The garden has often been described as a secret, hidden from the street behind a solid brick wall. The design imitates the San Juan Capistrano Mission.
Dating back to the early years of El Molino Viejo, a garden of some form surrounded the adobe building. The property measure 160 acres after the secularization of the Mission’s lands. In 1859 the Kewens were the first family to move into the Mill and they quickly began to plant and cultivate the surrounding acres. They planted groves of citrus including orange, lemon and lime. Mrs. Kewen was known for the beautiful garden of arbors, flowers, roses and calla lilies that she tended.
Upon completion of the Old Mill’s restoration by Mr. and Mrs. James Brehm in 1928, acclaimed landscape architect Katherine Bashford was hired to create a garden in keeping with the simple mission tradition. She designed a rectangular walled garden of old fashioned flowers and re-planted trees of fig, citrus, pine, live oak, sycamore and pepper to the Mill’s property.
In 1962, when the Brehms passed and left the Old Mill to the City of San Marino, a new phase of the garden began. It was turned from a residential garden into a public garden. Beginning in 1965, three local garden clubs were associated with the garden’s transformation into a beautiful historic garden. The Pasadena Garden Club provided the funds for the front entrance patio pavers. The San Marino Garden Club provided funds for the Pomegranate Patio.
The Diggers Garden Club has a lengthy relationship with the Old Mill, which continues to this day. All credit for the beautiful historic garden that visitors enjoy today should be given to the Diggers. By 1978, the Diggers became a weekly presence working in the garden while also funding the Mill’s gardener. Today the Diggers actually do dig in the garden, planting and weeding, and fundraise to support garden projects.
The Diggers history with the Old Mill actually goes back to the residential years. Three diggers, Harriet Huntington Doerr, Elizabeth Washburn and Carol Connell all called the Mill home. Digger Harriet Doerr and her husband Albert made several significant donations to the new public garden. The Doerr’s donated two Mexican fountains. The drinking fountain on the front entrance patio once served as a baptismal font in a church in Mexico. Bubbling softly today on the Pomegranate Patio is the other Mexican fountain. Additionally, Harriet Doerr gave the rose covered ramada on the front entrance patio. Tucked away in the rear of the garden hangs Santiago, a Mexican carved limestone Mezzo-Relief panel that was a gift to the Mill from Harriet Doerr’s estate.
Today, discover the garden’s history by following the garden pathways from the graceful oaks, and citrus trees to the flowering Lady Banksia rose and the gently swaying calla lilies.