How does your garden grow?

951 takes you on a tour of some of the area's nicest gardens

March 2006

By Christelyn Karazin; Photographs by Ann Moss
951 Magazine


It's about that time again in the 951, when the near-perpetual sunshine of winter will soon be replaced with the completely perpetual sunshine of spring and summer. It's also the time when plant nurseries and home improvement stores begin their dance of seduction, luring us ususpecting into their heavenly garden of plants with names difficult to pronounce and some just as hard to care for. But that one is so pretty, you say. Well-meaning neophytes to gardening stick shade-loving plants in the bright southern sun, and pale, pink roses on a bleak, northern wall. Two weeks after your exuberant purchsae of plants you begin to feel had. The ferns are shriveling and burnt. The roses look like bloomless shrubs. But they were so lovely at the store-what happened?

The 951 has a Mediterranean climate, ruled but mild winters and long, hot and dry summers. Only four other regions in the world share this climate system: Greece (thus, the label), Turkey, southwest Africa and southwest Australia. keep that in mind when you make selections at the garden store, otherwise you might have to build a greenhouse with a swamp cooler for life support.

We visited the gardens of some of the best green thumbs in the 951 to get answers to the age-old question: What the heck grows here?

Surprisingly, quite a bit grows, even with our soil, that ranges from clay to sandy to so-rocky-you-have-to-use-a-jackhammer-to-plant-a-tree (no, seriously - I've seen it done). Take a tour and you might discover just the right ideas to create the garden you've always dreamed about.

Nan Simonsen's Riverside cottage garden proves that simplicity need not be dull. She scapped her lawn in exchange for iceberg rose bushes that spill onto a white picket fence and other plants of stately color throughout her property. She uses some of the region's best and beautifully growing flora, like salvias, lavenders, abutilon and roses. She also created micro-climates by planting shade-loving plants under taller, sun-loving plants.

In another life Simonsen, 55, and her husband owned a multi-million-dollar franchise direct sales company. Her perfious residence in Riverside's ritzy Hillcrest area was often the center of large and lavish dinner parties. The garden, though it was her love and passion, was mainly designed for the awe and delight of her guests and eager pupils whom she instructed through the University of California Riverside's extension program. Last year the couple decided to sell their business-and the estate. "We were at a time in our lives that we wanted to simplify," Simonsen reflects. They'd proven to themselves and others that they had reached the pinnacle of success complete with all the outward accessories that go along with that status.

Lucky for them that in this market, they sold their estate and were able to "write the check" for their charming 2500 square-foot cottage home in the historical Woodstreets area. Of course, it is quite a scale down from her precious two acres of winding garden paths with everything growing from California natives to a full-blown English garden. This time Simonsen created 'garden rooms' as quiet retreats, made only with her personal style in mind. "I was creating something for me, not other people," Simonsen says. "This garden is just about me."