Water-wise garden yields top reward

October 9, 1999

By Dena J. Rosenberry
The Press-Enterprise

Nan Simonsen, whose Riverside yard has been featured on numerous garden tours as well as in The Press-Enterprise and local garden publications, has won a statewide water efficiency contest. Simonsen was singled out for her water-wise landscape and efforts in promoting resource-efficient garden choices.

The Water Awareness Campaign's contest, coordinated by water agencies and organizations, is divided into nine categories: industrial, agriculture, schools, community groups, government/public works, residential, commercial, individual and landscape. Simonsen, nominated by the Western Municipal Water District, won an individual award.

Shortly after buying their home off Alessandro Boulevard five years ago, Nan and Bob Simonsen gathered information on water-wise gardening by visiting the water district's demonstration garden, Landscapes Southern California Style, and the UC Riverside Botanic Gardens. They researched plant choices and irrigation systems by reading reams of books and talking to local garden experts.

The Simonsens spent countless hours at the two demonstration gardens, deciding what plants to purchase for their plot and learning how to care for them.

Over time, they transformed their 21/4 acres of scrub brush and overgrown plantings into a private park with distinct specialty areas including a riparian gully, native plant plateau and English cottage garden. The yard, which the Simonsens work in daily, is an environmentally friendly landscape, certified by the National Wildlife Federation under its Backyard Wildlife Habitat Program.

Simonsen, a Master Gardener volunteer, talks to garden groups and others about water-wise landscaping and works at numerous garden-related community events. The couple's garden is featured in water district presentations and publications as an example of attractive water-wise landscaping.

"The Simonsens' landscape is living proof that aesthetics and water conservation can go hand-in-hand," says Melanie Nieman, garden specialist for Landscapes Southern California Style. "Nan is a very active, articulate, effective proponent of environmentally sensitive home landscape practices."

Simonsen, who has said gardening is not so much work as it is a thrill, is something of a celebrity in local gardening circles. Her fame soon will spread: Not only will the Simonsen garden be featured in Sunset magazine and in a segment of "In and Out of the Garden," a local cable television show, but Simonsen has agreed to teach gardening classes in her garden through the Riverside Community College extension program in spring.

"This is a dream come true," she says. "Just to be considered for Sunset is an honor and to be asked to teach a class is wonderful."

The hilly garden, colorful in any season, is dotted with markers noting the names of plants. Neighbors have been known to bring visiting friends and relatives to wander its winding paths, all with the couple's cheerful consent.

"I want to share everything I've learned about gardening," Simonsen says. "There's no use keeping it to myself."