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Gimme’ Shelter By Cynthia Brian

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Gimme’ Shelter By Cynthia Brian


“Regardless of your lot in life,
build something beautiful on it.”~Zig Ziglar
flowers for Mom's funeral
I was working in my orchard when I heard the screams. Never in my life had I seen four grown men run so quickly. “Are you okay?” I yelled. “What’s the commotion?” The men had been dismantling an old hot tub in a deck when their saws had unsettled a family of skunks who had made the warm, dark environment their cozy home. If you’ve had your dog sprayed by a skunk, you’ll understand.

With winter on the horizon, the wild things are looking for shelter. Rats, skunks, mice, raccoons, possums, and other critters may decide that “su casa es me casa”.
Although we do want to attract birds and pollinators to our gardens by providing food, water, and habitats, but we don’t want to invite the vermin into our territory.

Rodents carry several diseases harmful to humans including salmonellosis, leptospirosis, haniavirus, and arenavirus.  They are not known to have rabies, but skunks can be carriers of rabies.

For prevention and control I consulted with vector control inspector, Joe Cleope, at the Contra Costa Mosquito and Vector Control District.  After a few hours of discussions and inspections, I came away with effective methods of management and control to share with you.

Here’s a short list of advice.

Eliminate the following plants that are considered “rat condos”:
⎫ Ivy
⎫ Bamboo
⎫ Blackberries
⎫ Juniper
⎫ Honeysuckle
⎫ Pampas grass
⎫ Yucca
⎫ Star Jasmine
sunflower seeds
Trim shrubbery and trees:
⎫ Keep palm tree fronds pruned or rats will nest in them.
⎫ Prune climbing vegetation on your house to discourage roof rats.
⎫ Store wood and lumber a foot away from structures and at least 18 inches above ground.
⎫ Install rodent barriers as a prevention to climbing.

Eliminate food and water sources that attract rodents:
⎫ Harvest your fruit and vegetables as they ripen.
⎫ Pick up any fruit or nuts that have fallen on the ground.
⎫ Fill pet bowls only with enough food that can be quickly consumed.
⎫ Rid your garden of “escargot “ aka snails, a favorite meal for vermin.
⎫ Keep birdseed and pet food in metal containers.
⎫ Repair leaky faucets.
⎫ Empty containers of standing water.
⎫ Secure garbage cans. Unfortunately rats will gnaw through bins and raccoons will open lids.
Skunk Trap
Rodent Proof your house:
⎫ Check for openings larger than ¼ inch in vents, screens, and foundation cracks. Patch the holes with 1/4inch galvanized hardware cloth.
⎫ Use sheet metal collars around pipe entrances on wooden walls and use cement patch around pipes in brick, stucco, or stone.
⎫ Seal all gaps around electrical conduit.

Where the Wild Things Are!
⎫ Varmint Control: The Merriam Webster Dictionary considers “varmint” to be any animal that is considered problematic-rats, mice, skunks, raccoons, prairie dogs, etc.
⎫ Skunks: Besides doing everything above to keep the varmint out of your home, if skunks are visiting your property you can buy skunk traps, which are specially made so that once a skunk has entered, it cannot spray. Docile skunks are great destroyers of yellow jacket nests and therefore helpful to your garden if not rabid. If rabid, Vector Control will come to euthanize the skunk. Once skunks have been to your property, they may return. Scatter mothballs in the area and add a radio playing music to deter them.

⎫ Rats and mice: Don’t use the old fashioned wooden snap traps. They are too dangerous to humans and small pets. Available at hardware stores, power spring traps or easy/quick set traps work best.  A great way to assure that only the rodents get trapped is to set the trap with a dab of peanut butter placed under a larger plastic container. Cut a small hole in the container. I use a recycled flower pot. Place the container over the trap. Add a brick or rock to the top to keep it from toppling. You will catch the vermin.

⎫ Raccoons: Follow all the instructions above. Add netting to ponds where raccoons will fish.

For unwanted animals, don’t use poisons as they will kill beneficial critters and harm the environment.
rat traps horizonatal
Cleaning the Mess:
The smells associated with skunks, mice, and rats are nauseating. Their feces and nests could be a danger to your health. When we see droppings our first impulse is to grab a broom or vacuum. DON’T!
Sweeping and vacuuming releases virus particles into the air.  Inhalation can result in infecting the person with the viruses.  Here’s how to clean the feces, nesting areas, and dead animals.
⎫ Wear gloves, a mask, and goggles.
⎫ Spray the area with Lysol or a disinfectant made with a strong solution of bleach.
⎫ After five or minutes, wipe up the area with paper towels or rags you will toss.
⎫ Pick up a dead rodent with a shovel.
⎫ Spray more of the bleach solution to sanitize the area.
⎫ Put all of the waste materials, rags, dead rodents, and paper towels in a plastic bag.
⎫ Seal the bag in another plastic bag and put in the outside garbage can.
⎫ Wash your gloved hands thoroughly.
⎫ Remove the gloves and mask, put in a plastic bag, seal, and put in the outside garbage can.
⎫ Wash your un-gloved hands and your goggles with soap and warm water.
⎫ NEVER vacuum, sweep, or blow out areas that harbor contaminates that could become airborne.

Getting Help:
If you have a problem with rodents or skunks, contact Vector Control at 925-771-6142. The service is free and you’ll be able to troubleshoot your issues.  They will also pick up skunks that have been trapped.

Also remember that encouraging owls and cats to scout your property will keep life in harmony.

There is nothing beautiful about pests finding shelter in our homes and gardens but this month does bring beauty to our doorsteps.
cotoneaster berries cu
Sheltering the Beautiful
⎫ With the rainfall our lawns and hillsides are green and growing.
⎫ Cyclamen abounds at nurseries and garden centers in an abundance of stunning colors-red, pink, white, burgundy. Plant these perennials to add glamour to the winter beds.
⎫ Sunflower seeds can be scattered for next summer’s glory.
⎫ A cover crop blend will choke out weeds, protect soil structure, and increase soil fertility. Sow seeds to over-winter for spring growth.
⎫ Cotoneaster, holly, and pyrancantha showcase red pomes or berries that are perfect for holiday décor.
⎫ Watch for the unexpected growing in your garden. Perhaps a prickly pear has taken root next to a pine tree!
⎫ A variety of mushrooms are sprouting throughout our landscapes. Unless you are an expert in mycotoxicology, enjoy these fairy houses, but don’t eat them!
⎫ The sounds and sights of fountains flowing are stress reducing and healing.

Wishing you a very healthy, happy, and beautiful December where the wild things aren’t!

Happy Gardening and Happy Growing!
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cyn-nightime fountain
Cynthia Brian
The Goddess Gardener
StarStyle® Productions, llc
Tune into Cynthia’s Radio show at www.StarStyleRadio.net
I am available as a speaker, designer, and consultant.

Blooming with Love By Cynthia Brian

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Blooming with Love By Cynthia Brian


By Cynthia Brian

“Let no one ever come to you without leaving better and happier.” Mother Teresa

Every artist has her or his muse, a person who inspires, motivates, and encourages creativity. Leonardo had Lisa , Quentin has Uma, Mother Teresa had God, and I credit my mother, Alice, with being my gardening artiste. From the time that I could toddle, I was following her around our expansive gardens planted for both the edibles and the pretties. When she and my dad first moved to their house built at the turn of the 20th century on the 365 acre ranch in the middle of nowhere, it was surrounded by brambles, blackberry bushes, and poison oak. Little by little she painstakingly transformed the prickly jungle into a playful park planted with a myriad of beautiful flowers, herbs, trees, grasses, fruits, and vegetables.
azaleas brick.jpg
I can still smell the sweet fragrance of the spring soil as we tilled the plots designated as the vegetable garden. Mom would plant starts of tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers, zucchini, bush beans, string beans, eggplant, and whatever other vegetable caught her fancy for the year. The five kids would be given seeds of radishes, beets, corn, carrots, turnips, squash, and melons to plant as we wished. Onions, leeks, garlic, and Swiss Chard seemed to be in abundance year round as did a big patch of culinary herbs-basil, mustard, chives, dill, fennel, parsley, oregano, marjoram, mints, rosemary, sage, tarragon, and thyme. We didn’t have automatic irrigation.  All of us were responsible for daily watering, pulling hoses for long distances as Mom always did. She showed us how to plant rows, squares, circles, how to soak each plant plentifully, what to weed, and what not to touch.
hanging begonias
We couldn’t wait until summer when the first tomato ripened. With a handful of basil, we’d bite into the juicy goodness right there in the garden. One August she grew a five-pound tomato, won a big prize, and carried it around to multiple events exhibiting its enormity to anyone interested until it rotted. Long before the trend of farm to table, my Mom cooked what was freshest and harvested that day. We only ate what was in season or, in the winter months, what we canned during the summer. To this day, I won’t eat tomatoes, grapes, or oranges out of season. Why bother? They taste like chalk. Only vine ripened fruit and vegetables have the flavor that transport me to the joys of childhood on the farm.  And what blissful days they were!
But it wasn’t only the vegetable and herb gardening techniques that she was imparting. Mom also instilled in us a wistful, playful attitude in the art of gardening. “Gardens are an extension of your personality,” she used to tell me. And her gardens were wild, fun, surprising, eccletic, and inviting. Tucked into ravines would be antique stoves with antiquated rusting teapots overflowing with succulents. When we outgrew our swing set, it was turned into a hanging pot canopy accessed by a wooden bridge over a dry creek flanked by palm trees. Gazing balls, clay piglets, and hummingbird feeders dotted the landscape.  Her favorite garden ornaments, a bargain purchase bought for her by my brother decades ago, have always been Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. She decorates the garden for all of the holidays with Christmas being the grand finale-an extravaganza of sound and light rivaling Disneyland.
patios - 4
As an adult, our main conversations revolve around plants. We stroll together through our mutual playgrounds admiring and consulting. I am grateful for the horticultural acumen that she liberally passed along to us. Although there wasn’t a kindergarten where I grew up, I learned everything I needed to know about life in my Mother’s Garden.
nonie and cyn in garden - 1
What I learned from my Mother Muse:

⎫ Be an original: You can reference Pinterest, but when it comes to your own personal style, do what you love. Surprise yourself!
⎫ Don’t follow the rules: Because there are no rules in the garden except those you create yourself.
⎫ Love the birds: My Mom has hung bird feeders and birdhouses in every cranny for her feathered friends. She even has a Bird Tree. Birds eat the insects that prey on her flowers plus their melodic songs are music to her ears and their playful antics make bird watching an amusing pastime.
⎫ Encourage eccentricity: If you don’t feel happy in your backyard, no one else will either. Be playful.  Add unexpected treasures that may be another person’s trash. Capture the charm.
⎫ Share the bounty: One of my Mom’s most sacred rituals was sharing the harvest of everything we grew with everyone she knew-her doctor, dentist, priest, hairdresser, bank teller, repairman, even other famers. Be a cheerful giver.
⎫ Grow everything: It can be boring to stick to just a few specimens. Give a whirl to experimenting with the exotic as well as the mundane. Whether it’s a new breed of ever-blooming azalea, a delicate peach begonia, or a hardy lavender trumpet vine, brave the unknown.
⎫ Color Your World: Although you may start out with a strict color palette, be an artist. Volunteers revert to their original color according to Mother Nature’s whims. Enjoy the rainbow.
⎫ Provide places to relax: Gardeners work hard. Make sure to include comfortable sitting and lounging areas for you and your guests.
⎫ Believe in Magic: A garden is a lesson in miracles and magic. Embrace the whimsy and the mysterious. Have fun.
⎫ Pull hoses: You may have a drip or other irrigation system, but you’ll need the humble hose to get to every corner.
⎫ Make people happy: With her outgoing, enthusiastic personality always ready for the next dance, my Mother lights up a room, including the outdoor variety. When your table features fresh fruits and vegetables that you have personally grown, you can be certain that you are providing the highest nourishment for your family and friends, helping everyone be happier and healthier.
⎫ Leave a Living Legacy: A garden is to grow. Every garden is different reflecting the individuality of the gardener. Family is everything. Bloom with love.
snow white-dwarfs
Everyone who has ever experienced the gardening hospitality of my Mother, Alice, has left feeling better and happier. Let the wisdom of my generous garden guide Muse inspire you to be the best gardener possible. Thanks Mom!
Hummingbird Garden2 .jpg
Happy Gardening. Happy Growing.

Mark your Calendars:

SHOP and save at the 10/10 sale on September 17th at Vineyard Vines, 1301 N. Main St., Walnut Creek. Customers receive 10% off their purchases all day with 10% of the proceeds benefiting Be the Star You Are!®. A reception will be held from 5-8 pm with refreshments and goody bags. www.btsya.com/events_calendar.html

ATTEND the Pear and Wine Festival at Moraga Commons on Saturday, September 24 from 10-4pm. Pick up complimentary potpourri and a new children’s book from the Be the Star You Are!® booth sponsored by MB Jesse Painting, Starstyle® Productions, llc, Lamorinda Weekly, Children’s Success Unlimited, and Michael VerBrugge Construction. Click on events at www.BetheStarYouAre.org

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cyn-garden - 1
Cynthia Brian
The Goddess Gardener
Starstyle® Productions, llc
Tune into Cynthia’s Radio show at www.StarStyleRadio.net
I am available as a speaker, designer, and consultant.  

Romp in Ruth Bancroft Gardens By Cynthia Brian

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Romp in Ruth Bancroft Gardens By Cynthia Brian


ruth bancroft 108 years, cynthia brian

“Who cares if I’m not around? If I don’t plant it, then nobody will get to see it!” Ruth Bancroft

Since as long as I can remember I have always said that I wanted to live to be 108 years old. Why I chose that number I have no idea as I had never met anyone who lived to be 108…until this week when I met Ruth Bancroft, creator of the Ruth Bancroft Gardens in Walnut Creek. Ruth turned 108 years young on September 2nd and I was privileged enough to celebrate her birthday with bubbly and her favorite chocolate cake in her masterpiece dry gardens that she began planting in the 1970’s.

Ruth’s gardening passion began as a child in Berkeley. When she moved through the tunnel to Walnut Creek she became a collector. Her efforts, trials, tribulations, and experiences along the way are chronicled in the new Timber Press book, The Bold Dry Garden, penned by Johanna Silver, the garden editor of Sunset Magazine, and photographed by Marion Brenner. With the entire West coast on drought alert, the Ruth Bancroft Gardens are a model for low-water plantscaping. If you have ever been curious about succulents, cacti, yuccas, and other desert plants that will flourish in the East Bay, this beautiful book will become an essential reference guide.
Our local water company states that water use was 24% less in 2015 than it was in 2014, saving enough water to fill the Oakland Coliseum seventy one times! As homeowners rip out lawns in favor of xeriscaping, we’ll focus on the benefits of adding low maintenance, low water use plants, and planting them NOW to your garden.
Although I have a lifetime of gardening experience, I’m not sure that I will ever become an expert in any one area of horticulture, as gardens are living, breathing, evolving, growing entities that are constantly changing.  What I adore about Ruth’s garden is this consistent evolution. Each time I visit a new vista or display greets me, even from the same specimens as the first visit. The colors, textures, and sizes are in perpetual motion from California natives to the canopy of trees, the rosettes of terrestrial bromeliads to the swords of the yuccas.
Here are a few of Ruth’s prized collection that you can grow in your garden for your benefit and that of your great grandchildren’s children .

Aeoniums: One of the most popular plants of all of the succulents, aeoniums have lovely fleshy rosettes that will reach towards the heavens, mound in purgatory, or cascade towards hell. They prefer a bit of shade and are easy to cultivate and grow in the ground and in containers.

Yuccas: These sword shaped plants are native to the Americas and the Caribbean and like hot, dry regions. In their natural habitat they are pollinated by the yucca moth.  Although yuccas are grown mostly for ornamental use, many species use the seeds, flowers, stems, and sometimes the roots for food and medicine.

Echeveria: Many of the most beautiful small succulents are echeveria, often confused with aeoniums because of their rosettes. Their leaf colors are brilliantly hued and they boast flowers in red, orange, white, yellow, purple, and pink.  They grow well between rocks and are a terrific ground cover or garden filler.
Most echeveria species hail from Mexico.

Sedums: A hardy perennial with thick, fleshy leaves and stems and clusters of pretty flowers, sedums are most popular for ground covers, borders, and rock gardens.  They require minimal to no care at all, are easy to propagate from cuttings, and are drought resistant.

Aloe: The best friend plant for anyone with a sunburn, cut, or bite, aloe is known as nature’s soothing succulent. Aloes relieve itching and irritation on the skin, reduce redness and swelling by inhibiting the body’s release of histamine. In a garden, aloes bloom in bright colors of red, orange, and yellow with over 500 species ranging from tiny to tree height. These unfussy favorites are a “must have” in any garden or container.

Agave: With over 200 species native to the Americas, agaves are diverse in colors, shapes, sizes, and spines.  Agaves are sculptural. They can be a focal point in a landscape or can mix well with other plantings. Before planting an agave, make sure to read the label to determine the final size of the plant. Some agaves have a full- grown diameter of 13 to 14 feet while others remain small and compact.  
Barrel Cactus: Always armed with heavy spines and prominent ribs, barrel cacti are known as the “fierce or wild cactus”.  Flowers always grow at the top without spines. Native Americans boiled the flowers to eat like cabbage. The fruits are considered inedible. Barrel cacti add a fascinating form to any landscape when planted in circles or artistic ways.
Prickly Pear Cactus: Optunias, commonly called prickly pear cactus have yellow, red, purple, or orange fruit that is delicious and sold in stores as tuna. The paddles are called Nopales and used in many ethnic recipes.  The soluble fibers of both the fruit and the paddles are considered to stabilize blood sugar. These cacti make a great fence to keep out human and animal invaders as the spines are tiny and very sharp. My sister surrounded her property with optunias which bear enough fruit for a weekly farmer’s market booth.

Although I’ve concentrated on the desert plants, the Ruth Bancroft Garden reveals a softer side with riffs of bulbs, wildflowers, grasses, and California natives. A visit to the Ruth Bancroft Garden is a must-do for anyone interested in learning more about dry and drought tolerant gardening. We are fortunate to have one of the nation’s most renowned public gardens literally in our back yard with a collection of rare specimens available for sale that will enhance your landscape while saving precious water. www.RuthBancroftGarden.org.

Embrace your sense of curiosity. Employ a few of Ruth Bancroft’s dry gardening specimens. Gardens are a legacy to our future and the time to plant is today.  In 108 years, who will be enjoying your garden?

Happy Gardening and Happy Growing!
Read more
Cynthia Brian
The Goddess Gardener
Starstyle® Productions, llc
Tune into Cynthia’s Radio show at www.StarStyleRadio.net
I am available as a speaker, designer, and consultant.  

Body, Mind, and Soul in the Garden By Cynthia Brian

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Body, Mind, and Soul in the Garden By Cynthia Brian




By Cynthia Brian

Kings and cabbages go back to compost, but good deeds stay green forever.  ~ Rick De Marinis

Gardening is good for you. It rekindles our passions, arouses our senses, and keeps us in shape.  Gardening is a terrific activity for maintaining joint flexibility, bone density, range of motion, and most of all quality of life. We have to garden wisely, however, if we don’t want to be complaining about aches, pains, bug bites, cuts, and injuries, of which I’ve had more than enough to last my lifetime. Do a good deed for yourself and heed some handy, healthy tips to safer, happy gardening experience.

If you are already a gardener, you know the joys and benefits. For those who are about to begin, get ready for a strenuous workout with the music, smells, and tastes of nature.
dining utdoors
Getting Going
1. If you have any injuries or illnesses, like all activities, consult your physician before beginning.
2. Choose a time of day where you can dedicate an hour or so to the task.
3. Wear a hat, sun block, gloves, and comfortable clothing.
4. Warm up your body with a few stretches or a brisk walk before beginning.
5. Despite your enthusiasm, pace your work and avoid being in the same position for extended periods. For example, if you are weeding, switch to pruning after 45 minutes.
6. Use a hand truck to move large, heavy sacks, and potted plants.
7. Keep your feet on the ground when cutting limbs or harvest fruit. Use a ladder only when you have a spotter.
8. Use the best tools that are strong, yet lightweight.
9. Give your back a break. Too much twisting and bending can cause strain. Consider raised beds as an alternative if you experience back pain.
10. Buy a wheelbarrow. It makes moving easier and saves so much time.
11. If you like to kneel while planting or weeding, use a Styrofoam pad to protect your knees. Alternate sitting and kneeling. You can also purchase a rolling garden stool.
12. Shake it up varying your chores to work your different muscles. Carrying, lifting, mowing, blowing, pruning, raking, sweeping, deadheading, digging, weeding, arranging, even smelling the roses all activate different muscles and senses.
13. Take frequent breaks to avoid stiffness or tightness.
14. Drink plenty of water to rehydrate.

Get fit. Get gardening. Get doing good deeds for you.
blue agapantha-oleander

For Increased Health Benefits, Add These Simple Greens to your Plot
1. Dandelion Greens: I know, everyone considers dandelions weeds but these weeds are high in vitamin A, actually ten times more than a serving of broccoli.
2. Leeks: Rich in vitamin B folate, these onion family relatives are heart healthy, preventing blood clots.
3. Arugula: My most favorite green, arugula provides more nitrates than spinach or rhubarb delivering energizing oxygen to the rest of your body. Maybe arugula is my secret ingredient to my exuberant energy!
4. Bok Choy: Great for bone health, two cups of this crunchy green delivers as much calcium as half a glass of milk plus 80% of your daily requirement for vitamin K.
5. Swiss Chard: A great source of blood balancing nutrients, Swiss Chard prevents blood sugar spikes and dips while being a top source of magnesium.
humingbirds on feeder
Cynthia Brian’s Mid Month Gardening Tips
RELAX and rejuvenate around a pond, stream, or waterfall in a garden.
VISIT the National Heirloom Expo, September 6, 7, 8 in Santa Rosa for the world’s pure food fair. www.theheirloomexpo.com
PROTECT your pet by knowing which plants are toxic to them such as daffodils, hemlock, and oleander. See a full list at www.aspca.com
CREATE mini-herb gardens in window boxes or strawberry pots. Buy four inch pots of sage, lemon thyme, basil, and parsley for a pretty and aromatic edible display.
DEEP soak trees like magnolia or redwoods especially when you see them dropping abundant leaves.
SOOTHE cuts, burns, bites, and reduce redness after too much summer sunbathing by planting the succulent aloe. Cut off a piece of the spike, squeeze out the anti-inflammatory and antiseptic gel to apply directly to your skin.
HARVEST Asian Pears, apples, peppers, squash, tomatoes, and eggplant.
ADD color to your planters with bright, perennial pelargoniums. My favorite colors are the deep maroon and bright pink.
MAKE a statement on your porch or patio by grouping urns and pots planted with pretty petunias and pansies.
PULL up a chair next to a hummingbird feeder and let the show begin as hummingbirds enchant you with their chatter, twitters, squeaks, and songs. Their hovering wings buzz, trill, and thrill.
CONTINUE to compost all of your vegetable and non-meat scraps including cabbages (no Kings).
SET a table outdoors using your favorite tableware and glasses for an upscale meal alfresco on a hot August night.
pots-urnsCU pelagagoniums
Trending in my garden:
⎫ Naked Ladies are dancing in the breeze.
⎫ Tomatoes are finally red and sweet, although most don’t make it to my kitchen. I eat most of them right off the vine with a snip of nearby arugula and basil
⎫ Deer have been deterred from my orchard and garden with fencing.
⎫ Pearl’s Premium lawn is green with some bare and brown spots, but definitely looking better this summer than any previously seeded grass.
⎫ Choke weed is invading. It spreads rapidly “choking” out the nutrients and sunlight needed for other plants to grow. It’s a constant pulling battle I wage against it.
⎫ Fluorescent pink crape myrtle trees are in full bloom, attracting hummingbirds and bees.
⎫ Incredible amounts of exercise for me as I pull hoses up and down hillsides to keep plants alive. Gardening is good for my body, mind, and soul as long as I give my back a break.

Do good deeds, stay healthy, and enjoy the summer of August.
Happy Gardening and Happy Growing!
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Cynthia Brian
The Goddess Gardener
Starstyle® Productions, llc
Tune into Cynthia’s Radio show at www.StarStyleRadio.net
I am available as a speaker, designer, and consultant.

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