I had driven the 30 or so minutes from LA to check out what I had assumed was a sizable attraction, but pulled up to what appeared to be a glorified park on an odd plot of land in amongst some older properties on a busy suburban street. In both my exploration of the drought-tolerant gardens and a bit of digging around for background info, my opinions were swayed and I was won over by this modest-sized garden. Arlington makes expert use of a small amount of land, and it demonstrates many ambitious ideas about what a public neighborhood space could be.
Pasadena itself seems to be something of a garden destination. It is home to some of the region's most prestigious gardens, including the Huntington Library and Descanso Gardens, and host of the annual flower-filled Rose Parade. Arlington manages to take some of the elegance of Huntington, and the water-responsibility approach of Descanso, and size it down to an accessible public space. This is no grand, haughty affair, but a rough-around-the-edges, volunteer-driven passion project of actual residents in the neighborhood.
Once the grounds of the luxurious Durand Mansion in the early 1900s, the land was owned by the California Department of Transportation and almost went to waste if it weren't for the persistent enthusiasm of a local couple and a whole lot of donated materials and labor. Arlington was eventually designed as a "dry garden" and makes excellent use of California native plants across its 3 acres of themed landscaping. In the wildflower section, poppies in crazy, oversaturated colors bobbed all around me on their spindly, twisted stalks. Succulents were used as effective ground covering throughout the garden, adding a soft color palette and contrasting textures to the surroundings. A row of agave americana marginata plants disrupt the calm surroundings with their massive size and the bold yellow stripes along their wavy leaves. There is a small citrus grove filled with Navel oranges, whose fruit is made into a marmalade, the proceeds of which go toward upkeep. It's the kind of sturdy, domestic garden that you want to take home with you.
The Mediterranean area is a bit more indulgent, with some conspicuous, dramatic landscape elements, but keeps a casual atmosphere with welcoming open areas, benches, and covered tables. The Mediterranean Entrance was my favorite section of the garden, taking a simple entryway off of Arlington Drive and elevating it to something far more special. Long bulbous hedges of boxwood capped with stately triangular blue point juniper trees on both ends encircled an ornate fountain, etc., etc. On the other hand, the understated Mediterranean Allèe impressed me more, with its sparse rows of olive trees, and the benches and tables edged by a rows of Italian cypress trees.
Final Rating: If I misunderstood what kind of a place Arlington Garden was before I went, I am apparently not the only one–the concept is actually rather unique. It is also somewhat refreshing to get many of the perks of the fancier gardens nearby without the steep entry fees and, if you're the loner type, without the crowds. Arlington has plenty of places for people to explore and congregate, but they are all so spread out into different spacious areas that it never feels too busy. My overall impression is that this is basically a public city park, but it isn't a place for soccer games or exercising your dog, but a place to come and be surrounded by nature's beauty in a relaxing outdoor environment. THREE BLOOM RATING.