Menlo Park resident converts yard to drought-tolerant in two days

She says she did all the work herself and it cost just $471

By Cristian Ponce | Special to the Almanac

Menlo Park resident Ashlee Bentley has redone her front yard on Mills Street, replacing her 1,000-square-foot front lawn with succulents and other drought-tolerant plants. And, she says, she did all the work herself, it took only two days, and it cost just $471.

"Anyone with a little determination and willing to get dirt under their fingernails could do this," she says.

New water restrictions helped her persuade her husband to get rid of the green front lawn, which he loved, but she found "really boring."

Also, there was a fortuitous find. She had driven by the house of a friend who was having construction work done and found a big pile of dirt about to be hauled off to the dump.

"I was really envious of this dirt because I knew I wanted to create mounds in my front yard instead of just a flat yard," she says. "She (her friend) was kind enough to have the guys with her come and dump this mountain of dirt on my front lawn, which was fabulous. It was Christmas for me."

The 5-foot pile of dirt was also a motive for her to act quickly. "I couldn't leave a mountain of dirt on the front yard."

She drove to Recology in San Carlos, where she picked up free bags of compost. She also dropped by Lyngso Garden Material in Redwood City for garden mulch and cobble ($131), Home Depot for succulents and a large bag of potting soil ($189), Golden Nursery in San Mateo for more plants ($56), Walmart for solar lights ($26), and Home Goods for assorted ceramic pots on sale ($69).

The rocks and driftwood she had collected from beaches and the desert.

She dug up the grass and used the the turned-over clumps to create a base for the mounds and berms, added the compost for the plants and woodchips for the ground cover, and used the rocks for borders and a walkway.

"Yes, it took two days to do and I did it myself," she says, admitting that she could barely stand up straight after all the work. "I had a mental idea of what I wanted to do but, honestly, made it up as I went along."

Gardening is a hobby, she says, that she's enjoyed all her life, particularly to reduce stress. "I like whimsical and unique and just can't do ordinary."

By adding colorful rocks and woodchips, she created a vibrant look that she prefers. The neighbors, she says, like it, too.

The drought-tolerant plants include succulents, plants she has been collecting for years with her family and are very easy to grow, she says. What has been a lifelong hobby for her was put to use with this new project.

In addition, she says, the family has cut the water bill in half (she waters the yard just once a week).

Despite advice from landscape consultants that summer may not be the best time to convert a lawn to drought-tolerant plants, she has lost only one plant.

Acknowledging that she's not an expert, she says she's willing to help others make a similar conversion.

Email to contact her for more information.

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1 person likes this
Posted by ML
a resident of Menlo Park: Allied Arts/Stanford Park
on Jul 22, 2015 at 10:43 am

Check out the MP "Lawn Be Gone" rebate program Web Link
You may be able to get a rebate for the conversion of lawn to drought tolerant plants.

1 person likes this
Posted by Paul W
a resident of Menlo Park: University Heights
on Jul 22, 2015 at 11:54 am

Following ML's suggestion, a link for those in Cal Water's jurisdiction:

Web Link

Like this comment
Posted by M&M
a resident of another community
on Jul 22, 2015 at 12:46 pm

We checked the yard out and it's a drought-tolerant wonderland! Bentley's intuition, experience and repurposing of materials are inspiring. Congratulations on such a lovely change.

2 people like this
Posted by Belle stafford
a resident of Woodside: Emerald Hills
on Jul 22, 2015 at 12:51 pm

That's a great effort on her part to save water. The truth we never hear about however is the only 4% of our fresh water goes to household use (2% of which is for lawns) but we give a whopping 47% to animals raised for food. This is to grow the alfalfa and hay they eat, for drinking water and the "processing" of them. Please check it out for yourself, ,, All well-referenced sources.

5 people like this
Posted by local resident
a resident of Menlo Park: Sharon Heights
on Jul 22, 2015 at 1:03 pm

That's quite a transformation and being able to re-purpose a friend's soil was a good idea. Last year, I too got free compost from Recology. However, it came with a surprise: mushrooms kept popping up all over my yard. I didn't know if they were poisonous mushrooms so I spent a great deal of time and effort trying to get rid of them.I didn't want to risk my grand kids picking them and perhaps trying to eat them. Some of the mushrooms were beige and others were black and large. I'm hoping the drought will kill them off. I guess it's buyer beware or, rather, always look a gift horse in the mouth.

2 people like this
Posted by Donald
a resident of another community
on Jul 22, 2015 at 1:55 pm

The article didn't say exactly when this was done, but it should be done before a drought, not during one. We replaced our lawns with succulents and native flowers in 2013. They took quite a bit of water (although still less than the lawn) that year to get established, but now that their roots are in place they can survive with very little. I am glad we planted them then and didn't wait.

1 person likes this
Posted by Judy Morley
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Jul 22, 2015 at 6:14 pm

Nice story. It doesn't matter when one converts from lawn; that it happens is great. I converted 2 years ago and rarely water now. I have extra credits for water use for a smal. Winter garden I'll plant in Sept. Dbl nice. ;-)

Like this comment
Posted by Miss Behavin
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Jul 22, 2015 at 10:01 pm

Donald is right. Please don't try to install new plants now as they will take too much water or else will not take root. Just let things die for now, then plant new ones in the fall or in the spring. The heat of summer is not the right time, nor is the middle of a drought.

1 person likes this
Posted by farmer doe
a resident of Atherton: other
on Jul 23, 2015 at 10:27 am

and pray for that El Nono!

while doing so, conserve!

2 people like this
Posted by Reader
a resident of another community
on Jul 23, 2015 at 4:13 pm

Donald wrote:

"The article didn't say exactly when this was done, but it should be done before a drought, not during one."

She's still using half as much water as before, so doing it now (during a drought) is still better than putting it off. Late is still better than never.

For residential water use, about half of it is for lawns. Thus, Bentley has reduced her landscape water usage to almost zero and what's on her bill mostly reflects indoor usage (drinking, cooking, cleaning, laundry, showers, etc.).

Like this comment
Posted by Donald
a resident of another community
on Jul 23, 2015 at 5:23 pm

Late may be better than never, but proper timing is even better still.

2 people like this
Posted by Reader
a resident of another community
on Jul 23, 2015 at 7:24 pm

Yes, yes, if you want to criticize people for not having perfect timing, that's your right.

Your remark was rather sour for what in all appearances should be a meritorious example. Plus, this woman had a spouse who wasn't quite sold on the idea before.

Your comment turned the discussion toward what a perfect decision you made. I see more of this type of attitude in online comment boards.

Are you going to share what great investments you made in 2013 as well? And while you're at it, what stocks should we purchase tomorrow?

Like this comment
Posted by Succulents
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Jul 23, 2015 at 9:55 pm

There are many people who had the foresight to get rid of their grass and perform other water-saving exercises long ago, but there are no newspaper articles celebrating them. Those who come late to the party seem to get more attention and get held up as "meritorious" examples. Yes, we should all do this, but really we all should have done it already. Anybody who lived through previous droughts should have learned the lessons long ago.

3 people like this
Posted by Reader
a resident of another community
on Jul 23, 2015 at 10:12 pm

Not everyone has been here through previous droughts. The SF Bay Area is a region of immigrants, many recent, a few not so.

It is unfair to blindly criticize a specific individual, not knowing the amount of time they have been here.

Moreover, people learn at different rates. Sure, some people learn faster than others, but the point here is to educate all Embarcadero Media readers. This is not an exercise to single out "newbies" and "old-timers."

Not everyone has been living in Menlo Park/Atherton/Palo Alto/Mountain View/Los Altos/whereever as long as you. Then again, you haven't been living here longer than others.

Again, I am disappointed to see such short-sighted commentary, but that is the nature of today's Internet.

I find this type of judgmental attitude a depressingly poor reflection of American society in 2015. But go ahead and keep criticizing people like Bentley.

After all, it's what you're good at, isn't it?

Like this comment
Posted by MLK
a resident of Atherton: West Atherton
on Jul 25, 2015 at 5:37 am

MLK is a registered user.

I agree that converting a lawn to a water wise garden is a really good idea, and we should applaud everyone who decides to do it. Just remember that all plants - even drought tolerant plants, require more water in the beginning to get their root systems established, so planting them just before the rainy season is the best time. (A great read on the subject is Robert Kourik's Roots Demystified).
That's not meant to be a criticism, it's just information for people going forward who may be inspired to do the same. It's a GREAT idea, but best to stop watering the thirsty lawn now and wait to plant the new garden come Fall. For some tips on DT plants see the Santa Clara or San Mateo County Master Gardener websites Web Link

1 person likes this
Posted by Water
a resident of another community
on Jul 30, 2015 at 7:13 pm

Water is a registered user.

IIRC, Bentley did change her yard before summer hit. The snotty comments about when to make this type of change aren't helpful and detract from the work she did by herself in a very short period of time.

Succulents - since you're aware of others who've gotten rid of their water-wasting lawns, maybe a head's up to the editors here would mean there would be more stories like Bentley's. It's fun and inspiring to read about these local changes people make.

MLK - very helpful advice, thank you.

Reader - I agree. This article was very timely given the water rate hikes. There are many, many valid reasons that people can't change their yards more quickly. I still see so many emerald green lawns that clear that people's lawn addictions are still in control!

Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

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