Claremont LIVING: The Bentley Garden
There’s nothing quite like a tranquil outdoor space to escape from the chaos of everyday life. With its canopy of trees and water feature, Sharon Bentley’s garden is the epitome of serenity and was recently chosen as one of six gardens showcased in the “Claremont Eclectic” garden tour offered by Sustainable Claremont and Rancho Santa Ana Botanic Garden.
“The garden looked nothing like it does now,” says Ms. Bentley. “When we moved in, there was a pump with a pond in the backyard. Our daughter was 11 months old and walking, so we filled it in right away because it was dangerous.”
Sharon and Bill Bentley purchased their Claremont home in 1968 and, following Mr. Bentley’s passing in 2006, Ms. Bentley slowly began to transform the backyard into an outdoor oasis. It’s a relaxing place where she can play with her two Miniature Schnauzers or draw with her botanical artist friends.
“I don’t pick the fruit because I like to draw the flower,” she says of an artichoke plant in the garden. “It’s this gorgeous purple, but sometimes I’m on the east coast when it blooms and I miss it.”
The garden began to take shape in 2010 when an expansive stone patio replaced a rotted and termite-infested wooden deck just off the rear door to the home. The color of the stone set the tone for what the garden would become.
“I love this stone because it reminds me of John Blough’s pottery,” says Ms. Bentley of its reddish hue. “I drew a picture and the fellow that did it was truly an artist, placing the stones and creating this wonderful pathway that meanders and takes you to the side yard.”
Placed throughout the patio area are pots of all shapes and sizes, brimming with succulents and flowers, such as jade, lilac and geraniums that not only tolerate the sweltering sun but soften the space as well.
“After I got the stone in here, it makes everything really hot,” Ms. Bentley explains. “I have a lot of succulents because they don’t want to be watered very often.”
The pièce de résistance of Ms. Bentley’s garden retreat is an eye-catching water feature. Shrouded by Japanese maples and a 60-year-old magnolia, a four-foot-high boulder has been transformed into a bubbling fountain with water cascading into a bed of rocks below.
Following an extensive search throughout three counties, Ms. Bentley found the perfect stone nearby in Upland.
“I’d bring my water bottle with me and pour water on the rocks to see what they looked like when they were wet,” Ms. Bentley explains. “This stone was sitting in the midst of all these boulders and it had the most magnificent colors. It was perfect.”
At three tons, the rock was delivered and placed using a skip loader. It has become the focal point of the garden, with a laughing Buddha statute placed beside it for whimsy.
“I’d always wanted a fountain, and I wanted to see it from the windows inside the house and from anywhere in the garden,” she says of the fountain’s placement. “There’s a big trough underneath, so it uses all recycled water.”
Ms. Bentley’s backyard offers both sun and shade and a potpourri of plants to accommodate both conditions. Gardenias, azaleas, hydrangeas and camellias thrive in the predominately shaded areas while succulents, such as jade and Christmas cactus fill pots placed throughout the sun-drenched patio.
“Most of the hydrangeas have come from Trader Joe’s,” Ms. Bentley says. “My cactus looks like it’s going to bloom again. It’s confused with the weather we’ve been having.”
Perennials of all sorts fill planting beds that line a sunken brick patio seating area, complete with fire pit. Yellow, blue and white irises are in bloom as well as Japanese peonies.
“They look like cymbidium orchids,” says Ms. Bentley of the Japanese peonies. “I have regular peonies too, but they never bloom. I think it’s too hot.”
Rose bushes are also prevalent in the garden. Rosa “Betty Boop,” with its semi-double, ivory-white flowers with red edges, is among her favorite.
“I love Betty Boops,” Ms. Bentley says. “Those are the ones that change.”
Trees of many varieties offer shade to the garden. A mature magnolia, mock orange and more than a half-dozen Japanese maple trees create a lovely canopy. “In the winter, this one has a beautiful red bark,” she says of one maple shading the fountain. “I just love it!”
While Texas privets line the perimeter of the garden, creating a natural screen for privacy, the rear property features two 60-year-old loquat trees that have been meticulously maintained. Their striking shape is attributed to careful pruning in an effort to limit fruit production.
“I have those trimmed in January with most of the fruit trimmed off because the rats and squirrels seem to like them,” Ms. Bentley explains.
A Fuyu persimmon tree adds interest to the garden as well as delicious orange fruit the homeowner is quite fond of.
The persimmon is rich in beta-carotene, high in Vitamin A and a good source of Vitamin C and fiber.
“Last year was a lean year for fruit so the next one should be really good,” Ms. Bentley says. “They are so good!”
Peppered throughout the yard, you’ll find metal accents that show character in their patina and offer a bit of family history and nostalgia.
“That scale and that oven door over there came from Bentley’s Market,” says Ms. Bentley, reflecting on the store’s closure in 1987.
“We had a furnace there where we would burn up boxes. They are family heirlooms and I love rust. I think it’s really interesting,” she added.
Additional statuary, such as angels and birds, as well as bird feeders creates little vignettes in the garden.
Keeping a garden lush in the midst of a drought is challenging, says Ms. Bentley.
She currently uses a mix of sprinkler and drip irrigation systems but has plans to become more water-wise with her landscaping.
“I’ve talked to my gardener about adding more drip systems,” she says. “And the nutgrass in the front yard will probably be going soon.”
In the meantime, watering has been kept to a minimum.