Home & Garden Columns

Garden Variety: Urban Ore Likely Has What You’re Looking For By RON SULLIVAN

Friday February 17, 2006

When I need some retail therapy, you won’t be surprised to hear, I often go look for something for the garden. I spend time in the nurseries I write about in this space, and I have to be careful if I actually want to make my occupation produce income, rather than outgo. There’s just something so hopeful about a fresh seedling or seed packet, and the scent of wholesome dirt makes my spirits rise.  

Some places are even more dangerous to people like me than nurseries are. Urban Ore is one of them, though it’s easy enough on the wallet. I had the definitive shopper’s experience there years ago, when it was in its former Gilman Street spot: I went in to get a piece of used lumber, and came out with a hand-woven wool coat, probably of Afghan origin, that didn’t fit but really needed to come home with me. It hangs on my parlor wall; I’d rather look at it than wear it anyway. I still like it, it still gets compliments, and it cost well under ten dollars.  

I suppose I got the lumber too, but I don’t even remember what it was for. You don’t have to be the sort of alt-Berkeley gardener who puts a toilet planted with geraniums on the front lawn to like shopping at Urban Ore. There’s no shortage of plumbing fixtures in case you want to ring changes on the concept of a sink garden—rather a lot of them in Fifties Pink the last time I was there —but there’s lots of other stuff that integrates more gracefully into a landscape. I have a weakness for chimney flue tiles to plant succulents in a gravel-heavy mix, and sometimes there are enough there to build a sort of effigy pipe-organ.  

Used lumber, of course, and stone too: landscape rocks, granite countertop cuts. Rows of windowpanes, good for cobbling together a mini-greenhouse for your tropicals in winter, or a cold frame, not that we need them much here for the usual subjects. (They’re also good for group picture frames.) Cinderblocks, which don’t have to look industrial if handled cleverly; planters and containers including good old red clay pots. If you’re handy and willing with a wire brush, paint, any sort of tinkering and sweat equity, you can get anything from a barbeque kettle to outdoor furniture to edgers and lawnmowers at minimal cost. Last week there was a whole barrel of tiki torches.  

The idea behind Urban Ore is to stop dumping stuff that can be reused; to stop wasting things (and the energy that goes into manufacturing and transporting them) and to reduce what got dumped in “landfills.” (That term bugs me, as I have never yet seen empty land. Anyone who supposedly has needs to learn more.) This isn’t a high-end “salvage” yard, but I’ve found treasures here and compared to elsewhere they’re cheap.  

Take your work gloves and your imagination along, and remember that stock changes unpredictably. Have fun! 



Urban Ore 

900 Murray Street, Berkeley 

(510) 841-7283 

Monday–Saturday 8:30 a.m.–7 p.m. 

Sunday 10 a.m.–7 a.m. 

Receiving closes at 5 p.m. daily.