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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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).

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Movie trivia: The Dude stood on these bluffs to distribute the ashes of his friend in The Big Lebowski.
Jake Gittes visited the bluffs to confirm suspicions of water being diverted into an ocean-going culvert from orchards to make way for a land grab in Chinatown.

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A last look before returning to work. It has been too long since I’ve had a good stare at the ocean.

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Running a little late, with maybe just enough time to buy a bottle of water, I skidded to a stop when I saw this.

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The front garden of this Spanish Revival apartment house was an artless collection of driftwood, rusty maritime salvage, rocks, bones.
A Joseph Cornell shadowbox of a garden picked and gleaned from the Pacific Ocean.

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There was nothing studied or “styled” about the front garden, yet it emanated such a concentrated feeling of someone thoroughly immersed in local patterns and textures, whose character and habits I could discern from their simple garden as though reading their private journal. I basked as long as I could in its quiet exuberance.

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Sotols, aloes, cactus, agaves, Verbena bonariensis, prickly pear, bamboo, gaillardia, cosmos, larkspur.

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The tipsy teacup wasn’t just ornament but also a very effective bird feeder. The birds wouldn’t leave it alone.

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A garden of someone happily at play on the unstable edge of the continent.

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11 Responses to scenes from San Pedro, Calif.

  1. ks says:

    My friend Larry and I would occasionally drive to San Pedro(Eagle Rock was another favorite) and we were invariably confused and lost. Port towns seem to have intimidating labyrinths no matter where they are. We were used to surf-ish beach towns..ships and bridges and cranes were exotic compared to piers and burger joints. I see June gloom in your photos..I have JG envy.

  2. gardenbug says:

    I know only a very little about California from a few visits over the years. This write-up is wonderful and captures something very special indeed. Beautiful, intriguing, unique.

  3. Sue says:

    You never know where you’re going to find a garden gem. And what a beautiful place! Although the idea of a sunken city creeps me out a bit it leaves me wanting to know more. Very interesting-a perfect read to start out the day.

  4. What a lovely work day interlude, and thank goodness you had your camera with you. The blooming Agaves on the cliff shot is just fabulous…and then the garden, wow! Nice find.

  5. Denise says:

    Loree, some days don’t seem like work at all. Yesterday was one of those days.

  6. Denise says:

    Sue, I’m going to go back and have another look. Gardens like that usually influence their neighbors…

  7. Denise says:

    Marie, I had to force myself to keep it short and not pile on details. A section of the road past this park collapsed last year, a huge sinkhole. Wished I had a geologist with me to explain those interesting rock formations in the ocean that look like lava flows.

  8. Denise says:

    Kathy, Pedro seems to get none of the vast wealth of the harbor and kinda slumbers along — lots of politics involved of course.

  9. Scott says:

    Oh, to live on the coast…one can dream, right? I love quaint, sincere little gardens like that…even better when they are unexpected 🙂

  10. Hoov says:

    What a wonderful little adventure. Someone interesting must live there. June Gloom is slipping away now, isn’t it. My favorite time of year, but it seems like this year’s was too short.

  11. Les says:

    I really like the first shot with the agave flowers in the distance. I also like the garden you found, because I thoroughly believe that one can never have too much flotsam.

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