Who Are the People in Your Neighborhood?


More on neighborliness–and plant theft–from the San Francisco Chronicle:

The drawback to raising vegetables on a busy residential street is the proximity of cars racing past at high speeds — or, as Shirley pointed out, the possibility of theft — the benefit is the chance to meet people I might not get to know otherwise….During the past few years, I’ve been gratified at the compliments I’ve received from people walking by, and my husband, Bob, doesn’t even look at me funny anymore when I tell him a stranger admired my tomatoes.

Link: www.sfgate.com.


  1. I remember a news story a couple years ago about people in Palo Alto having their Japanese maples stolen right out of the ground in the middle of the night. Very disturbing.

    I’m really careful about what I plant in the front “yard” and I worry about it waaay too much. I see all kinds of small potted plants around my neighborhood that could easily be picked up and taken away. There’s a house around the corner that has a really tempting brommeliad. Did I say that? No, I didn’t say that.

  2. The most interesting thing I ever found in my soil was one half of a mold to make lead toy soldiers. Sorry, no picture. My mother-in-law identified it for me. She told me that “back in the day,” before plastic toys–or central heating–were the norm, children melted lead and made their own toy soldiers. Living in a pre-20th century farmhouse, I have found a lot of marbles, broken pottery, and small glass bottles when digging in the soil, but the toy soldier mold was the most unusual.

  3. We are the 2nd owners of a house built in 1922. The people were avid gardeners. I inherited “good bones”, though I was unfamilier with that term in my early gardening years. Interesting things I found in expanding on the bones:

    A lovely large green art deco glazed flower pot, that Addie (former lady of the house) must have buried in the ground with a house plant, planning in bringing it back inside in the winter. My mother use to do this with geraniums, florists azaleas. This now holds a Christmas Cactas that belonged to my grandmother.

    Cast Stone flagstones that were covered with sod and had led to the unattached garage. They started me on my love of stone and a flagstone path thru a shade garden.

    Lots of broken amber glass from bottles. Think those buiders drank a LOT of beer on the job. I am surprised my house turned out as well as it did.

  4. Well, I find bucketloads of garbage buried in my back yard but I’ll never top the toy-soldier mold, which sounds very cool. My collection includes some pretty glass bottles and blue insulators, but my most common archeological find is those awful plastic cigarette filter tips, just beneath the sod I recently removed. Makes ya wonder.

    Farther down into the woods behind my house, my neighbors and I have found such gems as toilets, stoves and refrigerators, batteries, the construction debris from a whole house, etc. In my 22 years here I’ve seen the garbage removed but still the entire ground plane of the valley is invasive weeds battling each other for dominance.

  5. What a cool introduction into the creatures that live in the soil and help bring it alive and make nutrients available to the plants we all like to grow.

    Over the years I have found all kinds of stuff while digging in the dirt. Lots of marbles, small plastic figures, rubber lizards, small pieces of odd metal parts, a very nice purple piece of quartz and one Maui Soda bottle. (Now where did I put that when I moved?)

    Back before I got a covered plastic box and used a wire cage circle to compost, sitting on my deck one morning I saw a Myna bird fly by with a whole piece of toast in it’s beak. That was amusing. Who knows what was really left for the scarab beetles and other little things to process back then.

  6. Apart from the usual beetles, bugs and red wigglers, and several families of field mice, one of the most interesting things found in the compost was a small beautifully detailed gold pig, obviously a charm from a bracelet and probably Victorian. As I was about to marry a veterinarian who specialized in pig reproductive anatomy, I was given it and added it to the gold bracelet which held my Grandma’s identity number during the Second World War.

  7. We live in the same neighborhood my husband lived in as a child. When my children and I would garden we would often find marbles or old plastic soldiers or cowboys. They would show their dad their treasure, and he would immediately claim it as his. He would tell the most complicated stories about the day he had lost the marble, cowboy or soldier, and how he had been missing it ever since. I should have written the stories down they were pretty entertaining. I think the kids enjoyed the stories as much as the treasures. It did backfire once when he received an extremely serious lecture about how he should have been more responsible with his toys.

  8. It wasn’t exactly interesting but it was certainly exciting to find a natural gas pipe buried in a different place from where it was supposed to be when Philo put in a fence post. After the sirens and fire engines and sirens arrived, our whole Illinois neighborhood knew what happened.

    In the opposite corner of that lot we hit ridiculous amounts of glass – a few unbroken bottles but mostly shards. A neighbor clued us in that as the farthest corner before the land was subdivided, this was the spot where the original owners set up empty glass containers for target practice.

    I would much rather have found the rove beetles!

    Annie at the Transplantable Rose

  9. When I was about 6, my brother and I found hundreds of pennies buried beside/underneath a hibiscus plant in our backyard.

    We thought we had found buried treasure and set about digging in other areas in hopes of finding more money.

    Our mom had to put a stop to it eventually to avoid having her yard totally dug up.

    Even though it was only pennies, to a 4 and 6 year-old it seemed like riches. I think we each got to buy a candy bar with it–which was a real treat as we didn’t usually get sugar!


  10. Heh, Mel! I may be doing that to some future owner. In desperation, I used pennies as a “mulch” around my strawberries to keep the slugs away.

    My current house is the oldest house I’ve ever lived in (1895…in CA that’s old). The most interesting living thing I’ve ever found in the soil is a Jerusalem Cricket. I wasn’t familiar with them and seeing something so big and ugly made me assume it was going to bite or sting me. I quickly made myself scarce. Later, I Googled and found out what it was and that it’s harmless. I still worry about hurting one when I dig, though, because they are so big and thus easy to hit.

    The most interesting thing I’ve found in my soil so far was a bottom corner shard of milk glass. The interrupted inscription said “-ADINOLA CREAM
    PARIS< TENN. U.S.A." Back to Google I went. The internet is so great. I love the fact that the Internet is so full of info and has powerful enough search engines that from a partial inscription I was able to find out what I had. It was the botton of a jar of Nadinola. This neighborhood has had a large African-American population since probably about WWII. I couldn't make a guess at the Nadinola name because it's a product marketed towards African-Americans: a skin whitening cream. (I'm pale as they come...under my freckles.) Surprisingly enough, on a subsequent visit to Walgreens, I saw that it is still made. http://www.vanitytreasures.com/cosmetics_make-up_facial-care/nadinola2.JPG

    Another interesting and VERY UNEXPECTED thing I found in the soil were some original Victorian hinges from my house. Now, this was not an archeological find. My house was being renovated and unfortunately by some pretty flaky and felonious crews. The hinges I had worked so hard to strip and restore had been tossed out in the mud for some reason that only the workmen know. I clearly hadn’t discovered them until weeks or months later because they were beginning to rust. I think I lost some of the circulation in my brain that day from popped blood vessels!

  11. ewwwwwww, beetle larva! I’ve got those in my compost too, usually up near the top- they gross me out every time I open the lid. Back in Michigan all I ever saw was lots of little red worms (I’ve got some of those now too), but here in Oregon the beetles are king of the pile.

    The pile gets a little bit of kitchen waste, a fair bit of grass clippings, and the dead vegetative matter out of the garden. Our kitchen compost is rarely anything except coffee grounds, eggshells, apple cores, and orange peels- with the occasional onion heel or celery stump. I always thought beetles were more into meat; I guess I can’t understand what I’m throwing away that they like so much.

  12. The most interesting thing I ever found underground wasn’t technically all the way underground…yet. My husband showed me a freshly dead snake in the yard one day. Nothing too out of the ordinary…just a dead snake with a hole in its belly. Later that day, after the temperature had warmed quite a bit, I smelled the rotting beast from across the yard and asked my husband to please remove the offending carcass. The next day, figuring my husband had done his duty, I got the shock of my life when I saw the snake in the exact same spot it had been the day before…BUT IT WAS MOVING!!! When I crouched down to inspect it further, I saw two large black and red beetles on their backs underneath the snake, digging and moving the snake at the same time. My husband told me they were “gravedigger” beetles.

    Totally intrigued at this point, I did a little research online and found out that these beetles feed on carrion, and they were burying the snake in preparation to lay their eggs in it! Nicrophorus americanus, otherwise known as American burying beetle, giant carrion beetle, or Sexton beetle, was once widespread across the country. Apparently it’s endangered now (critically endangered, in fact!) and is only found in a handful of states. South Carolina isn’t supposed to be one of those states, but I guess I have some darned tasty carrion in my yard. Pesticide use and dwindling habitat for small mammals (the beetles’ food) are believed to be the cause for their disappearance – gee, imagine that. These beetles are one of the few beetle species to show parental responsibility for their young. They bury a carcass, lay their eggs in it, and secrete some sort of preservative on the carcass to keep it around long enough to feed the larvae once they hatch. And they were doing the job my husband didn’t…and I think that’s just freakin’ awesome.

  13. In addition to clay marbles, heads of ken and barbie dolls, and LOTS of rocks, the thing I found in the garden that interested me the most was shoe leather. Where our house was built is on the site of an old dump, with lots of stuff from the shoe factories – all gone now, of course. The leather cutouts when “lasts” were cut are sprinkled through the entire yard, a few inches under the surface. The leather is a little brittle, but in pretty good shape for having been buried a hundred years. It’s adding some nutrients, too.

  14. We had just moved into the house. It was located only one street over from our last residence, and by some coincidence, the house number was the same.

    Our first week living there, I was walking in the front yard when I stepped on something slightly pointy, and very solid. I wrote it off as the tip of a large rock, and continued walking. I suppose I was in a weird mood that day, because after considering it a moment, I went back to get a closer look.

    The thing I had stepped on was shaped like a tiny mountain of metal. I started uncovering it with my hands. As I dug, I found what looked like a mouth, an eye socket, and another. For some reason I will never know, there was a large, iron head buried in the yard! I never would have seen it had I not actually stepped right on it.

    The thing is really, really heavy. It’s like a cannon ball. It creeps my wife out, because she worries that it may be bad luck. I’m not a superstitious person, but we’ve had only good luck since finding it, so I tell her that it must be a lucky scary iron head.

    My friend advised me to put it on the internet to try to get more information about it, but after some consideration added: “…unless that’s WHAT IT WANTS!”

    Nonetheless, tonight I will post a photo of the head at: http://www.redrocketfarm.com/scaryironhead/

  15. The most interesting thing I have found under ground is a medicine bottle. When I was a kid I enjoyed digging holes for no reason at all. One day I was digging in the unusual spot of behind my garage when I found a these small glass bottles. One of them said something “pills” on them but the others had no markings on them. They seemed like they were old and I begged my parents to bring them to an antique shop. We went the next day and the antique shop owner said they were nothing special and said he would buy them for 10 dollars. That was allot for young me, but I had not even thought of selling them until he mentioned buying them. I thought about it for a while, but eventually decided to keep them becuase of the dark blue glass they were made of.

  16. An unbroken 1910’s / 1920’s light bulb (actually three of them) were sitting there in two feet of watery muck in a discovered cistern in my backyard. I live in a house that was built in 1870 here in downtown Indianapolis. We were digging a trench for a water line in the back yard last summer and hit some bricks. We dug further (and further) and uncovered an old cistern. Inside was a bunch of garbage (1900’s style) and deeper down some Edison Electric light bulbs that had never been broken, cracked, or compromised. They are now displayed proudly in my kitchen. Hard to believe you could find a fragile glass light bulb with a shovel underground!

  17. Wow! How are you ever going to pick a winner? What great finds people have had! I only find big rocks when I dig. 🙁

  18. A freind of mine and I were playing behind our house(about 1965) and found a pile of cylinders buried in the yard. Our neighbor, who lived in the house until he built a new one across the street, said they were batteries from a radio they had before there was electricity in the neighborhood.

    The most unusual living thing I have found was in my parents old compost pile. They had thrown their vegetable scraps on the pile but never turned it, nor did they ever use any of the compost. I started digging in the 15 year old pile for the first time this spring and found a fat gray salamander. I thought it was a snake at first and jumped about five feet back until I saw it had legs. It was clearly not ready to come out of hibernation and burrowed itself back into the pile as quickly as it could.

  19. The iron head is pretty crazy…. I may have found the body to go with it. Digging new beds near my rather unusually designed outbuilding I found what could only be described as a Miro painting turned into 3D metal sculpture. It may have been 2 legs and 2 arms…looked a little bit like a dissected bug. My neighbor said the outbuilding was used by a friend of a former owner who called himself “Barking Spider” and who made such art while really really stoned in the 60s. I put it under my bird feeder and it seems to have scared off a few squirrels.

  20. My vote goes to the guy who found the big iron head buried in his yard! (I know, I know – we’re not voting per se, but that was certainly an entertaining find).

    I find glass. Lots and lots of glass. Ceramics. Oh, and wood and vinyl. I live in a hurricane and flood zone – remnants of Hurricane Hugo still surface every time I dig a hole. But I’ve yet to find an iron head.

  21. Can’t beat the scary iron head. A few months back, someone else had a similar thread where I volunteered that I’d found sheep shears, an old flat iron, a scythe blade, a C-clamp, various other ax heads etc. here, and at our old place in town an entire flagstone patio just under the sod. I guess the grass really will take over if you don’t keep it from invading the cracks between stones.

  22. Not my back yard, but my brother’s – we found an entire truck engine (not a little truck, a big one), buried just below the surface. Once we had cleared enough soil to identify it, we both just looked at each other and started burying it again. A cubic metre of solid metal isn’t the sort of thing that you can move without major effort.

  23. here’s a poem about my most interesting thing found underground…

    The Size of a Brain

    I fork up another hunk of compost
    and what’s this—?

    a mess of something
    the size of a brain, shiny as guts
    and the whole mass moving like maggots—

    it’s a ball of snakes!
    and jesus
    do I jump—

    baby garters
    thirty, forty or more—

    untangling now
    fast but orderly
    and slithering off
    in every direction—

    one goes
    right over my foot—

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