"We're headed up the road in front of our new barn," says Lee
Smith, as he rushes past the structure driving his yellow Jeepster. This
reporter rides shotgun. His wife Cathy rides in back. He's giving a tour of the family farm.
"Yeah. We are just farmers, but we farm in containers," says
Lee, who sports a cowboy hat and a handlebar mustache. "We grow a
product for the consumer to help the environment, beautify their yards,
and give a place for kids to play under the trees."
The sign out front says "Simpson's Nursery, 500 feet," with
an arrow pointing down the road from the only intersection in tiny Jamul,
But the text below the sign belies the sense of humor which grows rampant
at the Simpson Nursery: "Actually it's 471 FEET, 7 and three-quarters
inches" reads the qualifier.
Nope. This isn't your ordinary farm.
"We are going off to find Elvis!" shouts Cathy as the Jeepster
drifts by a sign that reads, "Elvis was spotted on row 13." And that's just one row at Simpson's. Lee drives up and down row upon
row, zooming past a seemingly infinite variety of plants.
"Oleanders, junipers, perennials, vegetables," shouts Lee.
"Yeah. We have people come from as far as Minnesota," adds Lee
with pride. "They schedule their vacation to be able to shop here."
"Citrus, avocados, fruit trees, apples, peaches, plums, apricots,
This is the second Simpson's Nursery. Cathy's late grandfather Hal Simpson
opened the first one in Pasadena in 1928-what would become the West Coast's
"Those were his headaches in Pasadena," says granddaughter Cathy.
"All the telephones, the deliveries, trying to keep track of all
the employees, and he wanted to retire."
To Hal, retirement meant opening this gigantic 25-acre nursery just outside
San Diego--but without all those hi-tech headaches. "No telephone, no fax, no copy machine," says Lee as he roars
the Jeepster past the office-the one which is not equipped with a single
"We are 'Tyrannosaurus-no-fax,'" quips Cathy.
Simpson's owes its diversity and wide selection of trees, shrubs, plants
and flowers to the fact that it has forsaken modern conveniences.
"One of the things we don't do is advertise," explains Lee.
"There is no telephone. So people have to come out and see what we
have. And if they're going to come out and see us, we better have it."
"They can come up all the aisles. They use their car like a shopping
cart. Fill it up. Pull up to the office. And we write them a bill and
give them a cold apple and send them on their way."
At Simpson's they do business the old fashioned way. Their advertising
budget? Well, it's however much a box of apples cost that week? At Simpson's
everyone gets an apple. A large apple barrel stands at the office entrance.
Simpson's is more an amusement park than a nursery. They built a large
park with a gazebo. On this day, school children took a field trip just
to picnic at the park.
"Well, Lee and I are a great believer of one of my Grandpa's favorites
sayings," says Cathy. "'Money's like manure. It doesn't do any
good unless you spread it around.' So we take what we do here and give
back to the business and hopefully share and do things that our customers
And there's a lot to spread around. How many nurseries have a petting
And how many home improvement mega-stores have a hot rod museum? The barn
is stocked with fully restored antique automobiles. The car museum is
just one of the many amenities offered at Simpson's.
"Plus it keeps the husbands occupied while the wives are shopping,"
says Cathy with a smile.
And then, there's the perennial Elvis sighting
with the other perennials
on row 13.
Elvis is a 12-inch doll housed in a square Tupperware container and nailed
to a telephone poll. The Smith's just did it for fun.
"And that's as close as we'll ever get to getting a website,"
He's referring to a spider web, which is spun around the 50s rock n' roll
Since Simpson's doesn't have a website (or a phone or a fax machine!),
for more information about Simpson's Nursery, contact California Heartland
Producer Dave Stoelk at Dstoelk@kvie.org.