods so they were all approximately the same pencil thickness with 2 slightly thicker ones at each end)
Ruler/tape measure
Secateurs/knife
Jute garden string
Thick cotton string
Size 5.00 crochet hook

Making the trug

Completed trug opened out
The complete trug – folded out so you can see the overall construction

1. Firstly, I trimmed the thinner tips of the willow rods so that they were all about 1 metre (39 inches) long.

2. I arranged the willow rods, making sure they were all parallel with each other and about 5cm (2 inches) apart.

3. Using the cotton string and the crochet hook, I carefully crocheted across the willow rods 7.5cm (3 inches) to the right of the centre of the rod, making sure I kept the rods the same distance from each other, working 6 crochet chains between willow rods and keeping the rods parallel lengthways too. To secure each rod I crocheted around it with one chain in each direction, before continuing with my crochet chain across to the next rod.

4. When I’d crocheted right across all of the 15 willow rods, I created a carrying handle 20cm (8 inches) long. With my thick cotton string I worked 21 crochet chains for the handle.

Trug close-up, showing crochet for handle and rods
A closer view of one of the trug handles. You can also see more clearly how I have crocheted around the willow rods.

5. Next I crocheted back across the willow rods, 15cm (6 inches) away from first row, (that’s 7.5cm / 3 inches to the left of the centre of the rods) again keeping the rods the same distance from each other by working 6 crochet chains between the rods.

6. When I’d completed this second row of crochet, I created the second carrying handle on the opposite edge of the trug, in the same way as the first handle.

7. I carefully secured the end of the string to ensure the handle stays firmly attached.

A closer view of the position of the rows of jute and cotton crochet that hold the trug together
A closer view of the position of the rows of jute and cotton crochet that hold the trug together

8. To complete the trug I worked a second row of crochet on each side. I placed these outer rows of crochet 18cm (7 inches) from the first and, this time, I worked my crochet in green jute garden string. Again I fastened off the yarn securely.

Holding the empty trug
Holding the empty trug – you can see it balances quite evenly on its handles

… and that was my trug completed. I have used it a couple of times so far for carrying Comfrey and Stinging Nettles and I found it worked just as I’d hoped for my needs. To roll it up, I simply hold the handles and gather together the willow rods then secure it by tying a piece of string around each end.

Lightweight trug, rolled and tied
My lightweight trug, rolled and tied at one end … tied at both ends and it is easy to carry by its own handles

I am thinking of making a tougher one – ready for Autumn – using hazel rods. I will use it for carrying willow rods or other heavier woody materials.

J Peggy Taylor

Pink Sweet Peas on willow garden screen

Air-pruning plant pot success! My Sweet Peas are flowering!

When I sowed my Sweet Peas in their upcycled air-pruning plant pots, way back in April this year, I wasn’t sure how well my plants would grow. I’d never experimented with air-pruning plant pots before so this was a whole new experience for me.

Despite being in somewhat smaller pots than would normally be used, the Sweet Pea plants I’d hung on my yard gate have still grown to their full height – the fully grown plants are now 175cm (69″) tall. The Sweet Peas are supported on one of the willow and jute garden screens I’d designed and created for this purpose. This project was part of my idea to expand the growing space in my back yard by vertical gardening.

Air-pruning plant pots firmly secured to the gate and the Sweet Pea plants arranged on the jute and willow garden screen
Air-pruning plant pots firmly secured to the gate and the young Sweet Pea plants arranged on the jute and willow garden screen

I have been watching closely as the flowers have been developing on the Sweet Peas. This week I am very happy to report that my first of my Sweet Pea plants has revealed its first beautiful pink blooms 🙂

The first buds appearing on the Sweet Peas
The first buds appearing on the Sweet Peas
Flower buds bursting on the Sweet Peas
Flower buds bursting on the Sweet Peas
The first Sweet Pea flower gradually unfurls its pink petals
The first Sweet Pea flower gradually unfurls its pink petals
Pink Sweet Pea flowers in full bloom lit up by the evening sun
Pink Sweet Pea flowers in full bloom lit up by the evening sun

Looking at the other plants along the yard gate that are now budding, we have some creamy white flowers and some deep crimson flowers, so with the pink flowers too, that’s going to be a lovely range of colours growing together.

J Peggy Taylor

Crochet jute and willow garden screen - crochet close-up

The crochet jute and willow garden screen – completed!

The crochet jute and willow garden screen that I have been creating as a support for my Sweet Pea plants is now complete.

The gate section of my crochet jute and willow garden screen - ready to fix in place
The gate section of my crochet jute and willow garden screen – ready to fix in place

This second part of the willow screen I have made just like the first one, using two rows of crochet green jute yarn to bind the willow rods together.

I needed to make this part of the willow screen a bit shorter than the first one because this one is to go on the back of my yard gate. I wasn’t too sure how this part of the garden screen was going to work out when I came to fix the screen in situ. This part of the experiment was going to be interesting … discovering whether my plan would go exactly according to plan!

My wood-crafting son helped me out with the hand-hewn batten I wanted, to hold the willow screen for the gate in place. The batten is made from a short length of sycamore branch that we happened to have lying around. After sawing it to length, we removed the bark and my son deftly axed it into shape so that it could be easily screwed onto the back of the gate. I love the smooth, pale grain of sycamore. Next, I pre-drilled holes in the appropriate places after I’d checked precisely where the batten was going to fit onto the gate and I partly inserted the screws ready to attach it.

To fix this second piece of my willow garden screen in place, I first tacked the lower row of jute crochet to the top of the gate using small fencing staples. I then loosely attached the batten at each end whilst I reorganised some of the willow rods that I found had slipped out of place.

Attaching the willow screen to the gate with staples and a hand-hewn batten
The willow screen is held in place by fencing staples and the hand-hewn sycamore batten

When I was happy with the position of the basic frame, I then began weaving some thinner willow rods across the garden screen. I worked in a random fashion, just as I had done with the first part of the screen. I was aiming for the garden screen to still allow a lot of light through it so that the light would continue to reach the numerous other trees and plants in my yard. Even though the willow weavers are very thin, they do provide a reasonably sturdy structure on which my Sweet Pea plants can grow.

I inserted the thin willow cross weavers in a random fashion
I inserted the thin willow cross weavers in a random fashion

I made sure there was a slightly stouter rod at each end of the willow screen to provide stability. I had wondered about the overall stability of the willow screen in windy conditions, as I mentioned in a previous post on this project, but the first part of my garden screen has been in place for a couple of weeks now and has survived some moderate winds … so far so good!

The first air-pruning plant pot fixed in place on the willow garden screen
The first air-pruning plant pot fixed in place on the willow garden screen

Now it was time to attach the air-pruning plant pots with their cargoes of Sweet Pea plants onto the willow garden screen. I had experimented with one plant pot a couple of days ago on the first part of the willow screen and my design plan seems to be holding up well, so I set to work attaching the other five plant pots.

As I had anticipated, the handles of my upcycled milk carton air-pruning plant pots came in very useful at this stage. I tied the plant pots firmly in place, making sure they couldn’t slip out of position as this could potentially damage the growing plants.

For the three plant pots near my wall, I used the string loop I’d added to each plant pot for this purpose. I’d initially thought I might just stand the Sweet Pea plant pots on top of the plant buckets into which I’d inserted the willow rods of the garden screen, along behind my yard wall. But some tell-tale slug trails nearby suggested it may be a good idea to tie the pots a little higher – hopefully out of temptation’s way! The recent experience of slugs and Soapwort is still fresh in my mind!

I attached the other two Sweet Pea plant pots along by the wall
I attached the other two Sweet Pea plant pots along by the wall

To secure the Sweet Pea plant pots to the back of my gate, I decided to use my new firmly fixed sycamore batten. Again I made use of the handles of the recycled milk carton plant pots when attaching the string.

Air-pruning plant pots firmly secured to the gate and the Sweet Pea plants arranged on the jute and willow garden screen
Air-pruning plant pots firmly secured to the gate and the Sweet Pea plants arranged on the jute and willow garden screen

When I had all of the Sweet Pea plant pots in place, my final task was to carefully arrange the growing plants, weaving the stems in and out of the willow screen where I am hoping they will continue to grow and flourish. Perhaps before too much longer I will be able to post about my first Sweet Pea flowers – I do hope so!

J Peggy Taylor

My crochet jute and willow rod garden screen fixed in place with a hazel strengthening rod

Crochet jute and willow garden screen: project update

In recent weeks I have been creating a crochet jute and willow garden screen on which to train my rapidly developing Sweet Pea plants (in their upcycled air-pruning plant pots that I’ve been sharing with you lately). This garden screen project is part of a bigger plan I have to make more use of vertical space in my very small back yard.

In a previous post I was showing you the initial framework for the larger of the two pieces of garden screen I am in the process of constructing. This crochet jute and willow rod garden screen is very much an experiment-in-progress as I ponder and deliberate on how to approach the next stage.

This week I took the chance of a particularly warm and sunny afternoon to begin the task of setting up the completed first section of the willow garden screen. I think the sunshine was beginning to make me impatient to see how the next stage of this project would work out!

I inserted the butts of the willow rods into the plant buckets in my yard
I inserted the butts of the willow rods into the plant buckets in my yard

My initial plan had been to create a made-to-measure trough from small logs in which to ‘plant’ the base of this section of the garden screen. However, since I have not yet found time to construct the wooden trough, I decided to simply ‘plant’ the upright rods of the willow screen into the plant buckets I already have in situ in that area of my back yard. These buckets are currently taking good care of some willow cuttings that I took earlier in the year.

In its preliminary stage of construction my large section of willow screen was easily gathered up into a bundle … deliberately, so it was possible to manoeuvre it into my back yard! I’d taken care to measure the space I had available to fill and I am pleased to say the jute crochet allowed the willow rods to stretch out just enough to fill it exactly. I carefully pushed the butts of some of the thicker willow rods into place, deep into the plant buckets. And … Hey Presto! … my crochet jute and willow garden screen stood proudly in its new place!

My willow garden screen standing upright in place in my back yard
My willow garden screen standing upright in place in my back yard

I was pleased to notice that the height at which I’d trimmed off the willow rods made the screen just the height I was hoping to achieve in relation to my neighbour’s fence. It might have been fun to have the tallest fence in the neighbourhood, but perhaps not if I wanted it to remain stable as a plant support 😉

The next job was to begin weaving in the much thinner willow rods across the garden screen to create an open lattice-work around which the Sweet Peas could wind their tendrils. I worked the thin weavers through between the rods, very much in a random fashion, as I had planned. My intention was to still allow as much light as possible to reach my yard, especially for the benefit of my other plants.

My finished willow garden screen just matches the height of my neighbour's fence
My finished willow garden screen just matches the height of my neighbour’s fence

When I had finished weaving the thin weavers into the main framework of the willow screen I found the screen was already quite stable. However, I decided to add some strengthening rods at either end of the screen, as my son had suggested, to give even more stability in the windy weather we often experience here on our northern hillside. The hazel strengthening rod is simply tied onto the end of the crochet jute and willow construction with string and also held in place by a fencing staple in the top of the gatepost.

It was very pleasant working outdoors in the Spring sunshine and I must say I was very satisfied with my willow screen handiwork. Now I need to work on the other section of my willow garden screen and that will fit across the back of my yard gate … hopefully!

J Peggy Taylor

Materials for crochet jute and willow rod garden screen

Crocheting a willow garden screen – part 2

I have made good progess this week with the willow garden screen project that I talked about in a previous post. The first section of this crochet jute and willow rod screen is now complete.

Measuring the width of the willow screen
Measuring the width of the willow screen

I have used two rows of crochet jute as the main binding to hold the screen together. I’m planning on adding some additional materials when I fix the screen into its required position. These will be woven into the main jute and willow framework. I have some interesting pieces of Scots Pine cuttings and some thinner willow weavings that I will use to add some interest and texture to the screen whilst I’m waiting for my Sweet Pea plants to grow.

Two rows of jute crochet bind the willow rods in place
Two rows of jute crochet bind the willow rods in place

This is the complete framework of the larger willow screen
This is the complete framework of the larger willow screen – the doorway behind shows the scale
I have designed the willow screen so that it has plenty of spaces for light and air to pass through it. One of my sons raised the issue of stability in the stronger winds we are experiencing in recent years. I am hopeful that the flexibility of the willow will be beneficial in this regard but I have also considered adding some hazel rods to assist with stability, particularly perhaps as the Sweet Pea plants grow larger. This crochet and willow garden screen project is very much an experiment-in-progress so I shall be learning from the ongoing experience.

This week I have discovered another new and exciting experiment to add further interest to my jute and willow screen project. It is a new-to-me concept that certainly appears to improve the growth of all kinds of plants from pine trees to sweetcorn! I will be trialling this new idea for my Sweet Peas plants and hope it will help them produce a bumper crop of flowers. You can expect to hear more about this plant magic very soon!

J Peggy Taylor

Materials for crochet jute and willow rod garden screen

Crocheting a willow garden screen for my back yard

To grow even more things in my very small back yard I am now looking at vertical gardening to expand my growing space. I have seen some interesting versions of planting in vertical space but I’ve decided to go for my own personal twist on this concept.

One of the first problems I needed to solve is that I want to be able to take advantage of some vertical space that at present is completely open, above a small brick wall and a low-level gate. I’m not looking to create a permanent feature as I want to see how using this vertical space will impact on light levels for other plants I have growing in the yard.

Willow cuttings behind the wall
The willow cuttings standing behind the wall where I intend to stand the narrow trough
I am keen to keep the screen structure quite natural-looking and not overly dense to allow light through as well as incorporating natural materials. At present I am designing two jute and willow screens which combine crochet and some simple willow weaving.

My idea is to attach one screen to extend above the current height of the gate using hand-hewn wooden slats. The other screen will be taller, at approximately 1.8 metres, and will be planted into a narrow slatted wooden trough (also yet to be constructed!) that will extend along behind the low brick wall. The initial idea is not for the willow rods to actually root in the trough though it is possible this may happen if the rods are still green when I set up the screen. (I already have a few pots of willow growing from cuttings I took a couple of months ago.)

… and what will I grow here? I’d pondered on beans or peas but, as this is a roadside and the plants will mainly be growing on the outside of my yard, I’m not keen on that idea. I’ve decided to try for a good showing of sweet peas. I love these flowers, especially the old fashioned scented ones.

Crocheting the willow rods together
Crocheting the willow rods together

So far I have begun to crochet the willow rods together and I really like the way it looks … I will report back as I make further progress 🙂

J Peggy Taylor

Inserting the final willow rod around the base - using a Phillips head screwdriver!

Staking-up not staking-out

Today I continued the next phase of my basketmaking. For readers who don’t know the beginning of this story, I am attempting to teach myself the craft of basketmaking in 2014. I am working from a very helpful book by Georgia Crook, simply entitled “Basketmaking”. Readers who saw the first phase of this crafty tale may recall that so far I have made something remarkably resembling a willow basket base.

Today’s task was to add a set of willow rods around the base and to bend them upwards to form the main framework of my basket. I also continued to learn the various pieces of basketry terminology as I worked through this task.

My chosen willow rods and the base I made previously
My chosen willow rods and the base I made previously

I chose my upright rods from a bundle I had cut for this purpose. These 24 rods needed to be just a little thinner than the sticks I had used in the base. I prepared each rod by slyping the butt end (cutting the thick end of the rod to a point on one side).

Knife and some slyped rods ready for use
Some slyped rods ready for use

Next the rods were to be inserted into the weaving of the base. Using a greased ‘bodkin’ (I improvised with a Phillips head screwdriver 😉 )the rods are pushed into the pockets at either side of the base sticks. This sounded fairly straightforward, and to an extent it was, except working a set of rods each slightly over a metre long into a circular base meant I ended up working with something like a giant willow octopus … but with 24 arms!

Inserting the first four rods into the pockets of the base weaving
Inserting the first four rods into the pockets of the base weaving

I should probably have carried out the whole of this task outside rather than attempting it in the kitchen. Fortunately nothing came to grief … quite … though a pot of willow cuttings in water had a close shave! However, to continue my basketmaking, I decided it really was necessary to remove my willow octopus outside, which required a few extra helping pairs of hands. Thank you helpers!

Willow base and rods - like a giant octopus
Willow base and rods – like a giant octopus

To form the uprights the willow rods have to be carefully bent upwards around the basket base. This is done by pressing a knife blade gently into each rod where it protrudes from the edge of the base. Then with a slight twist of the knife the rod neatly kinks so it can be bent upwards at a right angle, but without snapping. Clever! … and it even worked for me as I managed not to snap any of my 24 octopus arms!

Kinking the first uprights  with a knife at the edge of the base
Kinking the first uprights with a knife at the edge of the base

Now it was time to control my octopus … in other words, bend up those carefully kinked rods and catch them together in a loose willow ring. I made a quick willow ring from a left-over rod. My instruction book advised folding up the rods from opposite sides of the base, so this was how I began.

Catching up the rods from opposite sides in a loose willow ring
Catching up the rods from opposite sides in a loose willow ring

Unfortunately, my ‘loose’ willow ring was evidently just a tad too loose and came undone, spilling my neatly collected octopus arms back down onto the ground. Ohh! Sigh! … and start again …

All the upright rods in the second willow ring
All the upright rods caught in the second willow ring

This time I made the willow ring slightly tighter to avoid a similar fate. Perhaps as a result of the willow rods being flapped up and down rather more times than they should, I found a couple of my carefully slyped rods had crept out of their basket-base pockets and needed to be firmly replaced.

However, eventually, I ended up with a satisfyingly-shaped willow barrel, with all the upright rods neatly caught in the willow ring. Now I’m ready to start ‘waling’ so I can finish my ‘upsett’ … though I should reassure you that I’m not expecting to shed any tears!

J Peggy Taylor