As beautiful as private landscapes can be, and they can be stunning, none can match the poetry, joy and solace of a public garden done right. As proof, look no further than Arlington Garden in Pasadena. Here, since breaking ground on the 3-acre site five years ago, neighbor Betty McKenney has seen just about every kind of human interaction.

“We have people who meditate and pray,” said McKenney, left. “We have counselors and young people from a local clinic, some of whom are pretty troubled. Certainly there are schools and Scout programs. People bring their computers, or they read. They walk dogs. We see engaged couples getting photographed. Other photographers work on catalogs with their models. Last time it was a little bit risque. Some of those girls had really long legs. We see couples — 70, 80 years old — holding hands walking through the garden. I saw a mom one afternoon sitting with her little boy. He was eating a pomegranate and they were talking about birds. Then teenagers come in at night. We have it all.”

And that’s even before arriving at the plants, a mix of carefully selected, drought-tolerant California natives and Mediterranean climate zone imports, assembled in a public space that is first-class wildlife habitat and model of water conservation.

The people who did the most to make Arlington Garden are McKenney and her husband, Charles. After retiring from a computing job at Caltech (Betty) and practicing law (Charles), and quickly rethinking a brief move to Santa Barbara, these Pasadenans bought a condominium on Arlington Drive. Next door were 3 acres of mown weeds interspersed by a gaggle of palms and a few trees. This was the last remnant of Durand Mansion, a baronial monstrosity razed in the 1960s.

Caltrans bought the land during the construction of the 710 Freeway but never used it. By 2003, the city of Pasadena was holding public hearings to discuss alternative uses. “Everyone said no this, no that,” Charles said. “No playing field. No parking lot. Nobody said what they did want.”

Betty and Charles, himself a former Pasadena councilman, were tasked by the city to form a committee and canvass for ideas. “I thought maybe we should plant a few trees out here,” Charles said. “Betty kind of patted me on the head.”

Full article and more images here…

Also of interest may be past Drummond House Plans blog entries on Rainwater Collection Systems and Xeriscaping.

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