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Do Lawns Belong in Southern California?

by Lockwood de Forest, Jr.
from Garden Magazine and Home Builder, 1924

NOTE: The current drought has posed many issues of concern, but it’s hardly the first time in our city’s history. Our friend and occasional contributor, Kellam de Forest, often offers much-needed context to community discussions. Here, Kellam provided us with this 1924 article written by his father, Lockwood de Forest, Jr., the noted landscape architect. He and his wife, Elizabeth Kellam de Forest (Kellam’s mother) wrote and published The Santa Barbara Gardener magazine from 1926-1942.


Lockwood with Kellam in a tent

This article questioning lawns offers some insight about the thinking behind Santa Barbara’s early landscaping, and remains timely 90 years later, although most of us have no estates to plant and maintain, the drought-tolerant suggestions are helpful for the gardener of even just a few potted plants—and practical information about alternatives to our increasingly brown lawns, a longtime issue in our community.

Almost everyone is familiar with the advertisement showing the world in the process of being covered with paint. The same effect results when lawns are spilled indiscriminately over our California hillsides.

Lawns have become so much a part of the garden scheme that they are used without adequate thought by most of the people who buy our estates in Southern California. Because of the low annual rainfall, which comes only during the winter months, the natural scenery is brown for most of the year.

The easterner accustomed to much green grass feels this to be an objection and plants lawn indiscriminately over his estate. The result, for most of the year, if the grounds are on a hillside and visible from a distance, is of an overturned can of green paint.

The lawn as a foundation for a naturalistic garden scheme in Southern California is based on a false note. In England, where the naturalistic style of gardening originated, the lawn is the natural expression of the country and was the logical foundation of the naturalistic gardens there. But here in the South West, it is as foreign and unnatural as the most formal development.

The climatic conditions of Southern California are not dissimilar to the Mediterranean coast of Spain, France and Italy. A study of the older gardens in Italy will show very little use of lawn. To be sure, most of the old gardens were of a formal character; it was not until the English gardenesque style swept Italy that so-called naturalistic gardens were made and lawns were used.

A study of the gardens in Italy shows that this older type of arrangement brings about a greater harmony between the house and the natural landscape. Surely the lawn is a foreign element in the countries just mentioned and is as surely a foreign element here. No foreign element can be used as a successful part of a purely naturalistic treatment. No formal or semi-formal treatment makes a suitable foreground to an entirely foreign near middle-distance. If these facts are kept in mind the proper use of the lawn in the gardens of Southern California is assured.

The practical consideration of lawns in California imposes many more limitations than the artistic. Lawns have to be artificially watered most of the year. This becomes a high upkeep expense in labor and means a high installation cost of a sprinkler system to take care of the watering. In many communities, lack of water or low pressure makes a sprinkler system out of the question. Our lawns are not permanent; they do not improve from year to year until they make a glorious sod as in England. Every so often they die our or get into such a condition that it is advisable to replace them.

These considerations make a large lawn prohibitive to most people and inadvisable to many more. A perfect lawn makes an unequalled green carpet, but a weedy, half-green lawn is only one degree better than bare ground, the one degree being the prevention of dust. Don’t plant more lawn than you can take care of.

The problem of an artistic use of the lawn resolves itself into screening it from an inharmonious natural landscape of bare brown hills. The problem is simplified somewhat if the garden is located in a valley or on fairly level ground, Tall shrubbery of any kind will hide all but the mountains, and in Southern California, the variety of shrubs obtainable is so great as to make any combination of texture and color of foliage possible.

A screen in a formal development is most easily obtained by a wall, or fence, or hedge. Large hedges can be produced quickly here by using Monterey Cypress. The effect is similar to the Italian Cypress screens used in Italy, but are started very much more quickly and with much less expense. There are numerous other satisfactory hedge materials, but none as rapid growing or as cheap as the Cypress.

The problem of the lawn area on the hillside or hilltop estate is when the most difficult to solve satisfactorily. One of the most common solutions is the lawn terrace ending in a balustrade or wall. There is no better setting for a somewhat formal residence. An objectionable middle-distance can be screened by a planting of trees below the terrace. There are many varieties of trees that grow so rapidly that the expense of screening from below is nominal and amply repays the time spent in waiting for a finished effect. From a practical standpoint this is an ideal arrangement, as tree or shrub roots are eliminated from the lawn. Trees of rapid growth are of necessity gross feeders and only with difficulty can the ground beneath them be kept attractive. By having the trees planted below the lawn terrace, the unsightly area of the roots is hidden.

The more common of the drought-resistant, rapid-growing trees that require little or no attention after planting are: The varieties of Eucalyptus, most of the Acacias, Monterey Pine, and Monterey Cypress. Another customary solution is the Mall or Alee, of lawn bordered by flowering shrubs or flowers, backed by ornamental trees or an orchard, and ending in a pergola or some architectural feature.

If the slope of the hill is not too great, this makes a very attractive scheme. The upkeep of such a development is greater than that of the lawn terrace although the first cost is often less. The informal lawn on a hillside is very difficult to handle. It can be very beautiful where it makes a background for the shadows of large oaks or other trees, but unless the feeling of nearness to the glorious purple and gold hills is removed, a semi-formal development will rove more in keeping than absolute informality.

The most logical place of the lawn on the Southern California estate is immediately around the house, as a ground cover where the surrounding planting cuts it off from near-by elements, or as a carpet in a completely enclosed area removed from the house. The small economical lawn leaves a large area to be developed in some other manner. A succession of gardens is often effective but always expensive to build and maintain. There can be rose gardens, flower gardens, herb gardens, vegetable gardens, Spanish gardens, and varieties of formal and semi-formal gardens without end. Lawns may be used effectively in many of them and no expense be spared.

But a problem arises when the owner of an estate wishes to work out an effective planting that can be maintained with a minimum of labor and expense. Drought-resistant shrubs are the most economical ground cover to maintain here. They make an interesting transition from the house and lawn to the native hillside. The material that is most natural is, of course, the native shrubs themselves. Ceanothus in variety, the California Holly or Christmas Berry, the Wild Cherries, the Wild Sumachs, and the Coffeeberry are among those most often used.

There is a wealth of material that harmonizes well with the foregoing imported from all over the world, including Pittosporums, Bottle-Brushes from Australia and New Zealand; varieties of Cotoneaster and Pyracantha from China; Rosemary, Spanish Broom, the Strawberry Tree, Mediterranean Heather, Portugal Laurel, Butcher’s Broom, from the south of Europe, and others from Africa, Asia, South America and Mexico, It would take volumes to mention them all, but it is easily seen that the greater part of the Southern California estate can be successfully, attractively and economically planted without lawns.

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Your Thoughts: Santa Barbara City Infrastructure

The Santa Barbara City Council is hosting public workshops to get your thoughts on the condition of the City’s basic infrastructure, including streets, sidewalks, libraries, community centers, police and fire stations, and park and recreation facilities. The first workshop takes place on Wednesday, September 24 at the Central Library – Faulkner Gallery, 5:30 PM – 6:30 PM. They want your input on how the City Council should prioritize funding, so feel free to share your thoughts here and below is their video:
Continue Reading →

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Three Feet for Safety Act Goes into Effect

In September of 2012, the California State Assembly passed a bill that would require motorists to provide three feet of space when passing bicyclists. SB 1464 passed after a raucous debate that took nearly 30 minutes. Last September, Governor Jerry Brown signed the law where drivers who violate the law and collide with a bicyclist will receive a fine of $220! Today, the Three Feet for Safety Act goes into effect.

The law will require:

  • drivers, when overtaking a bicyclist in the same lane and same direction of travel, to pass the bicyclist with at least three feet of clearance.
  • Allows drivers on a two-lane road to cross a solid double yellow centerline, when safe, to pass a bicyclist with at least three feet of clearance.
  • When drivers overtaking a bicyclist cannot give at least three feet of clearance, they must slow down to a speed that is reasonable and prudent given traffic and roadway conditions and only pass when it’s safe to do so.

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Letter: Italian Stone Pines along Anapamu Street


By John Robert Russell

As a former resident and practitioner of Landscape Architecture, in Santa Barbara (16C West Mission Street) – 1964-1970, I continue to follow events and issues in Santa Barbara by reading Santa Barbara View and the Santa Barbara Independent, on a regular basis.

My wife and I remember, well, the marvelous canopy created by the Italian Stone Pines (Pinus pinea), along Anapamu Street. I have followed earlier articles and the strident actions, by many in the community, to ensure their protection.

Your recent article, reminds me of the many European examples, that I have seen during my travels, where various types of permeable paving were used to ensure the long term life of street trees and plaza trees. Many of these installations have been applied for countless decades. Some examples, not only, consist of permeable paving around the base of the tree, but, also, can be found as part of the sidewalk, as well as a large field in the street adjoining the tree. A broad selection of paving types and application can be found here.

Hopefully, the Historic Landmarks Commission, the City and interested citizens, can form an updated policy for preserving these special Stone Pines, as well as for replacement trees and other street trees, in Santa Barbara, that are threatened by the current drought and access to limited amounts of moisture they are able to obtain.

Important to note, it is not only water that is critically important for most trees, but, access to air, for the roots to properly mature and support tree longevity.

I will follow the Stone Pine story with considerable interest. All the Very Best,

John Robert Russell
Professor Emeritus – Landscape Architecture
Ball State University – Muncie, IN
2405 E. Boston Road
Bloomington, IN

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Italian Stone Pines on Anapamu Street

By Cathy Berry

Italian Stone Pine A manual of the coniferae 1881

Of the Italian umbrella, or Stone Pine (Pinus Pinea), there are a few plants growing nicely both in town and in Montecito; the largest, however, in our county and to my knowledge in Southern California , grows at the main ranch of Santa Cruz Island – a striking association being in the center of an Italian-speaking village.” ~ EO Fenzi, Santa Barbara exotic flora: a handbook of plants from foreign countries grown at Santa Barbara, 1895

ispSanta Barbara has had a long and poetic love affair with plants – from the indigenous to the most prized of hybrids. If we look carefully, we can see the history of Santa Barbara as told through the array of plants around us.

When the Chumash were caretakers of the land in Santa Barbara and Ventura counties, they reveled in the flora that nature provided: the sacred white sage, and the tall loose toyon bushes, full of ripe red berries; the fragrant blue-green California juniper; the gnarled manzanita with its low, lyrical branches; the venerable oaks, white-, red-, live-, and black-, as well as the profusion of wildflowers and grasses that blanketed the hills.

The landscape was as nature decreed for ten thousand years, and more.And then, not even three hundred years ago, the Spanish arrived. They brought with them grapes, olives, figs, and orange trees. I imagine the senoritas also brought cuttings from their favorite Spanish roses back home. But the Spanish were ranchers, not farmers. They seldom broke the crust of the earth except to plant their modest vineyards, orchards, and kitchen gardens.

The padres who arrived with them contributed a permanent change in the landscape when they ingeniously marked the path from mission to mission by sowing mustard seed. Each spring, the neon-yellow blossoms created a road that guided travelers from one mission to the next.

Even today, the Camino Real, the Royal Road of old, is visible alongside Highway 101 thanks to the mustard that has continued to appear every year after the rains.

In the time between the discovery of gold in California and the completion of the first railroads, it was the hardy, independent wealth-seekers, and the already independently wealthy, who arrived on our Western shores. They were the first of an American tide that changed the sylvan landscape forever. Many of those first wealthy visitors soon became residents, and they brought their visions of gardens that were more dreamscape than real. Thanks to their vast fortunes, they were able to bring those visions into reality on the previously uncultivated land of Santa Barbara County. We can still enjoy these magnificent gardens in places like Lotusland, Casa del Herrero, and Alice Keck Park Memorial Garden, which was once the site of the fantastic El Mirasol Hotel.

Lynn Johnson and Michael O’Leary, authors of the book, All Aboard! Images from the Golden Age of Rail Travel (1999), note that the turn of the century marked a time when “the rails became the property of everyone”.

And when “everyone” began arriving in California, they brought their love of plants and flowers. It was in the 1890s, as well, that global travel became more prevalent, making a vast array of plant life available for the first time.

Dr. Francesco Franchesci, himself an Italian transplant, worked with others in Santa Barbara to form the “Southern California Acclimatizing Society”. EO Fenzi, the man quoted at the top of the page is the very same man as Dr Francesco Franchesci, eminent local plantsman. (He changed his name for family reasons.)

2756789839_3ebc859c9aThe Society gathered specimens and seeds from every corner of the globe, planting them in the Santa Barbara sun and soil. With every success, they offered their plants to those who lived in temperate climes, as well as those who could only grow these new exotics in greenhouses and conservatories. But whether grown in the out-of-doors, or under glass, plants from South America and South Africa, from Europe, Asia, and even Australia, from mountains and deserts, were now in the provenance of all.

For those who lived in Southern California, the earth and climate became the great equalizer – everyone, rich and not rich, could grow prosaic plants, and the exotic ones, too. Imaginations blossomed along with the plants.

A legacy from that era remains today on East Anapamu Street.

2756796873_54213d8809_mAccording the the 1940 edition of the Trees of Santa Barbara, it was about 1908 when Dr. Augustus Doremus, Santa Barbara Parks Superintendent, obtained seeds of the Italian Stone Pine (pinus pinea), from a source on the French Riviera.

Dr. Franchesci propagated the tough little seeds, and Dr. Doremus, a resident of East Anapamu Street , planted them along his street. From those tiny seeds have grown the mighty row of trees that line both sides of that very shady road.

The current USDA website indicates that of the entire United States, only two spots are home to the Italian Stone Pine: Santa Barbara, and a tiny spot in the Bay Area in Northern California. The pines are, indeed, a rare treasure in America.

So the next time you glide under the ink-green shade of those arched and beautiful trees, think back to Doctors Doremus and Franceschi, for they were two who imagined the future as they held tiny seeds in their hands.

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Saturdays with Seibert

Local Views of Santa Barbara by Dan Seibert

Regarding Cheri’s post this week about the poor condition of the Italian Stone pines on Anapamu, the opposite is true of the Jacaranda trees. For some reason they seem to be thriving on little water and high temperatures. Looking dark green and lush, this photo is on Foothill near Patterson. – Dan


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National Domestic Violence Hotline

Local Congresswoman Lois Capps points out that the 20th anniversary of the Violence Against Women Act is Saturday. In the wake or recent events, we thought it worth a post; so if you or someone you know needs help, please reach out to the National Domestic Violence Hotline at TheHotline.org. You are not alone.

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Pearl Chase Society Newsletter, September 2014

Pearl Chase Society Newsletter

Santa Barbara View is proud to publish The Capital, a monthly newsletter of the Pearl Chase Society. You can read the full newsletter by clicking on the PDF icon, left.

In Preservation Watch, Kellam de Forest provides updates on: the Arlington Apartments at 1330 Chapala Street, the revised
plans for 517 Chapala Street, The Miramar Hotel and it’s reduction to 170 rooms, distributed antenna systems on Montecito roads, and the concept of a safe pathway on the Westside of Mission Canyon Road/Los Olivos Street from Laguna Street to Foothill.

Cheri Rae previews the California Garden & Landscape History Society Annual Conference which will feature The Landscape Legacy of Lockwood de Forest from October 24-26th. David Streatfield (who will be speaking at the conference) notes, “de Forest was an engaging figure who was greatly appreciated by his clients for his wit, casual dress and strong passion for cars. His Model A Ford car was stripped down to the chassis, had Buffalo hide covered seats, and a rear platform for carrying plants.”

Established in 1995, the Pearl Chase Society is an all volunteer, not-for-profit conservancy dedicated to preserving Santa Barbara’s historic architecture, landscapes and cultural heritage. Individual memberships start at $30 a year.

PS: Italian Stone Pines on Anapamu which are suffering from drought: Parks and Recreation says that watering can only be done once a month, no mater the trees landmark status, since there is only one tank truck for the entire city. The Los Angeles Times describes a method of giving trees additional water through an irricade.

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Letter: The Chamber Doesn’t Represent Us


I was one of 50 local business owners and founders who sent a letter to the Santa Barbara Chamber of Commerce asking them to endorse Measure P, the Healthy Air & Water Initiative to ban fracking and other extreme oil extraction in Santa Barbara County. This was an impressive and diverse list of leaders in technology, real estate, clean energy, farming, building and architecture, medicine and other fields whose companies employ more people than the the oil industry in Santa Barbara County.

However, I was not surprised when the Chamber came out against Measure P anyway. Nationally, the Chamber of Commerce is tightly connected with the oil and gas industry and they generally speak as one.

This was not always the case. In an earlier time, when local Chambers were more independent, the Santa Barbara Chamber recognized the fact that oil production is a risky enterprise that discourages tourism and other economic development that is the true basis for the wealth and well-being of Santa Barbara County. According to county records, as early as 1908 Santa Barbara’s Chamber of Commerce opposed construction of an oil pipeline on Sterns Wharf fearing oil pollution. In 1929, the Chamber of Commerce came out in opposition to drilling within the city.

However, today, the oil industry exerts disproportionate influence in politics and community organizations. While representing less than 1% of the County workforce and GDP, the oil industry is one of the larger contributors to political campaigns. They know that they need to grease the wheels to get away with activities that put the other 99% of our economy at risk.

If Measure P does not succeed, we are facing a huge increase in oil production using water and energy-intensive techniques that would destroy our local environment and hurt property values and business interests. This is not theoretical. The county has or expects to receive applications for nearly a thousand new wells this year, nearly doubling existing production. These high-intensity techniques have higher well casing failure rates, leaks and other spill risks and could permanently contaminate critical aquifers.

In addition, sea level rise, drought, fire and crop failure are real business risks we face in the County from increased climate change. Failure to pass Measure P would mean potentially doubling county greenhouse gas emissions at a time when responsible long-term economic efforts are better served by reducing emissions.

Measure P exempts all current oil wells and maintenance activities while protecting our county from the significant harm experienced in other places where unconventional oil production has increased dramatically. There are hundreds of similar bans on fracking and other oil production in the U.S., and there has never been a successful legal “takings” claim against one. Citizens have every right to decide whether or not to allow toxic chemicals to be injected through their groundwater aquifers.

While as a businessperson I respect many of the things the local Chambers of Commerce do for us, unfortunately, when it comes to Measure P, they are dead wrong about our true economic interests.

Regards, Jim Taylor

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Avocado Festival Poster

Viewers like weighing in on the many festival posters that pop-up around the region throughout the year; so here is the 2014  Avocado Festival poster. This was the result of an open creative call and the winning artist is graphic designer Charles West. “This is a no-brainer,” said West. “Just turn an avocado into a guitar.” Your thoughts? Avotar05c

The 28th Annual Avocado Festival takes place in Carpinteria October 3rd – 5th.

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EcoFacts: Coffee Culture

Weekly column by Barbara Hirsch

Coffee culture – sure is different than it was 50 years ago, that coffee that was poured in homes and coffee shops. Now, 83% of Americans drink coffee, 63% daily, and a third of all Americans drink a “gourmet coffee beverage” every day!

The soaring demands for it mean that much more of it is grown, and as usual, that means a greater impact. On us, perhaps, but certainly on thousands more acres of ecosystems. The best quality coffees are still shade grown in plantations with canopies that support wildlife, prevent soil degradation and can mitigate effects of climate change. Now more coffee is grown in direct sun, as a monoculture, and with the effects that come with this kind of agriculture – forest clearing, pesticide use, soil depletion, etc..

And then there are those disposable cups… Starbucks sells 4 billion of them in a year.


Please allow me a small leap here, to suggest that Starbucks is a center of coffee culture, in its 20,000 stores around the world. Here is a glimpse of where they stand on their environmental goals for 2015 and accomplishments, as of last year. Their environmental failures are still better than most of their counterparts’ accomplishments.

By 2015, Starbucks wants to reduce energy use by 25% , by 2013 the reduction was 7.1%. They are on track to make 100% of their coffee ethically sourced. The goal is 5% of beverages to be served in personal tumblers and last year, they were at 1.8%.
Front of store recycling is in 39% of their stores.

But there is not much to recycle, as the cups are not recyclable.

“Recycling seems like a simple, straightforward initiative,” the company said in a statement last week. “But it’s actually quite challenging.” If consumers can be made to understand how the company came to that humbling insight, they might stop buying and throwing away so many paper cups in the first place.” That, direct from Starbucks.

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Local Views of Santa Barbara, California

I walked through a part of Santa Barbara City College this afternoon and saw some interesting images. - Dan Seibert


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Avon Walk for Breast Cancer in Santa Barbara

AVONThe Avon Walk for Breast Cancer is this Saturday; here’s the link for information along with the Santa Barbara map. The Avon Walk for Breast Cancer is focused on improving breast cancer survival rates, funding breakthrough research, and providing vital care for low-income and under-insured patients.

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Santa Barbara Chamber Says No on Measure P

The Santa Barbara Region Chamber of Commerce urges its members to vote “no” on Measure P on the November 2014 ballot. This position was taken following two lengthy presentations to the chamber’s Government Relations Council from the proponents and opponents of Measure P. The GRC voted unanimously to recommend that the chamber oppose Measure P.

The chamber’s position is based on the following concerns:

First: The ballot measure is written in a way that is likely to mislead voters. Its title says that it is a ban on “fracking.” This is misleading for two reasons: there is no fracking in Santa Barbara County and, in addition, the ballot measure also prohibits many other forms of oil and gas extraction. A voter would have to read the entirety of the lengthy and complicated measure to understand that its impact is far greater than suggested by the title.

Second: Measure P is not necessary or appropriate. It prohibits oil and gas production techniques that have been used safely and responsibly in Santa Barbara County for many decades. There is no significant evidence that these techniques — including using steam made from undrinkable water — are likely to cause adverse environmental or health impacts.

Third: Measure P is likely to result in shutting down existing oil and gas operations in Santa Barbara County. An impartial analysis prepared by Santa Barbara County found that 100 percent of the active oil and gas wells currently use one or more of the production techniques prohibited by Measure P.

While the proponents of Measure P assert that existing oil and gas operations are not going to be closed, the ballot measure’s language does not support this claim. If the drafters of the measure intended to allow existing operations to continue, they could and should have included language clearly so stating. It is unfortunate that this major defect in the language of the ballot measure cannot be cured.

Fourth: Measure P is likely to have a significant adverse impact on the local economy. The energy industry estimates that Measure P could result in a loss of $291 million to the local economy. More than a thousand jobs — mostly well-paid, blue-collar positions — would be lost. There is a ripple effect when an industry loses so many jobs, because the newly unemployed can no longer buy groceries, pay rent, buy clothes, and otherwise contribute to the local economy.

Fifth: Measure P will have a significant impact on public services. The county’s impartial analysis found that in 2013 the county received $16.4 million in revenues from onshore oil and gas production. Of this amount, the schools received $10.2 million and fire services received $2.1 million.

Legal experts, including the county counsel, are predicting a great deal of litigation over Measure P. In addition, the county is facing substantial liability from the owners of mineral rights who have a legal right to claim that Measure P results in a “taking” of their property, thus entitling them to sue for damages. The county’s liability for damages and litigation expenses could exceed $100 million.

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Santa Barbara Straw Poll

With two months to go before election day, Santa Barbara View asks… how will you likely vote on Measure P, the Santa Barbara County Fracking Ban Initiative?

If approved, this measure would prohibit what are called “high intensity” oil and gas operations such as fracking, acid well stimulation treatments and cyclic steam injection. The measure would not impede conventional drilling or “low intensity” operations.

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