Reminiscing with Hollywood Legend Julie Newmar

We're ending 2020 with one of the most popular gardens ever featured during our annual Tour. In 2007, the original Catwoman & Tony Award winner Julie Newmar allowed us into her amazing creation for In Her Majesty's Secret Garden, highlighting four secret gardens.

Julie Newmar's work - like herself - has only become more beautiful over the years, combining her passion with the skills of Garden Designer Bradley Bontems. She & Brad have frequented our Garden Tour luncheons - you may have caught a sighting of her! Always a VRG supporter, Miss Newmar was an exceptional & enthusiastic participant during this strange holiday season.

In this special Christmas Present to our wonderful followers, we have a special Q & A with Miss Newmar, as well as links to several magical videos about the garden and its peerless creator.

1. As a native Angeleno, how did you develop your passion for gardening?

I think it is all about my father and the place in my life where I was most comfortable with him. It was the garden. A person's energy changes in a garden. People are at peace; they are open and inquiring about the wonders of nature.

He built me a playhouse and a jungle-gym for my brother and me. He built the hardscape, then all the waterfalls where we lived on a hill in East Los Angeles overlooking the city. He was an engineer and a surveyor, and in the '30s during the Depression, he built the three-story house we lived in.

2. What garden changed your life or made an impact on you?

Mine. Since I am its progenitor, I learned from doing; traveling and borrowing from everyone else's I'd seen. Not stealing of course, but as John Cleese says, "being influenced by" those better gardeners than I.

3. Who is your favorite landscape designer (living or not living) and why?

That would be Brad Bontems, my current master garden designer and artist. We like to gossip, talk politics and plant stuff. With Brad, my garden is the one thing that gets better year after year.

Before that it was Sandy Kennedy who developed my "hot" rose garden (reds to yellows), separating it from the "cool" lavenders, pinks, pastels.

My first landscaper was Jay Griffith who created dynamic, sweeping arabesques, dividing lawn from planting areas in a backyard that had been a dog run, This gave the garden a feeling of infinitude where there had been nothing but grass and two trees.

Then I added secret gardens, four of them designed exclusively for my son John. Most things are miniaturized, even the steppingstones which are no longer than six inches, making the secret garden unwelcome to adults. There is a prehistoric garden, which has a most romantic rocking chair. It also has a tree snake and crocodile which frightened my last Japanese gardener. He quit. The 405 freeway had become an endless hassle to him anyway. There is a mad-at-you secret place that my housekeeper likes to go "for escape."

Water is necessary. I put in waterfalls to drum out any uncompromising neighbors and their pool motors.

4. Which historical garden in the world is your favorite and why?

Les Quatre Vents in Quebec by Frank Cabot, which was his magnum opus. It is one of the great personal gardens of all time. On 20 acres with 25 gardens, there is everything; including a rope bridge, a pigeonniere - beautifully reflected in a rectangle of water. It even has a nid d'amour - something you must see. "The Gardener" - watch it on YouTube or Amazon. It is a glorious film with exquisite music and narration (by Penelope Hobhouse). It is a great, great work of art, Les Jardins de Quartre Vents. Hobhouse calls it "a touch of genius" - it is breathtaking.

I do love the gardens at Filoli, just a short drive south of the San Francisco airport. Also Sissinghurst in Kent, England and the open gardens of New Zealand. Chotsie Blank's private garden in Napa.

5. What is the book that inspires you the most?

Books: anything photographed by Marion Brenner. Penelope Hobhouse's Garden Designs. Bunny Williams On Garden Style. Thomas Hobbs for juxtaposition of plants. Western Landscaping Book is helpful. So is Robert Smaus. Garden books and magazines are all over my house.

6. What advice (on gardening) has been the most impactful to share?

You don't need advice. Go on instinct, dream it. But watch how the shadows move first. Don't put in trees that overgrow their spaces and need expensive, yearly pollarding. Create POV's (points of view).

I have an orange and blue garden. Because the rose that is named after me is golden. I balance the rest of the garden in cool blue-lavender tones. It works. Among the 80 roses, some of my favorites are Abbaye de Cluny, Eden, Koko Loco, Medallion, Janet Kellogg, Fragrant Cloud, Estelle Meilland, Just Joey, Voluptuous, Yves Piaget, (especially) Gertrude Jeckyll, and most of the David Austin's.

And please, NO leaf blowers. Overcome the insanity of the leaf blower. It poisons your garden in ways you don't know as well as the whole neighborhood.

Today at 87, I am a garden manicurist. I tootle around on my electric scooter, pinching the pansies. You'll live longer and healthier if you have a garden.

Julie Newmar's Garden (2015)

Post by Friends of Robinson Gardens Board Member Maralee Beck
Photos by Marion Brenner

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *