The Darling of Pasadena: Arlington Garden

Monday March 07, 2011

Over the course of a garden designer’s career, very few have the opportunity to be involved with the creation of public gardens and parks.  And of the few, only a small number are successful at creating landscapes that suit the community, honor the place, and are flexible enough to evolve with the demands of time.  Of this small number of designers, Mayita Dinos sits firmly and comfortably on the list due to her involvement at Arlington Garden in Pasadena, California.

Mediterranean allee and fountain

For years, Betty and Charles McKenney overlooked a barren, 3-acre weed patch, owned by Caltrans, from their Pasadena condominium.  Then spurred by the visions inside the pages of Smithen’s Sun Drenched Gardens:  The Mediterranean Style, they began to organize the players needed to convert the land into a unique and timeless garden for the community.  

Integral to the evolution of the McKenney idea into garden was Mayita Dinos.  With over 20 years of gardening and design experience under her nails, Mayita was charged with the task of creating a Master Plan for the site that would guide phased implementation of the garden.  

Mayita Dinos

 Mayita Dinos under the pomegranate amphitheater.

During the early stages of design exploration, the neighborhood clearly articulated their desire for a garden, rather than a park, with an emphasis on passive recreation.  A nearby park, complete with fields of turf, plastic play structures, and a rose garden (Pasadena is in fact the “City of Roses”), was the perfect example of what the community yearned to avoid.  The community envisioned a place to experience the seasons, attract wildlife, encounter mystery and surprise, and find quiet enjoyment.

With this information in hand, Mayita set out to create a series of garden rooms to provide a vast Arlington garden maparray of experiences to the visitor.  To help define the space, the site was more or less split in two pieces.  The upper slope is defined by a Mediterranean plant palette and more traditional lines to divide space, create circulation elements, and high-light focal points.  The lower slope is mainly devoted to California native plants and uses plant community groups to organize the spaces.  A meadow, woodland garden, chaparral zone, and a riparian corridor, complete with a vernal pool, literally swallow all of the moisture that, in times past, would simply run-off the site.

And now, just five short years after the garden Songbirdconstruction began, the visitor is constantly delighted by Maya’s creative strokes and the unexpected consequences of garden design.  Just steps into the garden off of noisy Pasadena Drive, the persistent sound of traffic is drown out by a cacophony of song birds, and the occasional Pasadena parrot.  A worn trail leads through the soon-to-be Craftsman commons, past the riparian area, through the meadow, and snakes underneath mature oak trees.  

As one progresses through the site’s lower twisting and turning paths, you encounter wonderful surprises along the way.  One such delight is the recently completed Pomegranate Amphitheater that overlooks the meadow and poppy walk.  A light, airy overhead wire structure, intended to be covered in vines, reaches out from the top of pillars to support a circular stained-glass window resembling the interior of a pomegranate.  Under bright sun, the stained-glass window becomes an informal sundial as it washes the decomposed granite below in color.

Deeper into the garden, whimsical touches continue to unfold; a succulent fountain, cobble labyrinth, and garden statuary.  And according to Mayita, some of the surprises are completely organic and materialize seemingly overnight without her knowledge.  For example, a garden supporter designed and built all of the Adirondack chairs on site without being asked.  This type of involvement, says Mayita, is proof of the community’s deep love of “the darling of Pasadena”.

Crediting the McKenneys, numerous organizations, and the countless community members that have donated money, time, and energy to fund, build, and maintain the garden, Mayita selflessly shrugs off the importance of her role in the evolution of the garden.  For Mayita, she is most fulfilled because the garden has “evolved beyond her control”.  The nervousness she felt as the first plants went in the ground has evaporated and has been replaced with gratitude, memories, and colors of the seasons she invited into this Pasadena garden.  

A few of the sustainable concepts at Arlington Garden:

Limited Irrigation:  Due to budget constraints, much of the site was installed without permanent irrigation.  As a result, Mayita was forced to select plants that would thrive on irrigation neglect.
Use & re-use of local materials:  Many of the site walls are constructed of urbanite, or re-purposed concrete pieces.  Wooden fences and entry signs are made of reclaimed lumber.  Stone unearthed during grading is re-used on site.
Parkway water control:  The parkways were re-graded to be shallow depressions and were lined with stone and succulents.  This practice collects all of the sidewalk run-off and allows cleansing and infiltration.
Site run-off:  Site run-off was eliminated by benching the site, allowing opportunities for water to be absorbed.  Whatever isn’t absorbed, it is directed to a riparian area that holds an immense amount of water.
Water-wise plant palette:  By drawing on plants of similar mediterranean climates and California’s native flora, the amount of irrigation needed is quite modest.
Habitat garden:  Food, water, cover, and places to raise young abound throughout the site.
Positive Maintenance to Enjoyment ratio:  The amount of energy and resources that are required to maintain the garden vastly outweigh the number of hours spent enjoying the space.
Pesticide free:  All weed management is accomplished by good, old-fashioned hand pulling.



For more information on Arlington Gardens, please visit:

For more information on Mayita Dinos, please see the Mayita Dinos Garden Design profile page on Landscape Resource.