Tag Archives: salvage

more shelves

I don’t have any travel plans this summer, so July’s rhythm has been work, work, work, decompress in garden, shower, repeat. And I don’t really mind because the garden is so absorbing this time of year. At least once a day I stand as close to the center of it as possible, on a rapidly disappearing access path, like Moses parting the Red Sea, to study the fleets of winged insects that visit. They’re the perpetual fireworks of the July garden. The air space is thrumming with the familiar bees, bumblebees, wasps, lawn skippers, hoverflies, but there’s so many that are nameless to me. Like the British research ship-naming contest, they may as well be Buggy McBug Faces. I was even convinced the other day that the tiny and rare El Segundo Blue butterfly paid a visit. Since its only known remaining habitat is under the flight path of LAX, that’s unlikely. But when your identification skills are sketchy at best, anything is possible, even rare blue butterflies.

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I did get out to the CSSA show at the Huntington last week. Here’s a splendid Gymnocalycium friedrichii as proof.

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I brought home just a couple plants, an Agave colorata and Euphorbia multifolia, but like clockwork, every summer I become convinced I need more shelves.
So Marty helped me rig a new shelving system, which gets lots of the pots up off the ground.

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Not that I have anything against pots on the ground, but I like options for closer, eye-level inspection too.

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Sturdy potted plants are fine at ground level.

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Last summer I massed lots of sturdy stuff against the east (blue) fence.

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But the little treasures have a better chance of survival if they’re right under my nose.
Little side tables and shelves, a garden needs them too, right?

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I found these shelves at Building REsources in San Francisco last spring. They reminded me of old ironing boards.

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The diamond perforations looked ideal for drainage. I saw great potential, but Marty wasn’t convinced with any of my early design proposals.
This arrangement suits everybody.

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Euphorbia multifolia is temporarily cached in that lime green swirly pot.

I’ve seen this exact pot sitting on a neighbor’s porch a couple streets away, but have never seen it anywhere else, flea markets, etc.
A collecting friend gave me this one when it became chipped. What are the odds of there being two in my neighborhood?

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The shelves are hung against the bird house/bath house. I like this corner for its morning sun/afternoon shade.
The ferny plant is a young Acacia cardiophylla. I thought the parakeets would appreciate something leafy to look at.

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Now that they’re hung, I’m wondering if they shouldn’t have been painted first.

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The shelves are rigged so that unhooking them for painting would be incredibly easy.
And the spray paint has really been flying around here lately. Someone cleaned out a garage and unloaded boxes of spray cans on us.

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Marty has done all the painting. I come home from work, and there it is, the marvel of fresh paint.
For someone who has had a lifelong tolerance for rust, I’m growing alarmingly fond of fresh paint.
I can’t seem to move beyond black though. Marty had repainted this metal jardiniere in its original orange, and it was gorgeous.
But my eye kept stuttering and tripping over it. I guess that’s called a focal point, right? I needed it black, and Marty reluctantly repainted it again. What a guy.

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And this old aquarium stand with those great hairpin legs got some fresh black paint too.
The marble top also came from Building REsources a few years ago.

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Fresh paint is great, but some old finishes are too good to cover. I found this galvanized table really cheap at a great shop in San Pedro.

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This shop is so good, with such great prices, that I’m hesitant to name it.

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Okay, that would be incredibly selfish. It’s House 1002 on Pacific Avenue.

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So the question remains, to paint or not to paint? If we do repaint, I’m leaning toward repainting the shelves their original color, not black, but I’m open to suggestions.

blue fence

Double-sided, dog-eared redwood fence, you win. Smug, aren’t you? You know I can’t afford to replace you.
Over the years I’ve stained you blue (twice), stenciled you in scrolls, but to no avail.
There you stand, a blue, stenciled, dog-eared redwood reminder of the stark boundaries of my garden.

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Granted, you make a dramatic backdrop for chartreuse, a theme I work pretty hard.

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And sturdy support for Potted’s City Planter too.

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In some light you’re almost black.

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I’m not sure I’d want to replace your insistent vertical lines with horizontal lines though.
Last year I was certain that the answer was to affix smooth Hardiebacker cement board to you and paint that an exciting color.
I’m sure I had that plan in fall, which is when the energy for projects usually arrives — in a narrow sliver of a window before the holidays devour all that excess energy.
But the weight of the cement board might cause sag, which would only be exchanging one irritation for another.

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This eastern boundary is all hardscape until we get to the row of lemon cypresses.
Which is why I’m always on the lookout for some huge Euphorbia ammak or fence post cactus to grow in large pots along your exposed fenceline.

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Ghostly remnants of the stenciling project. I didn’t exactly stencil your whole length but kinda ran out of steam after 5 feet or so.
I’ll blame that on the holidays too.
(Pots hold two newish members of my ever-expanding cussonia collection.)

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I will say that your homespun rusticity doesn’t mind sharing space with a little industrial chic.
A sleek new fence might strenuously object.

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Blue fence, you win fair and square. (Until I nail some Hardiebacker board on your ass, that is.)

designing crows

The crows that live in Tokyo use clothes hangers to make nests. In such a large city, there are few trees, so the natural materials that crows need to make their nests are scarce. As a result, the crows occasionally take hangers from the people who live in apartments nearby, and carefully assemble them into nests. The completed nests almost look like works of art based on the theme of recycling,” photographer Yosuke Kashiwakura writes. — Yosuke Kashiwakura / National Geographic Photo Contest, Honorable Mention: Nature

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flea market 101

Getting to our first ever flea market as buyers sellers last Sunday was a journey of just five miles. Still, it was epic in scope and had all the hallmarks of a serious expedition: Not sleeping the night before, endless mental checklists, thermoses, camp chairs, rising before dawn, no breakfast. It was a good thing Dustin fed us all the night before when we stopped by to load up his stuff. (Were the butterflies in our stomachs due to flea market jitters or Dustin’s roasted chilis?)

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Marty was my loyal sherpa for a day. His ’70 bus carried it all. Strapped to the roof were most of the tables and Reuben’s murals. (see Reuben’s magisterial account here.)
Mitch was in town and managed to find time between packing and unpacking to snap some photos.

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Every inch of the bus was dragooned into flea market duty.

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And then, still before breakfast, it’s time to unpack it all.

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The unexpected juxtapositions are pure flea market, like the hot plate/Mr. Peanut thingy from Dustin’s grandmother sharing table space with his concrete buddha. (Mr. Peanut found his buyer late in the day.) Reuben’s two smelt pots, one seen just behind the armillary sphere, attracted interest early from the “pros.” It was a fine introduction in flea market economics to observe how Reuben set and finessed prices. The heavy smelt pots eventually sold late in the day for very close to Reuben’s initial asking price, to the same gent who couldn’t live without Mr. Peanut. I’m telling you, every transaction could be the basis for a short story.

The story arc to Dustin’s concrete gems alone was worth the price of admission. Our carnival barking became more aggressive as the day progressed, as the concrete was handled, the facets examined then returned to the tables. “Charm your friends! Harm your enemies!” And all morning they went unsold. Not one sale. It seemed a thundering judgment had been made: We loved them, but nobody else did. And then in an instant, everything changed, and Dustin was mobbed with buyers. A florist wanted dozens. A bride-to-be wanted them for tables for her wedding in September, and could Dustin paint them white? People were drawn in by the frenzy, and more gems sold. (And what a great idea the future bride had. Diamonds=wedding. Get it?)

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The displays became more refined throughout the day — mostly because there’s lots of down time between buyers. The whole lot of these old pharmacy jars were bought early in the day at one go, all eight of them. The smaller “monkey fists” about the size of billiard balls (which hold the center) sold only when we came down in price by quite a bit. Lots of people just took photos, spun around, and dove back into the crowds. The stuff on our tables was endlessly fondled and caressed, sometimes followed by a sale, just as frequently not. Watching the interaction between people and objects was so very, very interesting, who was attracted to what and why. I expected the why to remain a mystery, but loved when people tried to articulate it, offering stories of their longing. I had experienced how sellers weave narratives around their stuff for sale, but it was a surprise to find it works both ways. Buyers do this too, like the girl who wanted the lab beakers for her budding scientist brother. I fell hard for these stories and came way down in price. I did discover that my source for industrial salvage is charging me too much. I brought these metal trays back home, since I couldn’t break even with them.

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The buyers were fascinatingly unpredictable. People wanted to buy Marty’s bus, our display tables, including this tool cart. Dustin’s grandmother’s tchotchkes sold well. What we called Dustin’s “tostadas” sold late in the day. Just a few people noticed these were made of a unique, very lightweight, sculptural concrete formulation, but those that did notice were intensely interested. Same thing with Reuben’s smelt pots, which are sculptural, fused-glass byproducts of molten industrial processes. Those whose eye they caught immediately recognized their complex provenance. Watching objects work their magic on people was the best part of the day. Dustin’s “ficus tree root with superimposed grapevine” sculpture found its adoring owner late in the day too.

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I was secretly hoping Reuben’s conical, heavy lanterns wouldn’t sell, so I’d be forced to make a decision on them, but sell they did.
Dustin was fiendishly delighted when the glass vase he found abandoned in his alley went to an appreciative buyer.

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By 4 o’clock we were home, and it was all unpacked. We were entrusted temporarily with Reuben’s stuff, which was all carefully put away — after I had a good play with it.

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Would we do it again? We’re thinking maybe February, if there’s any spaces still available. Was the money good? I thought so, although Reuben thought this flea’s attendance wasn’t the best he’s seen. We were prepared to accommodate big transactions with Square, and it did come in handy. Some people wanted bags to carry off their purchases, and we had none, but we did have a wagon that we loaned out all day to carry off the heavier items, which was always faithfully returned. Was the explicitly garden-related stuff a hit? Not really. The only one to even give the garden books and magazines a glance was Kris, who wrote about her adventure here. (Such a treat to meet you and your friends, Kris.)

Reuben, Dustin, Mitch, Marty, I’d flea-market again with you in a heartbeat, just name the time and place. The only caveat is there must be breakfast next time.

the packrat king

If you’ve ever visited Lotusland, you’ll instantly know why I was drawn to these clamshells.

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Set up temporarily on a bird bath stand. I was hoping they’d hold a lot more water than they do.

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Sitting on the stand at these awkward angles, the only stable arrangement, leaves just a very shallow pool. Possibly enough to slake a bird’s thirst, if not enough for a Botticelli bath.


The real deal at Lotusland.

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When one of my high school buddies called to ask if I knew of someone who would be interested in sorting and pricing the contents of his father’s garage, I immediately grasped the enormity he faced. This garage was mythic. I had visited it once, maybe twice as a teenager, and the endless drawers of rocks and gemstones, the shelves filled with the corruscated shapes of geodes, had left an indelible impression. There was also a hazy impression of a typical, post-WWII suburban garage divided into cramped rooms stuffed to the gunwhales with whatever had aroused his dad’s magpie tendencies, which were epic by any magpie standards. As a teenager, I couldn’t help but compare it to the garage at my parents’ home, which most disappointingly housed a car and tidy laundry facilities. I had to see it again, if only to test the soundness of adolescent memories that had burnished that garage into a cave of wonders. Was it just a junk pile? I needed an impartial third eye to soberly assess this storehouse of dreams. Marty agreed to come along.

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Clams just aren’t growing them like this anymore.

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My buddy figured two years would be needed to get the job done, the contents sorted and priced, destined for collectors or sold as scrap. Two years now seems an optimistic number to me. Inching sideways through the packed shelves, a new question pops up with each step: How long does Kodachrome film last? Why all the boxes of pencils? Is this Life magazine with Paul and Linda on the cover worth anything? And then there’s the big question that looms over everything: How could he leave all this stuff for his family to sort through? It is an overwhelming, Herculean task. My buddy will be living with what is essentially a physical manifestation of the dusty nooks and crannies of his father’s imagination for years to come….oh, wait a minute. Is that really such a bad thing? Looking at my buddy’s haggard face, I wasn’t sure.

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I grabbed my Lotsuland clamshells, a set of cocktail glasses sporting the pirate ship logo of the old Tasman Sea, now closed, and made a clean getaway. Marty fully corroborated my impressions, that this man had collected his way into something extraordinary. Bizarre and of dubious value, but extraordinary.

I can’t wait to go back.

succulents make us do the strangest things

I had to laugh when I saw Reuben’s latest project on this post, planting the frame to an old television monitor, which I think is incredibly classy and wish he’d sell to me. (Look at those aeonium knobs!) I completely understand the impulse. Where we differ is, I suspect Reuben starts with the concept first. Most of my projects start with a desperate need to thin out overcrowded plantings.

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The mind and eye wander into the garage, the garden shed, rummaging for something, anything to contain the prodigious amount of offsets these plants produce. I don’t want every pot I own filled with thinnings of Aeonium ‘Kiwi.’ Something with a broad, shallow surface is needed to absorb their numbers — like the base to this old wrought iron table. At first I resisted, because I really wanted to make a functional table of it again, with a usable surface, but the tyranny of the procreating abilities of these plants won the argument. At least I haven’t started planting old boots…yet.

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The table was planted in early summer and was kept in light shade until strong roots formed. Prior to planting, a lot of these thinnings had been dumped into buckets, destined for the compost pile, which had the beneficial effect of drying out the ends to form a callus. Callusing is often recommended and probably the safest practice to prevent the stem from rotting away. But when the planting frenzy started, I also grabbed fresh cuttings from the garden, and these did fine as well.

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In the design equivalent of convergent evolution, the materials and method used were pretty much identical to what Reuben details in his post; stretching and affixing wire mesh hardware cloth, lining it with moss, filling in with potting soil. I moved the table into full sun just yesterday while we’re being graced with an amazing stretch of mild weather in the mid-70s. The sun will bring out the strongest coloring, but I’ll move it back into light shade when high temperatures return. Aeoniums, dark red and ‘Kiwi,’ Echeveria glauca, Sedum nussbaumerianum, Graptopetalum paraguayense. The planting depth is thinnest at the exposed table edges, which should be covered in another couple weeks as the plants enlarge and mature. The mossed screen might be 4 inches at its greatest depth.

Following Reuben’s example, I’m going to try starting with the concept first. Now I’m on the lookout for old tv monitors to accommodate an elaborate staging of the visual pun “Watching grass grow.” But I doubt I’ll have the discipline to see it through and use something as pedestrian as turf. I’d much rather plant it with a bright green screen of sedum. Or maybe I could plant the Indian Head Test Pattern in succulents? (I’m joking…I think.) But the possibilities rival the number of channels on cable. Thanks for pointing the way, Reuben.

Garden Bloggers Fling 2013; Organic Mechanics Garden

The first garden on Friday was created in the courtyard between two apartment buildings originally gifted to twin sisters by their father in the Tenderloin district of San Francisco. The Organic Mechanics, James Pettigrew and Sean Stout, see opportunity where others see only a dead zone of concrete and a few pittosporum. Now it’s a lush urban sanctuary brimming with salvaged and repurposed treasures, a transformed community space enjoyed by all the residents. (Organic Mechanics was also responsible for the gigantic walk-in succulent cube that was the toast of the San Francisco Flower and Garden Show a few years ago.) I’m guessing there’s something in the coastal fog that gets the creative synapses firing among Bay Area designers, just as it sends the mighty redwoods soaring taller than any other trees.

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Under your feet is no ordinary paving

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Marble salvage from a local tombstone sculptor also finds its way here

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The courtyard had a wonderful collection of plants, like this Yucca rostrata

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I’m officially on the hunt now for this gorgeous compact shrub, Leucadendron linifolium

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Agave ovatifolia

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Looks like Leucadendron argenteum to me, but I overheard discussion that this might be a banksia

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photo from SFGate

Not only was this garden a visual feast, but we were also serenaded by the raspy warblings of Simon, the 25-year-old Yellow Nape Amazon Parrot.
A wonderful beginning to the 2013 Garden Bloggers Fling.


We’re in the early planning stages of another project, and I’ve started to notice a pattern here. Often projects start out with stuff we’ve found, which gets stored deep in the recesses of the garage and is completely forgotten, but gets triumphantly unearthed a couple years later, at which point we become infatuated all over again with its potential. Case in point, this solid-wood door, circa 1950s. It’s huge, leaning against the narrow side of the garage now, so a larger photo isn’t possible, but take my word, the door is pristine and a lovely golden color. One edge became slightly termite-chewed during storage, but that can be easily cleaned up with a saw.


Like all our projects, the early stage revolves around deciding what it will be. There can be — let’s see. How can I put this? — spirited disagreement in these early stages and sometimes even — yes, it’s true — diametrically opposed opinions on the thing’s ultimate purpose.

For this door, I can vividly imagine a built-in bench for an awkward space against the east wall of the house in the biggest outdoor patio we have. Marty sees workbench. The common ground is, we both see a functional bench of some sort from this beautiful door, but in one version it gets the crap beat out of it as a workbench, riddled with gouges from hammers and saws. In another version, it has cushions and pillows and an iPad open to The New Yorker. It’s a conceptual gulf, to be sure, but one that can be bridged, as they all have been, by judicious argument and persuasion. Defending one’s position helps sharpen rhetorical chops too.

We are mad about benches here. Indoors a bench is a low bookshelf, both underneath and on top. A bench provides extra holiday seating around the table. A bench is a coffee table. A bench is anything you need it to be at the moment you need it most.

For small houses, small patios, I’m convinced a bench is the answer to nearly every spatial question.

I’m fairly certain the door was intially going to be a table. I’m even more certain that it will not be a workbench.
But since I’m only the persuader, not the builder, the outcome is still uncertain.

via Riazzoli 1/12

Every project starts with some aspirational/inspirational photos.
Although this isn’t a bench but more of a divan, this is the general idea of the envisioned use. (via Riazzoli)


Although open and free-standing, a concrete bench at Reuben and Paul’s Rancho Reubidoux is about the right size.
Where does Reuben find this great stuff, and how does he get it home?

Great seating at New York City’s Battery Park, but too municipal for a home.


Water garden doubling as a bench from which a Narcissus can ignore the water lilies and gaze at his own reflection.
A bigger project than I can manage at the moment.
(Robert Smaus’ 1990’s Los Angeles garden)

Potted’s built-in bench for California Home+Design showhouse at The Hollywood Lofts has the proportions I’m after.

With each successive “planning session,” I can feel my opponent weakening. I’m not above using the blog as a bully pulpit. I’m Martha and he’s George arguing about what to do about the “baby” in Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? except not quite that nasty and we laugh more.

Right now, I think bench has got the edge.

scenes from San Pedro, Calif.

I want to show you a house and garden I found earlier today, but first you’ll need to look at the Pacific Ocean, just as I did before I found the house.


No, this wasn’t a vacation. I had a couple hours between jobs in San Pedro, California, a small town just over a couple bridges from Long Beach.


San Pedro is possibly one of the oddest cities in Los Angeles County, a little harbor town in which the mighty Port of Los Angeles is located that still manages to retain the look and feel of an Italian fishing village. It is as psychologically isolated from the rest of Los Angeles as the Cinque Terre is physically cut off from the rest of Italy. A town immune to endless attempts at gentrification. Town of my father and countless relatives. I lived here in an apartment house overlooking the waterfront in my mid to late twenties. Both my sons were born here. My first community garden was here. So when I got a 2-hour break between work assignments in San Pedro this morning, it was with an insider’s knowledge that I headed to Point Fermin Park, to see if I could maybe sneak into the Sunken City, the apocalyptic remains of a 20th century neighborhood that slumped and slid on geologic waves into the sea.


But I couldn’t very well crawl underneath the security fencing surrounding the Sunken City in work clothes. That would be silly! (and coincidentally illegal but nobody cares.) So I settled for a walk amongst the huge magnolias in adjacent Point Fermin Park, the southernmost point of Los Angeles County, land’s end high up on vertiginous bluffs overlooking the seaweed-strewn tidepools of the Pacific Ocean.


This hilly little town has numerous microclimates. I left hot, clear skies at 6th Street, disappointed that at noon there’d be little chance for decent photos, and traveled less than a mile to find the park shrouded in a moody, dense fog. The cliffs smelled of anise, the fog horns blew, and I happily practiced my rusty native plant ID skills on the coastal scrub. Lemonberry (Rhus integrifolia), coyote bush (Baccharis pilularis). And the dreaded exotic invasive tamarisk (Tamarix aphylla).


Continue reading scenes from San Pedro, Calif.