Lani’s Garden

– Posted in: Garden Adventures


I hadn’t been to Lani Freymiller’s garden for nearly a decade—not since I covered homes, gardens, architecture and interior design for the San Diego Union-Tribune. Would it be as incredible as I remembered? So few gardens stand the test of time. The occasion was a visit from Bay Area designer Rebecca Sweet, and we weren’t disappointed. If anything, Lani’s garden was better than ever.

Like all great gardens, Lani’s has a distinctive style—a rustic simplicity reminiscent of Provence. We visited in late autumn, and to compensate for a lack of floral color in the garden, Lani—an artist—emphasized the garden’s brilliant chartreuse foliage, and contrasted it with purple asters and yellow sunflowers.

Before she retired from teaching grade school, Lani had her students read the book, Linnea in Monet’s Garden. At the end of the school year, they were rewarded with a day in her garden. Let’s do the math: If Lani averaged 30 students a year multiplied by 40 years, that’s 1,200 children who gained an appreciation for gardening, thanks to her. Many, now adults, come back and visit. Several have been married in her garden.

Sitting areas like this create destinations, inviting visitors to explore the garden.

There’s even a pond, reminiscent of Giverny. Notice how the rowboat is perfectly placed, as though in a painting.

Wonderful vignettes use salvaged and repurposed items.

Like sparklers, asters enlivened outdoor tabletops that day.

Look through the windowpanes. Doesn’t the view of a second vase with purple flowers, flanked by bright green foliage, suggest an Impressionist painting?

Lani used Granny Smith apples to repeat a thematic color in her garden and to lend contrasting shapes. So simple.

Old corbels and shutters are focal points and backdrops for tucked-away areas.

Even the way she stores her pots is artistic.

Two lovely ladies, both passionate gardeners: Rebecca and  Lani.

Debra Lee Baldwin
Award-winning garden photojournalist Debra Lee Baldwin authored Designing with Succulents, Succulent Container Gardens, and Succulents Simplified, all Timber Press bestsellers. Her goal is to enhance others' enjoyment and awareness of waterwise plants and gardens by showcasing the beauty and design potential of succulents via books, articles, newsletters, photos, videos, social media and more. Debra and husband Jeff live in the foothills north of San Diego. She grew up in Southern California on an avocado ranch, speaks conversational Spanish, and at age 18 graduated magna cum laude from USIU with a degree in English Literature. Her hobbies include thrifting, birding and watercolor painting. Debra's YouTube channel has had over 3,000,000 views.
Debra Lee Baldwin
Debra Lee Baldwin
11 Comments… add one

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Darla November 7, 2011, 9:37 am

Awesome that so many children have been able to experience Lani’s garden and love of gardening. Oh the seeds she has sown in the spirits of those children. It is an exquisite place for a wedding.

What a lovely way of putting it, Darla. Yes, many seeds sown, in young minds as well as the soil. — Darla

Cathy November 7, 2011, 9:42 am

What wonderful memories she has created for so many people! Your photographs are amazing… I’m particularly moved by the photo showing the urn of asters through the window…. perfection in terms of capturing the essence of the garden indoors as well.

Her accomplishment in creating an enduring garden is an inspiration… as we get older, Steve and I have both begun to wonder, what will happen to our garden? Will anyone love our plants and shrubs and trees the way we do?

Thanks, Cathy. Funny you should say that. I was just at a garden that once was fabulous and now has fallen into disrepair. It’s in my neighborhood and once was on a garden tour, and now the house is in foreclosure. There are some amazing specimen plants that I hope survive, and that whoever buys the place will restore the garden. — Debra

Joni Holland November 7, 2011, 10:29 am

Love this. Nice pics. What an inviting place to be. Have a cup of tea for me!

I wish I could remember what the tea was that Lani served. Pretty sure she made it from herbs in her garden. — Debra

Rebecca Sweet November 7, 2011, 12:14 pm

Oh Debra, I just knew you’d be able to capture that incredible garden’s essence with both your words and your photos. Lani’s garden was truly one of the most beautiful I’ve ever seen, and Lani herself was one of the most gracious women I’ve ever met. Such an honor to have been there with you both and one of the highlights of my year!

And of mine! Thanks to you, and your celebrity status as a speaker at the La Jolla Village Garden Club, we were treated to two amazing gardens. (The other had a vineyard, and we sampled wine made by the owner, in a setting that could have been the south of France.) — Debra

Sheila Schultz November 7, 2011, 5:35 pm

Debra… Thank you for letting us see this exceptional garden. It truly is a beautiful painting for all of the senses. Lani’s vision is a gift for everyone.

And this doesn’t even show it in its spring glory! — Debra

Candy Suter November 7, 2011, 11:57 pm

Beautiful photos Debra! What a lovely place and two lovely ladies. I love all of her wonderful weathered pots.

Thanks, Candy. So you see, I’m not just into succulents! — Debra

Helen at Toronto Gardens November 8, 2011, 12:04 am

What an inspiring garden. What an inspiring story, too. Thank you for sharing both..

Yes, and Lani and her husband have no children…except of course those 1,200. — Debra

Christina Salwitz November 11, 2011, 7:45 pm

Dreamy photos as usual what an inspiring place!

I give all the credit for the dreaminess to Lani. ;+) Debra

Susi Torre-Bueno November 16, 2011, 11:44 am

Such evocative photos, Debra! How wonderful that Lani’s enchanting garden continues to get better with time. I have fond memories of enjoying it on garden tours and other events for the San Diego Horticultural Society. She was so generous to share it with all those students, too!

Hey, Suzi, thank you for stopping by. Yes, you and Lani go way back. And you both share a desire to instill a love of gardening in others. I applaud both of you, and appreciate and admire your years as president of the the San Diego Horticultural Society. — Debra

Bonnie Manion November 16, 2011, 5:32 pm

You have really captured Lani’s spirit through her garden. It truly is a magical place.

In fact, I think it was a magical day all around!

Yes, wasn’t it? A meeting of kindred spirits. And the wine and cheese at your vineyard that day was such a treat! I felt transported to Provence. — Debra

Cory Walsh November 16, 2011, 7:49 pm

Stunning! And I’ve gotten some wonderful ideas! Thanks for letting us trespass in your paradise!

Thanks, Cory. I do wonder where to get free-standing window panes for my garden. Lani must have an “in” with an architectural salvage place. ;+) Debra

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