From a practical perspective, a gate is a door--nothing more--to an opening through a wall, fence, or hedge. But gardeners and plant lovers know garden gates are guardians of opportunities for interplay between public and private space. Personality-packed gates can be inviting and intriguing or imposing and impenetrable. And at the entrance to a home and its grounds, gates make a strong first impression on visitors about the gardener and the garden they are to meet.
Whether designed for grand entries or quick exits, a good garden gate requires forethought. Will your new (or newly redesigned) gate be a high-profile, high-traffic main entrance gate or a private-entry side or back gate? Utility gates can be plain and practical but should be secure and solidly built.
An entry gate, though usually the most decorative, often must be able to withstand frequent use. Three heavy-duty hinges will help. And because a main gate makes strong impressions affecting garden mood, it's a bonus when the gate extends a welcome to garden guests without surrendering your sense of security. Should the gate provide privacy or protection for children or pets? Think solid wood and self-locking latches. Do you want security with open views? Consider wrought iron. Carefully weigh gate placement as well. Convenient access to your garden's thoroughfare is key, but gate openings also can be sited to visually frame especially attractive garden areas.
A well-conceived gate blends with the architectural style, exterior construction materials, and size of the home to which it offers entry. Here, a traditional white wooden picket gate and an arbor drenched with Lady Banks roses complement a clapboard Victorian-style home in Decatur, Georgia.
To do double-duty as an architectural and garden feature, a gate must stand out. In Kentfield, California, an arbor, cutouts, and revealing dip draw attention to a gate patterned after a Scandinavian stair rail.
A gate may serve no other purpose than artfully to announce you're about to enter a special place. In Union, Connecticut, a homemade gate with cedar posts and mountain laurel fretwork hides solid mortise-and-tenon construction.
Good gates needn't cost a king's ransom. Hollyhocks and love-in-a-mist lead strollers to this plain, weatherworn plank gate, flanked by dry-stacked limestone. Its open invitation into this lushly planted refuge is in keeping with the Portland, Oregon, garden's informal air.