A Park or Public Garden?

Pasadena has been called a city of gardens. Yet Pasadena has only one discrete, dedicated public garden of any size, Arlington Garden. Most gardens in Pasadena are private domestic gardens. There are some gardens within public yards and campuses, such as Caltech, the Pasadena Museum of History, Tournament House, and La Casita. However, these are institutional gardens or landscaping, rather than planned and dedicated public gardens.

We should distinguish the concepts of "park" and "garden." Recent discussions in Pasadena have centered around the need for more parks and open space. But the discussions fail to recognize that gardens are different from parks, hampering our ability to conceive of and develop attractive urban open spaces.

A park is an open area for public recreational use, with landscaping, playground equipment, playing fields, and restrooms, all of which serve human recreational activity.

A garden on the other hand is a piece of ground for growing herbs, flowers, trees, fruit or vegetables to enjoy and understand. A good public garden will promote the art, enjoyment, and knowledge of horticulture, while providing opportunities for education. A park may contain a garden (for example Pasadena's Singer Park has a rose garden), but a garden doesn't contemplate extensive lawns and capital improvements such as playground equipment or playing fields.

But there is another difference, and that is the feeling and aura of a garden. Gardens help sustain us physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually. They differ from parks in that plants and trees provide the focal point in a garden. You won't find play structures or merry go rounds in Arlington Garden. You don't need to run to see what's here. It will wait for you to discover it. Of all the comments we have heard, one by a PUSD middle school student following a summer class at Westridge captures Arlington Garden perfectly. When asked by the teacher what she liked about Arlington Garden, the student wrote that she likes the garden "because I can hear my thoughts here."

Typically there are two kinds of gardens. One is a "community garden" in which neighbors grow food for their own use. The other is a botanical garden, which is plant oriented and is for peoples' visual and sensual understanding and enjoyment. So defined, a public garden is a public green place that has a different purpose from traditional parks and can therefore be developed and maintained differently from the traditional park.