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The art and soul of Freeland Tanner

FreelandWhat do you get when you combine a pile of twigs, sprinklers, and watering cans with the right side of the brain that just won’t quit?

It’s not what you get, it’s who you get – Freeland Tanner.

I’ve written about this exceptional man and his equally impressive wife, Sabrina, many times before (here and here), as well featuring their garden in both of my books.  Some of you might even think I’m a bit of a stalker (debatable).  But in this post, instead of focusing on their glorious, skillful and artistic planting combinations, I wanted to share with you another side of their garden.  One that’s brimming with Freeland’s deeply personal art.GreenBar


antique garden artI try and visit their Napa garden at least once a year, so by now I feel like I know it pretty well. Boy was I in for a surprise.  There were so many changes, it was like I had been away for decades!  Keep in mind, both Freeland and Sabrina are in-demand landscape designers who juggle several major projects at a time.  And there isn’t a team of people who tend their garden, either – it’s just the two of them.  So how Freeland manages to generate so much original artwork is nothing short of mind-blowing.

This visit, however, revealed part of the answer.  In 2012 Sabrina was diagnosed with breast cancer, and their world as they knew it stopped in its tracks.   GreenBarAnd while everyone handles crushing news like this however best they can, Freeland’s own coping mechanism was to create.  Turning to the right side of his brain for comfort, he would spend endless hours creating art.   It’s what allowed him to deal with the fact that his world could quite possibly shatter (which it didn’t, thank God.)  I’m thrilled to say they’ve come through the other end of this frightening tunnel, with Sabrina being cancer-free now for over a year.  And instead of leaving a destructive path of wreckage in its wake, this life-altering scare transformed their already breathtaking garden into the most soulful one I’ve ever seen, overflowing with Freeland’s love for Sabrina.GreenBar


Welcome to Sabrina’s Temple

I’ve always been fascinated with Freeland’s mounds of interesting shaped sticks and twigs, his stacks of old grape-stake fencing, piles of pots and artfully displayed groupings of watering cans, antique sprinklers and hoses each carefully tucked away in the far corners of the garden.  You’ll see they’ve found their true purpose in life!

sticksPots and Watering CansGreenBar

In the middle of their large 1-acre garden is an enclosed, colorful and whimsical cutting garden, where flowers happily intermingle with herbs, edibles, and Freeland’s garden art.  Now, however, there’s a new focal point – Sabrina’s Temple.

Sabrina's TempleGreenBarSabrina's TempleSabrina's TempleGreenBarSapling edgingSapling edgingGreenBar

Directly across from the temple’s entrance is the colorful tool shed, with Freeland’s fabulous green cloches anchoring the corners of each garden bed.

Sabrina's TempleGreenBar

Sabrina's TempleSabrina's TempleGreenBar

In the center of the cutting garden is this antique urn with a twist – flower pots instead of flowers.

Sabrina's TempleGreenBarSabrina's TempleSabrina's TempleGreenBar


Just say ‘No’ to naked vertical surfaces

Thank heavens for all the garden rooms that surround the cutting garden – each one enclosed by vine clad walls, trellises and fences.  They’re the perfect easels for Freeland’s glorious art.

watering cans

GreenBarHose and Watering can artTool art

GreenBartool wallAntique frog art



Bird Estates

The Tanners love the wildlife that visits, pointing out the pair of owls that live in their tree, the fox that stealthily creeps along the back fence, hoping to snack on Cluck (their 9-year old chicken), and the frogs that live in their pond.  But it’s the birds that bring them the most joy.


GreenBarbirdhouseTuteurs and Birdhouse



Arbors, gates, and tuteurs

Not only am I amazed at Freeland’s boundless talent, but also the skill at placing such a staggering amount of artwork in the garden without it going down the ‘uh oh – someone’s gone down the wrong road‘ look.  A rare gift, indeed!

Tool GateTool Urn

GreenBarTuteurVegetable tuteurs

GreenBarred benchBlue trellises


Hose columnHose column


I hope you’ve enjoyed the tour of one of my favorite gardens of all, and more importantly I hope its inspired you to go out into your own garden and create!


All material © 2010-2017 by Rebecca Sweet for Harmony in the Garden. Unauthorized reproduction prohibited.

23 Responses to The art and soul of Freeland Tanner

  1. SO much inspiration here! Are Freeland and Sabrina artists who garden or gardeners who make art? Either way, they’ve created a place of beauty and joy. Thanks for sharing it again, Rebecca.

    • Good question, Pam, and one that I can’t answer. They’re simply amazing and I wish you could see their garden in person. You’d love it and the way they incorporate succulents throughout.

  2. That was an in incredible look at what someone with an incredible imagination can accomplish. What a talent he is. Sometimes people just amaze me with their brilliance and this is the perfect example.

    • Incredible imagination is right, Candy. He’s truly one of the most talented people I’ve ever met – I feel so lucky to call him my friend.

  3. Rebecca,
    Thank you so much for this wonderful post! The photos are amazing and I am completely inspired! Feliz Cinco de Mayo and I hope to see you before too long. You continue to inspire and make me happy! Be well and an early Happy Mother’s Day!

    • You’re so welcome, Devonna. I’m so glad you enjoyed the photos! Hope all is well with you and early Happy Mother’s Day to you, too! XO

  4. Dear Rebecca, Thank you so much for all your kind words and great photos! What a wonderful story you wrote and shared. Your friend always, Sabrina Tanner

  5. Simply stunning and heartfelt – oh my! I kind of teared up with this – the love he shows is so sweet…

  6. This is absolutely amazing!! Thank you so much for sharing with us such an unusual array of beauty!

  7. Wonderful post on a wonderful garden Rebecca, thanks for sharing it with us! I’m glad to hear that they are through their health issue. It is inspiring to see Freeland’s love and admiration of his wife come through in such a beatiful and creative way.



    • Hi Scott – I’m so glad you enjoyed this post! If you ever get out this way we’ll have to figure out a way for you to see their garden in person. It’s truly my favorite one of all and I could spend an entire weekend in it without ever leaving! I hope you’re well!!

    • Hi Jo and Diane – I’m glad you enjoyed the ‘magical, mystery tour’! You certainly do feel like you’re in another land when you’re there. One far, far away from ordinary gardens! 😉

  8. Thank you, Rebecca, for taking me for a stroll into Freeland and Sabrina’s world once again. Their gardens are a place of such creativity, passion and beauty… they always take my breath away.

    • The first time I visited, Sheila, I literally had a headache by the time I left because my brain couldn’t comprehend everything. It was as if it was exploding with ideas. Even though I’ve visited many times, I’m still always left breathless. This garden is so spectacular on so many levels.