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.
Gates of solid structure--and in place long enough to become an indispensable part of the garden they protect--are among the most appealing. In Northern California, an Asian-influenced gate's roofed arbor is embraced by variegated English ivy.
Antique lovers know "new and improved" is not always better. This airy and inviting-but-secure 19th-century French elevator gate was salvaged from an old hotel and seamlessly worked into an Atlanta fence.
Side gates can be show-stoppers, too. Pickerel leaves and hollyhocks adorn a whimsical, one-of-a-kind iron gate. The gate, a private entrance to a backyard garden in Decatur, Georgia, delights the eyes and restrains the family dog as well.
Wrought iron, a hallmark of Mediterranean design, is perfectly at home with stucco and brick in this Moor-influenced entryway in Coronado, California. Wrought-iron gates are characteristically long-lived and low-maintenance.
An ivied archway frames this solid side gate, which was crafted of redwood and grape stakes and then sandblasted for a well-worn, weathered look. The gate welcomes visitors to a home in Menlo Park, California.
An arch, arbor, or small roof crowning a gate can transform a utilitarian assembly of planks into an eye-catching garden feature. This appealingly sheltered entry in Portland, Oregon, was constructed with inexpensive plywood and white pine lumber stained to match the fence.
To plant lovers, nothing is quite as forlorn as a gate without a garden of burgeoning plants. Plants soften a gate's harsh lines and surround its flat, rigid surfaces with rich textural contrast and movement. Use plants to reflect the gate and garden's personality. Consider exotic bamboo, as in this California landscape, romantic roses, formal boxwood, or vintage sweet peas.