At their home in East Hampton, mother/daughter duo Candice Bergen and Chloe Malle find common ground—and room to craft.
Every now and then a Bunny can be spotted hopping across my family’s East Hampton garden. Usually it’s morning, when the creature is hungry, lured by the prospect of breakfast. She is also, I should clarify, human—Bunny being the nickname my mother, Candice Bergen, has used for me (and I for her) for over 15 years.
For nearly as long, she and I have shared the lawn that separates the cottage, where I stay with my husband, Graham, from the main house, which was built by my stepfather, Marshall Rose, and his late wife, Jill. Ten years ago, Candy and Marsh set about updating the gardens with landscape architect Edmund Hollander. “The man works on vast farms, incorporating Henry Moore bronzes into rolling hills,” the elder Bunny admits. “We stepped up and said, ‘We’d like you to refresh two acres!’ And he did.”
Hollander divided the lawn with a white picket fence and a border of hydrangea and Japanese anemones, beyond which he created a secret garden of shade plants, wide-leaf hostas, and ostrich ferns beneath the 150-year-old maples. “Every property tells a story, and this story was the trees,” recalls Hollander, who trucked in a 35-foot sycamore from New Jersey, causing a temporary closure of the George Washington Bridge. The apple trees that line the property’s perimeter were an anniversary gift to my mother from Marshall. Meanwhile, the border garden (conceived by Jill and landscape designer Jane Lappin, who still tends to it) is the yard’s colorful crown, with loose tiers of hollyhocks, dahlias, and snapdragons.
“This isn’t a garden you’re a slave to; this is a garden you enjoy, where dogs can run around,” says Hollander, just as our surly cavachon, Phyllis, relieves herself on the geranium rozanne. “It’s pretty, not perfect.”
But back to breakfast. Summer in the Hamptons is a blood sport—survival of the richest or the earliest. Candice and I try to be the earliest. We get to Round Swamp by 7:55 a.m. and wait for the doors to open at eight so we can nab fresh blueberry muffins from the “Swamp ladies,” as my mother reverentially calls the farm’s sister owners. Back home, coffee is sipped from monogrammed Emma Bridgewater mugs, and muffins disappear within minutes. Later, Graham and I go to the beach or for a run at a nearby nature preserve. In the afternoon, Candice, Marshall, and Phyllis head to the pool, where—after a youth spent tanning—my mother swims laps in a long-sleeved shirt, shorts, and fins for hands and feet, successfully achieving the look of Aquaman’s kooky aunt.
The rest of her day is devoted to Bergenbags, her artistic hobby turned fashion sensation. (Proceeds from each personalized purse go to charity.) It began two years ago, on the Friday before Memorial Day, when she and Phyllis were waiting to pick me up from the jitney. As I emerged harried from hours on the LIE, she noted the Louis Vuitton weekender I had been wanting to get monogrammed and proudly jangled a paper bag full of paint pens she had just bought at the local art-supply store. It seemed the perfect opportunity had presented itself. At first she was nervous and careful, then quickly less so as my initials evolved into a patch of grass and a trio of bunnies.
Today, East Hampton remains Bergenbags’ HQ, though Candice has graduated from paint pens to specialty acrylics and brushes. Recent commissions include a Rebel Alliance shield for George Lucas’s wife, Mellody Hobson; a Fragonard-style portrait of Barbra Streisand’s Maltese, Miss Fanny; and hedgehogs for Lena Dunham. The wait list grows and grows. Candice has yet to paint her garden—she might need a bigger canvas.
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