How Does Your Garden Grow?

Pacific Palisades Garden Club Meeting Address Local Leafy Updates

Mayita Dinos, a renowned landscape designer whose work includes Pasadena’s Arlington Garden, was the special guest speaker at the Pacific Palisades Garden Club meeting on Monday evening, March 4.

Dinos has been designing eco-conscious, water-wise Southern California gardens for over 20 years, and is committed to finding garden solutions that respect mother nature’s wants and limitations. Her garden designs are known for blurring the line between the natural and artificial worlds, between the manicured and the wild.

The Arlington Garden, situated on a three-acre lot owned by Caltrans, was once a concrete wasteland that nothing but weeds and litter called home.

“Nothing was happening there,” Dinos explained at the Pacific Palisades Woman’s Club. “It was going to be the staging ground for the continuation of the 710 Freeway.”

Arlington Garden founders Betty and Charles McKenney, with Dinos’ vision, started to transform the space in 2005, with the goal of creating a water-wise public garden that celebrates Southern California’s Mediterranean climate.

Dinos, who grew up in New York before attending University of Wisconsin, Madison, studied garden design in school. Her presentation discussed her upbringing gardening with her aunt and mother in New York, her journey through college, her move back home to New York where she taught school, and the beginning of her career in LA after switching coasts with her family. She also shared before and after pictures of the Arlington Garden.

“It was a long and diverse journey from being a child and not knowing anything about gardening to designing my own gardens,” Dinos said at the event.

“I remember being out in my mother’s garden, seeing all the flowers—I don’t remember if there was fruit already—but something got to me,” Dinos shared at the event, recalling one of her first experiences gardening. “It was as if someone had introduced God to me. I thought, ‘This is what the universe is all about—it’s about creation. And you are part of it.’”

“To make a long story short … it all led to the Arlington Garden. It was [the McKenneys’] idea—they’re wonderful, wonderful people and it was a privilege to work with them.”

Members at the March 5 meeting also shared what gardening projects they were currently undertaking, with some including a bay leaf fig tree, a bok choy plot and a succulent garden.

Michael Terry, lead designer of the N/E/X/T/Garden in Pacific Palisades, briefly addressed the garden club members. The three-quarter-acre garden will be part of the club’s annual Spring Garden Tour, scheduled for Sunday, April 14.

“The last Saturday of every month is improvement day at N/E/X/T/Garden,” Terry said. “If you can find us, you’re welcome to join us between 9 a.m. and 4 p.m. on the last Saturday of the month—we’ve done this over a 100 times, and garden club members are always there and always welcome.”

The N/E/X/T/Garden educates visitors about drought-tolerant plants, Southern California native plant species and local horticultural issues. It is the oldest native plant garden outside of a United States park, having been planted originally in 1988. Abandoned between 2000 and 2010, it was replanted in 2011 with help from garden club members and members of Palisades Beautiful. Projects to improve the garden continue.

“It’s a great chance to talk with like-minded people, and it’s heartwarming to see the high-schoolers and middle-schoolers out there getting extra credit—one Pali High student was there for seven hours on a Saturday,” Terry said.

Marie Steckmest, a garden club member and master gardener at Marquez Charter Elementary School, shared: “My kids went to Marquez, and there are about 500 kids there. We garden all through grades K through five,” Steckmest explained at the meeting. “We garden so everybody can garden—every teacher gets a raised garden bed. We grow vegetables herbs—third-grade teachers are even growing herbs in coffee cans. The kids love gardening, and then we cook with them. It’s the best job I’ve ever had.”

Steckmest asked for donations of seeds, egg cartons and small planters for upcoming gardening projects at the school on March 22 and also pitched a new idea: to start a seed library at the Palisades Branch Library.

“Periodically people come and they check out seeds, and they can bring them back or not—it basically encourages people to try gardening. I’d love to have some people volunteer and help me brainstorm.”

“The last meeting had a great turnout and a lot of participation on all levels,” Garden Club President Mary Schulz said. “There were a lot more people than usual, though we had a lot of information to present with our tours coming up.”

The club’s annual Spring Garden Tour is April 14. Tickets are on sale now.

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