Text by Katie Ellis
When homeowners Diana and Eric Hansen purchased their 1920s home, they bought much more than the six-lot property; they preserved the history upon which the house sits. The Hansens are only the second owners of this unique, storied property. Diana says that she had the special opportunity to visit with the original owners while they were still living and learned a great deal about the abode’s past. Once home to artists Eleanor and Georges Bridges, this 1921 studio cottage influenced by Greek and Spanish architecture is full of character and rich in history.
Diana learned from Eleanor that when the couple was studying art in Europe, they befriended authors Ernest Hemingway and F. Scott Fitzgerald, who both came on occasion to visit their little cottage. Diana says the Italian-style gardens would have been set for a party, lined with tables and lights, and lively music would have filled the night air. Almost a century later, the Hansens have kept the garden as close to the original shape and structure as they can manage, which makes it quite easy to imagine how things might have looked when the home hosted famous guests. “[Eleanor’s] garden was her passion,” Diana says, “And because we know all of those things [about the history here], we feel a mission to keep the garden just as it was.”
Italian gardens are characterized by their use of terracing and architectural features like statuary, staircases, and balustrades. Georges incorporated some of his own sculptures into the garden, which remain in place today. And maintaining the garden takes a bit of sculpting as well, Diana says. “You almost have to be a sculptor yourself to do the hedges,” she shares, noting her husband and son have both become experts when it comes to trimming their vast topiaries.
The abundance of flower varieties and blooms makes this garden every bit as enchanting as its architecture and history. “They used to bring back seedlings from Europe,” Diana recalls of the garden’s roots. But over the years, as the surrounding trees grew tall and blocked the sunlight, the garden began to change. And while many of the original flower varieties are no longer in bloom, Diana’s favorites now include surprise lilies, irises, gloriosa lilies, clerodendrums, sweet peas, peonies, morning glories, and maidenhair ferns that are so abundant. “Eric and I work hard and then sit and enjoy the garden from every angle,” Diana says. “Sunday is garden day; we work together.”
Though the Hansens’ garden is hidden from the street thanks to tall cypress hedges, those who do catch a glimpse beyond the walls journey to a place in the past. “When you work in a garden, you really feel the earth,” Diana says. “It’s so special to be here, and when people come, they feel it, too.”