Arlington Gardens is a magical place for families, especially for the little ones. And, admission to the park is free. This 3-acre sanctuary is hidden on the corner of Arlington Drive and South Pasadena Avenue in Pasadena, California. The Durand estate, one of the most elegant homes in Pasadena’s “Millionaires’ Row,” once stood on this spot. This 17,000 square foot, 50- room mansion was once surrounded by stunning gardens and a perimeter of Cherokee roses.
From free street parking on Arlington Drive, there are several entrances to the garden. From your very first step off the sidewalk, you will be transported. It reminds me of the “Secret Garden” story of old. As you venture deeper into the garden, you will be lured inward by the numerous paths calling your favor. Keep an eye on the little ones. They will be running ahead to see what is around the next bend.
Arlington Gardens is Pasadena’s only dedicated, public garden which is also water-wise. It is a stunning example of Southern California’s Mediterranean climate. Check out the Arlington Garden website for more detailed information about the garden and its operation at http://www.arlingtongardenpasadena.com/#top.
As your family explores the garden, you will encounter countless paths full of quaint nooks and crannies. There is ample seating of all the storybook kinds, from Adirondack chairs to mosaic stone picnic tables. The seating areas are pretty private and small and are mostly shaded. These little hideouts are the perfect place for a family picnic or an afternoon of family board games. Once I witnessed a dear grandpa playing all morning with his toddler in one of these secret spots. Special memories were created in those moments.
Flaura and Fauna
Among the peaceful scenery, keep your eyes out for secret sculptures, fountains, a Vernal Pool, an olive Allee, Navel orange trees (you can take one home when they are in season), flower-covered archways, and attractive groupings of plants and planters surrounded by artwork. The columns of sycamore and Italian Cypress trees create plenty of shade and privacy from the street. This helps to fashion an ambiance of “hiddenness.”
The variety of flora is beyond imagination, including numerous succulents and cacti. Luckily, there are several QR codes along the way that can help you identify and learn about the vegetation. Looking up this information is a fun activity for the older kids who have access to a cell phone, making the adventure and educational experience as well.
There is also plenty of fauna to keep an eye out for in Arlington Garden, including beautiful butterflies, lizards galore, native pollinators such as carpenter bees and leafcutter bees. The Butterfly Garden is specially designed to replicate the English cottage garden and is a sanctuary for these pollinators. And yes, as the sun sets, there are plenty of mosquitos. Come prepared as the sun goes down.
Connected Family Fun, LA
If you are not enticed enough already, I want to bring to your attention three Arlington Garden features that are especially fun for families. I will give you some ideas about how you can use these features to create more meaningful connections and family memories.
#1 The Wishing Tree Terrace
In the center of Arlington Garden, there are steps that lead to the Wishing Tree Terrace. Yoko Ono donated the Meyer lemons in the blue pots and the Crape Myrtle trees surrounding the terrace after her Wish Tree exhibit at One Colorado in 2008. There are two trees there where you can hang your wishes and dreams. To be safe, come prepared with notepaper with a string attached to tie the note to the tree.
This is a wonderful opportunity to talk with your children about their dreams and wishes. There can be dreams and wishes for the world and I would also encourage you to ask them about their dreams and wishes for your family. Maybe you could prompt your children to write about one thing they love about their family and one thing they would like to change about their family.
After hanging the wish, take some time to read the other wishes hanging on the tree. Ask your kids what they think about the other wishes people are asking for and how it makes them feel. Use the opportunity to identify the different kinds of feelings found in the notes. The more that children learn about and talk about feelings, the better they will become at expressing their own feelings.
Then, you might move to one of the secluded areas in Arlington Gardens for a family picnic. During your picnic, take time to ask more questions about what your children wished for at the Wishing Tree. You can talk with them about how wishes are how we imagine things could be, but to make them come true requires some hard work. This would be a great opportunity to do some problem solving around how your family can address the changes your children would like to see in the family. You may not come up with all the answers, but you are creating an atmosphere where it is safe to talk about the hard things in your family life. As parents, you are laying the foundation for your kids to come to you with the hard things in the future. You are becoming a trusted, askable parent.
#2 The Arlington Garden Amphitheater
Another feature of Arlington Gardens is the outdoor amphitheater. It was actually built with the original sandstone and concrete from the Durand House that originally stood on the site. The columns came from a home located in Altadena, a city adjacent to Pasadena. A beautiful stained glass window covers the amphitheater displaying an image of a pomegranate. It is fun for the family to look up through the stained glass to the blue sky above.
An amphitheater is a fabulous place for family fun and connection. Little kids, and not so little kids, often enjoy putting on “shows.” I know my daughters did! This is the perfect setting for all sorts of family silliness and laughter. If you don’t have original family shows in your back pocket, just pick one of your favorite stories or movies. Have everyone take a role and really ham it up. You will be lucky to get to the end through the laughter. If “drama” is not your family’s thing, try an old-fashioned game of charades, which may work better for older kids.
Sharing fun family time with lots of laughter helps create stronger relationships between parents and siblings, and can help improve communication. Since everyone in the family is being silly, children can really feel free to be themselves. With parents by their side, joining in on the fun, kids can have the experience of being totally themselves and totally accepted, even at their goofiest. This acceptance facilitates trust and is at the core of the parent-child relationship, as well as the child’s sense of self-worth. These happy memories will be carried well into adulthood.
While it is hard to plan an activity specifically just to create a better relationship with your children you can improve your relationship through a family fun activity.
#3 The Labyrinth
From the silliness of the amphitheater, you can move to a more spiritual family activity in exploring the labyrinth. The Classical 7 Circut Labyrinth at Arlington Gardens is made from hand-laid stones. This pattern has been around for over 5000 years and is one of the oldest and most common labyrinth designs.
Generally, folks use the labyrinth as a meditative experience, but there is also great value in walking the path with others. You can explain to the kids that waking the labyrinth is a time for them to be with their own thoughts, in silence. It is a time to reflect on how they feel and what is important to them. The connection in families strengthens as each member walks the circles, passing one another, again and again, knowing their loved ones are deep in a journey. You can feel the energy more intensely as you all approach the center.
As you gather at the center, maybe initiate a family hug or hold hands. Just be with each other there in the silence of the moment. Let the loving, caring emotions float over the space. If it feels right, make eye-contact with each other. Smile. Feel the love and connection. You are all safe, together in that singular time and space. You are one family.
After you walk out of the labyrinth, feel the difference in the family energy. Notice and remark on the calming effect walking through the labyrinth together can have. You can take some time to ask open-ended questions on your way out of Arlington Gardens like, “How was that for you? Would you like to share about it? How are you feeling?” In this reflective time, use these questions to get to know each other better. Expressing gratitude for your family and the fun you had at Arlington Gardens can last the whole car ride home.
Let Me Hear From You
I would love to hear about your Connected Family Fun, LA adventure to Arlington Gardens. Feel free to leave a reply in the “Comments” below. I bet you had some unique experience, ideas for activities or games, or other ways to make this outing more connected and meaningful to your family. By sharing your ideas, others can enrich their family outing. Together, we can all make families rich in memories.
Contact Abby: Welcome Home Family Therapy
Helping families feel connected is at the core of my Family Therapy practice. If you feel like your family could benefit from family sessions to increase your family connections and decrease family conflicts, then contact me.
You can learn more about Me, my Family Therapy Practice, my Credentials, Services, and Rates on my website. I have a sub-specialty in Post-Adoption Family Therapy and offer an option for In-Home Family Therapy. Click here, to contact me via email, or feel free to give me a call at (626) 755-4059. I offer a FREE 20-minute, Initial Phone Consultation. I am ready to listen.