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Pasadena’s Arlington Garden

by Rebecca Sweet

While driving around Pasadena early the other morning, I had a few hours to spare before the Huntington Gardens opened.

Imagine my surprise when, while looking for a coffee shop, I accidentally stumbled upon this treasure!  Tucked away in the middle of a residential neighborhood is one of the most exciting public gardens I think I’ve ever seen.

This 3-acre garden (open every day of the year) is a collaboration between the McKenney family, the City of Pasadena and Pasadena Water & Power.  Designed by Mayita Dinos, it’s inspired by Jan Smithen’s book Sun Drenched Gardens: The Mediterranean Style with the overall mission to “… develop a water-wise garden that is in harmony with our mediterranean climate”.

And harmonious it is!  I’m most impressed with how sustainable this garden is, and the thought that went into every aspect of it.  Not only is the garden very water-wise, using many California natives, but the overall design is as well.

For example, throughout the length of the garden is a swale with several berms, designed to capture and retain thousands of gallons of rainwater each year. The hardscaping, walls and paths are all made from over 20 tons of reclaimed concrete.  And the annual wildflower display is grown entirely from seeds of the previous year’s flowers.

Yet unlike many sustainable, native gardens (which can sometimes look a little messy this time of year), the combination of native and Mediterranean plants along with thoughtfully placed pathways, fountains and sculptures means this garden looks fantastic every day of the year.  Designed as a series of rooms, here are a few of my favorites:

The Mediterranean Allee

Upon entering the garden is the formally designed Mediterranean alee, with two rows of olive trees in the center and pomegranate trees on each corner.

Between the olives are beds of fragrant Spanish Lavender, mingling with the nearby scents of Rosemary, Myrtle and Sages.

I love how a combination of evergreen (and tough) Dwarf Myrtle and Boxwood are used the line the perimeters of this room.  Both are excellent choices, with Myrtle being my favorite as it’s not only drought tolerant, but it also has the added bonus of delicious smelling white flowers.  

The Wish Tree Terrace

The Tuscan-inspired steps in the center of this room lead to the Wish Trees Terrace.  Lining the steps are Italian cypress, Meyer lemons and Crape Myrtles donated by Yoko Ono herself after her Wish Tree exhibit at One Colorado in 2008.

The Crape Myrtles are one of my favorite trees as they bloom in the middle of summer, when our gardens tend to look a little tired. And with the little pieces of paper (with wishes written on them) tucked among their branches, it couldn’t be more charming.

My two favorite things about this part of the garden are 1) the use of succulents and blue-gray rocks emulating water in the fountain, and 2) the sculptural effect of the echium wildpretii’s spent flowers.  One more reason not to be in a hurry to dead-head!

The Labyrinth Garden

Toward the end of the garden is a labyrinth created by kids from the Mayfield Senior School.

With a labyrinth, the goal is more about the journey than the destination (unlike a maze where the goal is finding the center).  For more about labyrinths, my friend and garden designer Jenny Peterson has written a great article about them.

Surrounding the labyrinth are some of the most beautiful cactus and succulents I’ve seen.

This garden is such a beautiful, sustainable and peaceful place for all who have the chance to visit.  The city of Pasadena is to be commended for recognizing the importance of supporting a garden such as this, and I’m thrilled to have experienced it for myself.  I’ve just touched the surface of all this garden has to offer – for more information, please check out the official site here.

I’ll leave you with a few more of my favorite photos.  Thanks for stopping by!



Mayita Dinos August 17, 2012 at 2:11 pm

Hello to Rebecca, Sharon and to all of you who have made such lovely and loving comments! Reading the article and commentary has made me feel very HAPPY and PROUD!!! I love to hear the many ways people are enjoying the Arlington Garden as it matures and takes on a life of its very own. Rebecca, thank you so much for sharing it with us and I’d be happy to meet with you any time! Cheers <3

Rebecca Sweet August 17, 2012 at 2:43 pm

Oh, I’m so glad you found my little blog and we made you feel happy & proud! You SHOULD be happy and proud, designing something as wonderful as that! Thank you so much for all of your hard work, love and dedication – it shows in every planting and around every corner. :)

Debra Lee Baldwin July 22, 2012 at 4:02 pm

A serene retreat is so welcome in a busy city, but then, Pasadena can almost claim the Huntington, too! Interesting how those arching Agave attenuata flowers work serendipitously into the overall composition.

Rebecca Sweet July 23, 2012 at 7:43 am

Ahh- I thought they were the flowers from an echium! But on closer inspection of the photos, I think you’re right Debra. They’re definintely from an a. attenuata. Thanks!

Pam/Digging July 21, 2012 at 11:32 pm

Great images, Rebecca. I’m in love with that Opuntia.

Rebecca Sweet July 23, 2012 at 7:43 am

Thanks, Pam. Me too! It was way over in a corner of the garden, and I almost missed it – such a beauty, isn’t it?

Peter Johnsen July 21, 2012 at 11:34 am

Bon Mot, thnx a ton for this one

Rebecca Sweet July 23, 2012 at 7:44 am

You’re so welcome, Peter. Thanks for stopping by!

Peter Johnsen July 21, 2012 at 11:32 am

Lovely, I love it when I chance upon these marvels that remind us of why we are aware. And for you to be able to share, serendipitous!

Thanks July 21, 2012 at 11:15 am

Thanks dear heart. And here Pasadena is my old stomping ground and I didn’t even know this existed. Shame on me. Kudos to you and to Mayita Dinos. She is a savvy designer. I worked with her on a television series that she hosted. I think we shot everything on site at Disney World in Orlando. It was great and I loved meeting someone my ex-husband thinks is very special. She is!

Love to you and yours,


Rebecca Sweet July 23, 2012 at 7:45 am

Lucky you, Sharon, to have the chance to work so closely with Mayita! From the design of this garden, and others on her site, she seems to be a most talented and ‘fun’ designer. I’d love to meet her someday! So glad to hear from you!!

Laura July 20, 2012 at 12:53 pm

That is one amazing garden, and how sweet that you found it by chance.

I will try to visit it next time I am in LA, it looks worth the drive.

Thanks for sharing.

Rebecca Sweet July 20, 2012 at 8:20 pm

Thanks for stopping by, Laura! It’s definitely an amazing garden which makes it all that more special to just stumble upon!! It’s definitely worth the drive from LA.

sheila schultz July 20, 2012 at 10:31 am

Rebecca, you must have been smiling the entire time you were wandering through the garden. It’s not only beautiful, it’s brilliantly designed. What a lucky find for you and for us!

Rebecca Sweet July 20, 2012 at 8:20 pm

Lucky indeed, Sheila! And you’re right, I was smiling like a fool the entire time!

Jenny Peterson July 20, 2012 at 10:09 am

Wow, what a great find, Rebecca! I love it when things like that happen. Sounds like a great use of space, materials and plants. And your photos, of course, are awesome–makes me want to hop on a plane!

Rebecca Sweet July 20, 2012 at 8:23 pm

It’s definitely a garden after your own heart, Jenny, and one that you would loooove to see in person! Someday….right?

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