Riverside homeowners turn once barren acreage into a water-wise haven for plants and wildlife

May 2000

By Sharon Cohoon
Inland Empire Magazine

The two-plus acres of land had small, typical plantings next to the house in Riverside. The pool and patio overlooked slopes of mostly tall, woody weeds, and an overgrown steambed lay neglected at one end. Bob and Nan Simonsen bought the property in 1995 and set out to bring beauty where none had been. Two years later, their home, which they call "Woodcreek," was on the 1997 Gardens of Spring Tour sponsored by Garden Gate, Ltd. and Riverside General Hospital Foundation. Their acreage has been certified as a wildlife preserve by the National Wildlife Federation and had won the residential award for water-wise gardening given by the California Water Awareness Campaign. The couple had never before gardened.

It's become a passion," says Nan, who is now a master gardener and teaches a gardening class through Riverside Community College's Community Services department.

The impetus was seeing off their only child to Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore about the time they bought the house.

"We had to fil lthat vacancy with something meaningful," Nan says. She and Bob began reading books and magazines and going on garden tours. They also relied heavily on the Western Municipal Water District's Landscapes Southern California Style garden for information and inspiration.

We wated gardens that were water-wise and friendly to nature," she says. For that reason, nan avoids psticides and heavy fertilizers. Instead, she depends on "beneficials"-good bugs that eat bad bugs; Ladybugs, lacewings, and dragonflies are good examples of pest-eating good insects. They can be found at garden supply centers or agricultural suppliers. Birds too, take care of many planteaters, so she sprinkles wild bird seed to encourage their visits.

Nan also prefers compost for fertilizer, but will use Miracle Grow Triple 16 "infrequently" to give the plants a boost. She prefers natural supplements, such as fish emulsion, bone and blood meal, even sea kelp to regular applications of plant food or fertilizer. The natural supplements can be found in most garden centers.

The property includes an English-style garden, a Mediterranean sun slope, a riparian area, which is a creek or streambed area that includes natural rock, and a California native collector's garden.

To keep the various areas colorful, Nan depends on drought-tolerant perennials. She says some that bloom frequently include the Potato Vine "which is a terrible common name because it has nothing to do with potatoes." However, it has a rich, deep purple flower that blooms through winter.

"I love it as an accept plant," she adds. Other favorite bloomers include salvias and plants with silver foliage, such as the California Sagebrush.

The Western Municipal Water District also lists Kangaroo Paw, Stalked Bulbine, and assorted lavender plants as other long-blooming perennials that are also water-wise.

The mild days of carly spring can be deceiving for gardeners new to the Inland Empire who eagerly build colorful plots with heat-sensitive plants that die away in the August sun. To avoid this mistake, Nan suggests reading the Southwest Garden Guide, going on garden tours, and visiting the Landscapes Southern California Style garden in Riverside. With the right plant selections, you can create a healthy garden that will bloom year-round.

To give Western gardeners an extra edge on choosing the right plants for the distinctive climate here, Monrovia growers have teamed with Sunset Publishing Corporation to introduce 150 plants that are the stars of the Western garden. They will be sold in Monrovia craftsman-green colored containers with a special Sunset label. Plants being sold in the "Best of the West" collection include Pink Jasmine, English Spike Lavender, and Blue Oat Grass.

For more information about gardening in the Inland Empire, contact Landscapes Southern California Style, 450 Alessandro Blvd., Riverside; (909) 780-4177, or the Master Gardener Program through the University of California Cooperative Extension, (909) 683-6491.