Monthly Archives: June 2011

Raw Salvage

I first heard about Big Daddy’s architectural salvage and antique business from Reuben’s blog Rancho Reubidoux and had been itching to check it out ever since, which I finally did about a month ago. The contrast between the natural world and the man-made, that tension partly explains why I think salvage can sometimes be so bracing when included in gardens. Decrepit, man-made objects falling apart in a garden that will continually renew itself and go on in some form without us, there’s rusty poignancy to be exploited there. But you’ll have to refer to Reuben’s photos to view some of Big Daddy’s selection of gorgeous architectural salvage. Because what did I come back with?

Photos of sweaty mannequins in T-shirts and random chair groupings.


Out of all that cool shit, here’s where apparently I felt the need to point my camera. Was it sensory overload? Sheer contrariness? Who can say?
But needless to say, I didn’t blog about that visit.


At Big Daddy’s every object was uber cool, desirable, collectible. And the prices reflected the work and knowledge* that goes into sourcing these objects, the transportation and then storage in the warehouse until sale. Rightfully so. And not pricy exactly, but certainly more than I can afford. The only other shoppers I noticed were designers who loaded up vans full of stuff intended for clients or maybe their own antique shops. I wandered around, got those silly photos, and drove home feeling slightly defeated. Do we all remember the days when we found this kind of stuff dirt cheap and usually had the bonus of some colorful story to tell about the acquisition too? I know it’s still out there somewhere, but someone always seems one step ahead of me, putting a hefty price tag on it before I get there. I know, I know, it’s big business now. Get over it, I scolded myself driving home through this heavily industrial part of town.

And that’s when I found another warehouse just a few streets away, a kind of boneyard of the Industrial Revolution. Massive machines of forgotten purpose, some beautiful, all filthy, some towering 15 feet high. I’m not completely sure why I find this stuff so terribly exciting, but would guess that it’s similar to the affinity for the shape and design of plants in response to their environments. That kind of beauty and ingenuity and singular purpose can also be seen in the hulks of cast-off machines. But while the machines are mesmerizing, they’re terrifying too, which just adds zest to the adventure, that tug between repulsion/attraction. Praise be to OSHA/Occupational Safety and Health Administration! was a recurring thought as I wandered through the hangar-sized warehouse for an hour, resolving to come back with my husband later to get his opinion on some things of interest. And also to get his opinion as to if I was or was not crazy to find this place spectacular.

Yesterday we finally made it back, and he affirmed it was indeed all that spectacular.
I brought home this little rolling tool cart I’d seen the first visit. For staging plants, yes, but also to move around heavy containers. Indestructible.
I’ve seen these sold as rolling bar carts for hipster lofts at eight times what I paid.


And a heavy, welded basket that sifted god-knows-what.


And a clamp-on lamp that needs cleaning and some other bits, but I ended up putting back more than I brought home. There’s some industrial shelving I desperately covet that’s priced a little high, although still amazingly cheap. I think the owner sells by the pound. I selfishly want to keep what I call Morlocks Machinewerx (for the subterranean, machine-mad creatures in H.G. Wells’ The Time Machine) a secret until I own that shelving, but that would be incredibly unfair to the owner who could use the business. It’s called simply Hick’s Machinery. Go there and be amazed at the relics of America’s manufacturing might.

Whenever possible, I prefer my salvage raw.


*For a look at the costs of sourcing “junk,” check out this LA Times article on the lawsuit against Restoration Hardware for mass-producing the curated discoveries of Obsolete, a collector’s mecca in Venice, California.

Got Sluggo?

My garden shed is organized with the same efficiency as my clothes closet (as in zero efficiency. Ask my husband. I ‘m a complete slob), but the Sluggo is always the most accessible item in the shed. I was at a nursery recently that impressed me with their ceramic bowls of Sluggo on the work counters to allow employees quick access to the pellets. A small detail that conveyed a brisk competence, sensible but extravagant, too, considering the price of the stuff. Maybe they get a commercial bulk rate. For the uninitiated, Sluggo is the trade name for the biodegradable iron-phosphate pellets that cause fatal indigestion to only snails and slugs but is completely safe for pets. Lately I’ve been flinging Sluggo around like chicken feed in the early mornings. Here sluggy, sluggy slug!


Right now, the garden is short on mollusk predators. (My box turtle Helga disappeared years ago. And what happened to the possum?)
I don’t seek complete extermination of these fascinating creatures, only a just and equitable parity.
They never chew on this yucca, yet it seems to be a snail superhighway of sorts.
Just before sunrise this snail had nearly reached the summit of the leaf, perhaps seeking a vantage point from which to survey his salad bowl of a world, but as the first rays skimmed the garden he hastened his slipperfoot in the direction of some dark, cool recess. Where a nice snack of Sluggo was waiting for him.

Occasional Daily Photo 6/24/11

I took the day off from work yesterday and worked played in the garden all day.
Needing potting soil, I stopped at a local nursery, where I found this:
(Photo is a little dark, taken late last night.)

Pedilanthus bracteatus (aka Euphorbia bracteata) from Mexico.


A huge empty pot, formerly a fountain, sits in the front garden, just outside the gate to the east side of the house, so I dropped this 5-gallon into that pot.
A plain backdrop is a priceless asset. I was new-plant tingly all over.

A half hour or so later, I heard the dreaded sounds of an impromptu twilight soccer game in my neighbor’s adjacent yard and rushed to the east side just as a soccer ball whooshed over the low fence separating our front gardens and landed in a restio, a mere couple feet away from the not-cheap pedilanthus. A herd of kids, tops of their heads just visible at the 3-foot fence line, were politely bleating, “Lady, please get the ball.” The Agave ‘Mr. Ripple’ is a formidable guard, as are the row of dwarf olives lining the fence, so they know better than to climb the fence. (These encounters are always amiable. Kids have gotta play somewhere, since there’s not a park in walking distance.) As soon as I tossed the ball over, I grabbed the pedilanthus from the pot and rushed him to safety inside the gate, where I took the photo.
Summer is twilight soccer game season, and no pedilanthus is safe.

Under Trees

Should any part of your garden extend under a tree canopy, be joyful, for you will never lack for tasks to keep you busy. (Ha!)
But if your garden is home to spiky plants, no amount of sweeping and raking will help. The tree litter will be stuck, impaled, draped like dirty laundry for weeks until a strong wind arrives to liberate the garden of its vegetative equivalent of Irish pennants. Or failing a stiff gale, you may be driven to reach in desperation for a vacuum cleaner to suck debris from plant crevices and thorns, exposing your plant-geek tendencies to the ridicule of the entire neighborhood. (As if such tendencies have been well hidden up to this point.) While trees rain down bounteous spring bloom, remember that despite being a teeth-gnashing annoyance, it’s really a small price to pay for all the good that trees do. And if you’re not paying a price, reaping the inevitable downside of something glorious and good, check your pulse quick.

In our case, our particular bete noire is the jacaranda. The subtropical South American Jacaranda mimosifolia, two of them planted by the city in the parkway, overhanging the front garden. We’re just now digging out from under two months of incessant rain of violet-blue, stick-to-your shoes petals. Let’s not even get into “My tree creates more havoc than your tree,” for I know many of us have our patience tested each and every spring and fall by diverse species of trees. In our case, we get about a two months’ respite a year from the jacarandas, July and August, when they are not unleashing some kind of debris. As far as petals, by late June the end is in sight, and the bulk of the flowers will have fallen.

Strong blasts from the hose unearthed my Agave guadalajarana this morning.


Fortunately, I don’t really mind sweeping and have worn out many a broom on these bricks.
But when the sticky petal grime builds up to critical mass, only a strong jet of water from the hose can remove it.


From the opposite direction, Stipa gigantea caressing a furcraea, with dried flowers from the ‘Kiwi’ aeonium, Agave ‘Jaws’ in the distance on the right.
Lots of nooks and crannies for tree litter.


Senecio decaryi from Madagascar (formerly Senecio amaniensis) is almost 6 feet tall this year. Since I bought it as an unnamed succulent, I had no idea it’d reach such proportions. There’s so much in the front garden I truly enjoy… if only I wasn’t so pissed off at the jacarandas every spring.


But by July we’re in love with our trees again, fully leafed out for the heat of summer, appreciating all they do to cool our home and clean our dirty, port-town air.

The Gospel According to San Marcos

The devoted gathered to hear Mr. Baldwin of the premiere West Coast nursery San Marcos Growers give a talk at Roger’s Gardens last Saturday on new plant introductions. Be warned that this post will be plant-wonkish in the extreme.


Continue reading The Gospel According to San Marcos

Solanum marginatum

Cable TV was turned back on in our house after an absence of about a year of no TV other than Netflix. Fiberoptic cable was laid on our street, so a package deal with faster internet, cable TV, and phone service included was cheaper than our old phone bill. The devil comes in package deals. Life was going along just fine without 300 channels. I resisted but was outmaneuvered by the economic incentives of the deal. Clicking through last night, my husband stops when Huell Howser’s friendly face fills the screen. My husband likes his show. Mr. Howser is a Los Angeles celebrity who has had a long-running public television program called “California’s Gold,” where he visits all sorts of out-of-the-way attractions. (“You getting this, Louie?” Mr. Howser’s rebuke to his cameraman is a running joke in our house.) When I start to noticeably squirm, because I’ve never gotten the hang of watching Huell Howser without letting loose a stream of exasperated profanity, my husband quickly changed the channel. But not before I catch a blurry glimpse of silvery, undulating leaf.


Me: Quick! Change it back! I think that’s my Solanum marginatum!

Mr. Howser was visiting the Garden Conservancy site at Alacatraz Island, aka “The Rock,” the old prison in San Francisco Bay. I once was locked up in solitary there briefly as a tourist, but long before the gardens were restored. I haven’t visited since the neglected gardens were taken over by the Garden Conservancy.

Dustin Gimbel gave me Solanum marginatum, the White-Margined Nightshade, when I admired it in his garden, but for such a stunning plant there’s a near blackout on information about it. It’s from northeast Africa, Ethiopia, Eritrea, and supposedly on the invasive list in California. The concern in California seems more related to the danger this extremely poisonous member of the nightshade family poses to grazing cattle, and Australia has acknowledged that the plant poses little actual invasive risk.

Still, Dustin’s garden was the first and only time I’d seen this solanum. But there was Huell stopped in front of it on Alcatraz Island, marveling at its beauty. Ain’t life strange? Guess I’d have to watch this show after all.


The specimen on Alacatraz looked to be about the size of mine, about 4X4 feet, though potentially it may grow as high as 8 feet. The gardens at Alcatraz are being restored to reflect their use at the time the prison was running, and when Huell asked if this plant was historically accurate to the time of the prison, the docent said yes, with no further explanation as to why it would have been grown. Water is brought in to the island by ferry boat, so all current plant selections seem to be carefully curated. The historic prison gardens encompassed vegetable and cutflower gardens, with the rest of the vegetation on “The Rock” kept severely cut back, to minimize opportunities for escapees to hide.

Image found here.

Although Huell’s narration is an acquired taste, it’s not a bad show at all, not that I’ll be tuning in regularly. But I’m putting a visit to Alcatraz back on the itinerary the next time I’m in San Francisco.

Garden Tasks, Dogs & Productivity

I work at home most days of the week and keep this guy fairly close all day.


Working alone all day with a dog instead of people has some interesting ramifications. I’m not sure if it makes me any more productive, as that link discusses, but at a minimum he’s good at reminding me to get up from the desk to stretch my legs and check up on matters of extreme urgency, like interloping cats, vendors, and all manner of inscrutable but highly important dog business. Since he’s a herding dog and, at a molecular level, needs to keep track of Who’s On First, there’s a lot of leaping up and investigating what mostly turns out to be the mundane comings and goings of a typical urban neighborhood. To his utter disappointment, no herds of sheep have yet to clatter down our street. But you never know. I play along with his delusions and he plays along with mine.

And our metabolisms are a pretty good fit. I do a fair amount of my own leaping up from the desk for the thinnest of reasons, like when the light is photo-perfect for a hard-to-capture flower like Heliophila longifolia.


Or I’ve brought home a new succulent.


Could be anything. Maybe a cutting needs transplanting. It’s a habit that constantly imperils work deadlines. (I feel pretty much as Douglas Adams did about deadlines, enjoying the whooshing sound they make as they fly by.) And as the photo depicts, my dog frequently exhibits that canine-intense, “What are you up to now?” face in relation to such shenanigans.


Spending large blocks of time alone with a dog naturally leads to talking to them. Or so I tell myself it’s natural.
In any case, many of the conversations I have with people are as one-sided as me talking to my dog — with me usually taking on the dog’s role in the conversation.

I give you: Conversations with My Dog

Me to Dog: Don’t look so worried. Nothing too crazy going on here


Let me explain. Some things you should never nevereverever do. We’ve had this chat before. And then you go ahead and do it anyway, and so we must try to mitigate the damage as best we can.
Well, this time I’ve done one of those things, not you, so relax

Let me explain. This Canary Island Foxglove, Isoplexis isabelliana, has exceeded all expectations by thriving and blooming.


As can be seen by the bird droppings on the petals, its trial spot has become increasingly shady as the cotinus canopy leafs out. Now that I know what an easy-going beauty it truly is, I simply must move it to more sun. Yes, while it’s in full bloom, and, yes, in early summer. Normally, a very ill-advised practice. This spot near where lots of other rusty orange flowers seem to have congregated would be perfect. That crazy umbrella/ladder apparatus is just shade rigging for a week or so, to ease the transition.

There, 10 minutes’ work and it’s done. Now back under the desk with you.

I mentioned mitigating the damage. 10-day forecast was checked and predicted overcast and cool, our typical “June Gloom” weather pattern. Fibrous root masses have a reasonable expectation of successful transplantation, versus tap-rooted, which have none. I had no clue before digging what these roots were like, but betted on fibrous, which they were. It’s been almost a week since I moved the isoplexis, still shading it from afternoon sun, and it hasn’t shown signs of wilt yet, blooms still upright like the day it was transplanted. Another factor to consider is soil. Mine’s a stiff clay and holds together fairly well, maintaining a large root ball for transplantation. This might not work with sandy soil. Just an example of how general rules can be flouted by keeping an eye on specific local conditions and factors. And it helps to have a garden assistant that can’t talk you out of borderline crazy projects.