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This Secret Garden In Pasadena Welcomes Your Green Thumbs

Arlington Garden is three acres of green space tucked away in a residential neighborhood of Pasadena. (Photo by Emily Henderson/LAist)
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Southern California is full of big cities and urban landscapes, but there are plenty of pockets of preserved nature -- if you know where to look.

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In Pasadena, hidden away in a neighborhood near the Norton Simon Museum and Huntington Hospital, is Arlington Garden. It's three acres of green space that's always open to the public and makes a great spot to sit in the shade and read or go for a stroll among the succulents.

Arlington sits on a spot that was once home to one of the stately mansions of Pasadena's Millionaire's Row, but after the house was razed, the site sat empty for over 40 years.

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The weed-filled lot was an eyesore in the community, including for residents Betty and Charles McKenney, who finally had enough. They reached out to garden designer Mayita Dinos and asked her to help create something nicer for the space.

Facing a blank canvas, Dinos got started creating a garden in 2005, with the mission of matching it the mediterranean-type climate of Southern California.

"There's two ways of spelling mediterranean," Dinos said. "One is with a capital 'M' and one is with a small 'm.' The capital 'M' refers to the Mediterranean basin and the Mediterranean Sea, and the small 'm' refers to any place that has a mediterranean type climate.

"So we're the small 'm' and we're so lucky because mediterranean-type climates are some of the most comfortable climates to live in."

Arlington's plants fit the Southern California climate, but shade is also a priority. (Photo by Emily Henderson/LAist)

Dinos explained that the hallmarks of a mediterranean climate are that a region will get all it's rain in the winter and then have hot, hot summers.

For a long time, many Southern Californians didn't understand the importance of picking plants to match the local climate when gardening, Dinos said. But now climate-appropriate, sustainable landscapes are becoming a trend.

At Arlington, sustainable gardening is about more than picking plants that match the climate; it's also about how the employees and volunteers manage the space.

"What we try to do in our gardening practices is imitating the forest," explained Leigh Talmo, Arlington's head gardener. "You'll see a lot of leaves in the planters; we leave the leaves. When we trim things we lay them down underneath trees and shrubs to provide more habitat and to improve the soil," she said.

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Many bugs, birds and critters have lost their habitats as the region became more developed. So gardens like this are important, Talmo said. She and Dinos are always happy to see wildlife enjoying Arlington in addition to local residents.

Attracting insects like, this bee on a California Buckwheat plant, is a sign the garden is creating an ecosystem. (Photo by Emily Henderson/LAist)

"The first time I saw a lizard I thought, 'Yes we have an ecosystem!'" Dinos said.

Strolling around Arlington, there's a good chance you'll spot a few bees and butterflies among the wide variety of plants. Arlington is set up to feature fauna from different regions and countries that share Southern California's mediterranean climate.

There's a "garden room" for Australia, one for Madagascar and one inspired by the Mediterranean basin that's full of olive trees. From there, a short path lined with crepe myrtle trees leads to the section of the garden devoted to California's native plants.

The crepe myrtles are an interesting footnote of their own. A gift from Yoko Ono, they're part of a larger art project of hers to plant "wish trees," where people tie notes with wishes to the branches.

Arlington Garden's "wish trees" were a gift from Yoko Ono. (Photo by Emily Henderson/LAist)

Past the "wish trees," the California section of Arlington includes wildflowers, shrubs like California buckwheat and plenty of trees for shade, like the California dogwood and sycamores.

If Arlington is inspiring you to test out your green thumb, you can head over to Pasadena on Tuesday mornings to join the garden's crew of volunteers. Arlington is always happy to have more helping hands, Talmo said. They're what keeps this secret garden growing and hopefully they get something out of the experience, too.

What questions do you have about Southern California?