History of the Garden

The garden at the Old Mill has often been described as a secret garden hidden from the street behind a solid brick wall that is a replica of the brick wall at Mission San Juan Capistrano.

Dating back to the early years of El Molino Viejo a garden of some form surrounded the adobe building. Originally 160 acres composed the property 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, additionally trees of olive, palm and pine filled the property and a vineyard ran to Lake Vineyard. Mrs. Kewen was known for the beautiful garden of arbors, flowers, roses and calla lilies that she tended.

The Kewen garden languished with the changes in ownership through the years, ultimately as Henry Huntington opened the Huntington Hotel he used the adobe building as a clubhouse and much of the grounds became a golf course.

Upon completion of the Old Mill’s restoration by Mr. and Mrs. James Brehm in 1928, noted landscape architect Katherine Bashford was hired to create a harmonious garden in keeping with the simple mission tradition. She created 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 as 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, which is as the name suggests, surrounded by Pomegranate trees.

The Diggers Garden Club has had 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. In 1967 the Diggers first project at the newly opened public garden was in the West Patio Garden, known today as the St. Francis Patio.  The Diggers continued their garden work with restoring the north and south sections of the Mill’s garden. Ultimately in 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 Brehm owned residential years as 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.