Awards and Recognition


Monarch caterpillars getting fat in the butterfly garden


Once Vacant and "Rather Unlovely" Pasadena Lot Transformed into Treasured Arlington Garden

By Chris Bertrand of Mountain Views News

Back in 1962, one of the largest homes on the west coast was razed; the lot graded out and left to accumulate weeds for four decades. In the interim, the homesite was acquired by CalTrans for a section of freeway never built. Left in limbo for forty plus years, Pasadena City Council member Steve Madison asked for "development ideas" from the public, early in the last decade.

New Arlington Drive residents in 2002, Betty and Charles Mc Kenney, fondly known as Kicker, volunteered that year to be part of the committee to decide the future of the land. "We knew what we DIDN'T want right away," said Betty. "No new buildings. The garden idea evolved."

And so did the Mc Kenneys' involvement. "When we're not out here in the garden, we're back at the condo figuring out how to fund and expand it," chuckled Charles. "It takes $40-50,000 every year, just to maintain, prune and irrigate the site. We solicit donations and support from organizations and individuals… We even sell marmalade made at E. Waldo Ward from our orange orchard here. Every little bit helps. Our next batch will be ready sometime in March. Check our website for details."

Today, Arlington Garden, located at Pasadena Avenue and Arlington Drive, is a tranquil 3 acre jewel with over 800 Mediterranean and drought tolerant plants. The gently sloping plot, a demonstration site for low water usage landscape, sits amidst the urban environment of Huntington Hospital, the bustling retail of Old Pasadena and the hundreds of "Millionaires' Row" condos along Orange Grove and its tributary streets. The city now holds a lease on the garden land from the state until 2018."

Mayita Dinos, deemed Best Xeriscaper (drought tolerant landscaping) in Los Angeles Magazine's Best of LA, designed the master plan of Arlington Garden into 25 outdoor "rooms", such as the Butterfly Garden, Citrus Grove, the Arroyo, the Succulent Garden, the Amphitheater, the Mediterranean allee of olives and cypress, the Vernal Pool, the bocce ball court, the Oak Grove with complementary underplantings of dry summer tolerant narcissus, gooseberries, golden currant, wildflowers, huechera (coral bells), hummingbird sage and ceanothus.

The garden has its bits of quirkiness that imbue a bit of light hearted humor into the garden. "A friend decided we needed a "fairy door" and one appeared at the bottom of one of our trees at Christmas this year," said Betty. Near the newly installed fairy door is a mysterious water feature, inviting mystified query as to its source.

"AG is being built 'room by room' as funding becomes available," Dinos commented, "The Arlington Garden has been championed by the City of Pasadena from the beginning. In particular, I think we can count Mayor Bill Bogaard and Councilman Steve Madison among the many fans of the AG; if it weren't for their stalwart support, it wouldn't be here. They really 'get' what this garden means to the community of people, birds, insects, and native plants of Pasadena!"

"Betty and Kicker McKenney, along with many friends, have created a unique and wonderful new park in southwest Pasadena," reflected Mayor Bill Bogaard. "I hope it gains more and more support and continues as a great resource for the community." 

Often, progress and growth in the garden comes from donations in kind and volunteer labor. We have a friend of the garden, Ken Colburn, who builds all the Adirondack style seating here in the garden. A stone, seven circuit classical labyrinth was installed by a cadre of sophomores at Mayfield Senior School nearby. The students there volunteer yearly at the gardens. Charles commented, "Last fall, we had a huge mound of stones piled next to our labyrinth room. The Mayfield students created a bucket brigade and had the labyrinth built in just a few hours. It was great."

Marco Barrantes of La Loma Development Company has partnered with AG in repurposing old concrete removed from construction sites. The gently sloping site needs retaining walls to level planting beds at various locations, so it's a win-win. "It keeps the concrete out of the landfill and it helps us continue to build the garden," reflected Charles. "Another friend of the garden donated a fountain we used as hardscape for a succulent display."

"We received 21 crape myrtles from Yoko Ono's project at One Colorado recently," said Betty as she pointed out the semicircular arrangement of the myrtles. "The trees were installed as a 'Wish Tree' memorial (a Japanese tradition) for Ono's husband, John Lennon, for people to attach their written wishes. Other yearly memorials have been installed in Tokyo and Sao Paolo. Afterward, the 90,000 wishes were sent to an island off Reykjavik, Iceland, per Ono's request."

The garden is maintained and supported by the non-profit group Arlington Garden in Pasadena with generous help from local residents, Pasadena Beautiful Foundation, the Parks and Natural Resources Division of the Pasadena Public Works Department and Pasadena Water and Power.

A work day is planned for Martin Luther King Day this Monday. "Two years ago, we had 70 volunteers cleaning up the garden on MLK day, this national day of service. Now we need it again. Volunteers are needed to clean and weed the garden on Monday, January 17th, between 8 a.m.-3 p.m. For more information, to donate or volunteer, visit our website at or RSVP for the cleanup day by sending an email to 

Referred to in April 2010 general plan meetings as "rather unlovely" in its former unkempt and weedy state, the Arlington Garden is now a place of tranquility and refuge from the city, where, as a student visitor saw it," I like the garden because I can hear my thoughts here."


Now celebrating its fourth anniversary, Arlington Garden has matured into a beautiful refuge overflowing with drought-tolerant trees and hundreds of plants. Conceived by Pasadena residents Betty and Charles McKenney in 2005, and built and maintained with support from Pasadena Water and Power, the Public Works Department and dozens of donors, the one-time vacant lot at Pasadena Avenue and Arlington Drive showcases a remarkable collection of species that are native to Southern California or otherwise suited to our semi-arid climate.

It's worth a visit any time of year: In autumn watch the leaves of sycamores, Chinese pistache, cottonwood and western redbud trees turn yellow, orange and red; Washington navel orange trees pop in winter with more than 1,000 oranges; spring brings a magnificent show of California poppies, yellow tidy tips, California sunflowers and goldenrods, blue lupine, pink and magenta clarkia, bright red Shirley poppies and multicolored succulents; and summer coaxes blossoms from orange trees, buckwheats and budleyas as well as an explosion of pink blooms from 21 crape myrtles. Benches, tables, meandering paths and fountains invite visitors to stay a while.

For more information visit the garden's homepage at


History Makers

Honoring the history makers

By Patt Diroll

"An individual whose civic passion, innovative design or charitable interests continue to shape Pasadena's unique heritage."

That's the challenging guideline for the Pasadena Museum of History's Contemporary History Maker Awards. The prestigious awards, established in 2000, pay tribute to people whose achievements impact the city's present and its future.

A quintet of local activists - Christe Balvin, Betty and Charles McKenney, Joel Sheldon III and Larry Wilson - was honored at this year's benefit dinner held at Old Pasadena's Twin Palms restaurant on June 11:

Balvin's longtime involvement with local nonprofits includes the Ronald McDonald House, Wellness Community - Foothills, Pasadena Playhouse and Pasadena Community Foundation.

The McKenneys transformed a vacant lot on the northwest corner of Pasadena Avenue and Arlington Drive into what is now Arlington Gardens, a water-wise oasis of more than 2,000 California-friendly plants including a citrus grove.

Joel Sheldon III, chairman and CEO of Vroman's - Pasadena's venerable book emporium (est. 1894) - was recently named Bookseller of the Year by Publishers Weekly, the industry's highest honor for an independent bookstore. Sheldon, whose family has owned the business since 1922, has served as president of the Pasadena Chamber of Commerce and director of the Pasadena Rotary Club.

The Star-News' own Larry Wilson, public editor of the San Gabriel Valley Newspaper Group, traces his Pasadena roots back to the 1880s. His great-grandfather's farriery was located where the One Colorado complex is now. Along with writing three columns a week, a regular blog, and representing the newspaper in the community, Wilson organizes the Pasadena Library's One City, One Story program and Claremont Graduate University's Kingsley Tufts annual poetry prizes. He also serves on the boards of the Armory Center for the Arts, the First Tee of Pasadena and heads the board of the Daily Californian Education Foundation at UC Berkeley.

Zena Brown, 2008 Tournament of Roses Princess, a devoted junior docent at the museum and a Girl Scout Gold Award candidate, was celebrated as a "Contemporary History Maker of Tomorrow." Also in the spotlight were five museum stalwarts who are newly appointed honorary trustees: John Armagost, Peter Boyle, Alice Butler, Sid Gally and Ken Patton.

Regina and Ian Whitcomb and His Bungalow Boys kept the party jumping with their ragtime music. Jeanette O'Malley, executive director, reports that the event raised $35,000 for the museum's educational programs.


What a Difference a Year Makes


It has been a year since the community witnessed the grand opening of Arlington Garden. The once vacant lot at Arlington Drive and Pasadena Avenue has been transformed into a California Friendly™ Mediterranean demonstration garden.

Owned by the state of California and leased by the city of Pasadena, the 2½-acre property has been planted with more than 800 plants and trees over the past 12 months including palm trees, an orange grove, olive allée, lavender garden, California poppies, pepper trees and more.

The garden is maintained and supported by the non-profit group Arlington Garden in Pasadena with generous help from local residents, Pasadena Beautiful Foundation, the Parks and Natural Resources Division of the Pasadena Public Works Department and Pasadena Water and Power.

Be sure to stop by whenever you're in the neighborhood, walk along the pathways and enjoy the beautiful surroundings. Be sure to pick up a yellow information flyer at the southwest corner of the fence surrounding the property to learn how to donate your time, dollars and garden fixtures and who to contact for more information.

Join us Saturday, July 15, from 9 to 10:30 a.m. as we celebrate the garden's progress; you'll be among the first to see plans for the next phase. Admission is free..

Community Pride Blooms at Arlington Garden

Pasadena is renowned for its botanical gems. As we reported last year in Pasadena In Focus, Arlington Garden is a water-wise demonstration garden planted and nurtured with love by local residents.

Located near Pasadena Avenue and Arlington Drive, the Caltrans-owned property lay vacant for more than 40 years before neighbors worked together to transform the lot. Today, thanks to a city lease agreement, a $5,000 grant from Metropolitan Water District and a huge volunteer effort spearheaded by Charles and Betty McKenney, the lot is planted with more than 2,000 California-friendly plants, shrubs and trees including an orange grove, stately palms, an olive allée, fragrant lavender, trellised roses, bougainvillea and lemon trees. 

Inviting chairs, tables, benches and umbrellas have been installed using donated funds, and a solar-powered fountain is soon to come. More plans are in the works including plant identification signage and brochures plus an efficient irrigation system. 

Supporters include Pasadena Water and Power, the Parks and Natural Resources Division of the Pasadena Public Works Department, Pasadena Beautiful Foundation, the Mediterranean Garden Society and several local businesses. Donations are welcomed, payable to the non-profit Arlington Garden in Pasadena, 295 Arlington Dr. Pasadena 91105. The garden is open for self-guided tours from dawn to dusk. To volunteer, call (626) 441-4478