Behind the Private Gates, Design, In the Garden


A Taste of Old Hollywood

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On my recent visit to Los Angeles, my former hometown, I took an unanticipated “step back in time” that tugged at my heart strings. On the way to photograph a friend’s gardens I found myself retracing steps through old stomping grounds…Bel Air and up through Beverly Glen Canyon, unaware that Mulholland Drive would actually be part of the route, too. THE Mulholland Drive, that twenty-one mile scenic drive that is part of Hollywood lore (even a movie was named after it). Stretching from downtown Los Angeles to the ocean, it curves and winds along the mountain ridge that divides the LA Basin and San Fernando Valley. To say that you feel at the top of the world is an understatement…

This drive on a clear, azure blue day was the perfect preamble to the Mediterranean estate that greeted me at the end of a long, pebble-detailed driveway under a monumental arch of ficus.

The original property, with house and pool

and guesthouse, were developed by my friend and her husband in 1989 to take in the views while providing a dreamy sense of “being in a place removed;” views that are greener than I ever remember, thanks to all the rain in California. The only hint of a big city is the far away skyscrapers, but at night those city lights present an artistic show that is a welcome addition to any party setting.

In 1995 a real estate “eureka” moment proved providential…sharing this steep hillside was another bit of acreage that suddenly became available, opening up opportunities to expand on the Mediterranean garden theme. And who (unbeknownst to my friend and her husband) was in the wings awaiting his cue? Garden designer Harry Nelson. A look-alike for Clark Gable, he brought a touch of “old Hollywood” to this now six acre property (other clients had included producer Norman Lear and designer Gianni Versace).

Harry’s singular vision was surely informed by living on site for a full year (in the poolside guesthouse).From sketching to hauling to planting material himself, Harry became one with this property and the results are transporting, enhanced by a bit of theatrical overlay!

The centerpiece of the landscape is at the tip top of the pebbled drive…

on a plateau where the original house had existed (which burned down in the 60’s with the Bel Air fire). A large worthy-of-a-movie-set fountain (Harry didn’t hold back…) and formal green landscaping are backed with an extensive sweep of treillage…

while tall spires of Italian cypress introduce another note of drama to the serene scene.

Paths meander up and down the terraces…

with creative stonework details…

while a charming overlook provides yet another nod to “old Hollywood.”

Paired stone dolphins border a rill that is on axis with the main house’s front entrance, creating a focal point very much in keeping with the sensibilities of the rest of the gardens.

I left feeling as though I‘d treated myself to a vacation in the foot hills of the Italian Riviera, with the ocean in the far distance.

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Bettie Bearden Pardee

About Bettie Bearden Pardee

Author of Private Newport and Living Newport, garden furniture designer (The Parterre Bench), national lecturer, and entertaining expert. An honoree for the second year on "The Salonniere 100 America's Best Party Hosts", she was also the host and creative producer of "The Presidential Palate: Entertaining at the White House".

7 thoughts on “A Taste of Old Hollywood

  1. Thank you for this interesting post. Having been fortunate to go on a Garden Conservancy tour some years ago to Los Angeles, I had a taste of the absolutely amazing gardens and homes that exist in that city. From Malibu to Hancock Park, Bel Air and Beverly Hills to Holmby Hills and Pasadena, there are gorgeous gardens. Your post of this extraordinary property brings back memories of all those wonderful gardens!

  2. Love the addition of the large, sectional trellis to provide walls for that lovely part of the garden. The trellis has to be made of very strong material; could you tell me what is the material? suellen

    1. Hi Suellen, I just checked and it is metal, not wood, and holding up pretty well. Twenty years and only 1 or 2 tweaks.

  3. Villa Lante and Villa Farnese in Italy should just move on over. This garden is the epitome of the anatomy of a fine garden: good bones , good musculature, and one hulluva epidermis! Gorgeous 🍀

    1. Aaah Ruthie, only you could put this so deliciously!!And I’m so glad you and I were together when wew were visiting the two villas. xB

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