When it comes to plants, Nan Simonsen of Riverside has a green thumb and the Midas touch. Savvy planning and planting has made her garden a blooming showpiece.

May 2004

By Tammy Minn; Photography by Jim Dorsey
Inland Empire Magazine


Inland Empire gardens are never dormant. Regardless of the month or the weather, there's always something to do. Nan Simonsen of Riverside knows this and works in her garden year round.

Moving easily along the path, she pushes aside the brushy limbs of natural plants that exceed their borders. "That's Jerusalem Sage," she says, "and this is Romneya coulteri. It's a poppy. In summer, it has big white flowers." She speaks of the plants as if they were children, this one thriving, that one running a little wild. After the word she's put into the prooperty, she knows every square foot and keeps up with its well-being.

Simonsen and her husband, Bob, bought their Riverside home on two-and-a-quarter acres about eight years ago. Not much had been done with the hilly slopes that were overgrown in some areas and bare in others. They walked the grounds, which includes a small stream, eyeballing the possibilities.

"My husband was a surveyor and that helped us project a vision. We looked at the topography of the land and saw where the paths should naturally go. We developed planting islands and created focal points to go with them," she says.

Working a section at a time, they turned their rugged terrain into a series of gardens that have been featured in Sunset magazine and in newsletters published by the Metropolitain Water District. The property has also been featured on local home and garden tours.

Simonsen didn't have a lot of gardening experience, so she learned as she went. She and Bob went to area nurseries and visited the Metropolitan Water District's Landscapes Southern California Style on Alessandro Boulevard in Riverside.

"I wanted to keep the area natural and as waterwise as possible. Water is important and we're oging to be in trouble. It's not an abundant source. People need gardens that can do without water," she says.

She also wanted to establish seating areas and garden "rooms" outdoors. Using trellises, bird houses, wind chimes, the garden's own trees and other structures that blend into the scheme, several inviting areas provide the perfect setting for relaxing.

"I wanted the gardens to be something I could nurture and share with people," she says. Simonsen became so versed in the subject of gardening that she has taught classes through Riverside Community College's Community Education program, using her own grounds as a classroom.
For those interested in creating successful gardens that are also waterwise, the Metropolitan Water District and the university of California Cooperative Extension offer the following suffestions:  

Simonsen does indulge in some less waterwise plants. She couldn't resist roses, which love the Inland Empire head, but need plenty of water to thrive. Simonsen planted her roses in containers with drip irrigation so she can control the watering process.
For more information on waterwise gardening, contact the Metropolian Water District at (909) 780-4177.