Getting in the swing of garden gateways Design: The case is open-and-shut: The world is out and your privacy is in.

March 29, 1998|By Marty Ross | Marty Ross,Universal Press Syndicate

It is a fortunate gardener who has a garden gate, swinging open into a private haven and locking out the workaday world with the satisfying click of a heavy latch.

"When you enter a gate, you are mentally carried through into something else. It changes your thought process," says Hugh Dargan, a landscape architect whose designs often include plans for garden gates.

"A gate is a very important beginning into mentally entering another space," he says.

In Colonial times, fences were built to keep animals out of the garden and to confine livestock to their yards. Enclosures of wood, stone or brick separated domestic landscapes from the wilderness around them. Gates were the way through to the promise and challenge of the frontier, and the way back to civilization. When they banged shut, they locked out the unknown and the undesirable. Fences and gates are no longer so essential, but their psychological effects are still much the same.

"A gate gives you a chance to pause between where you are and where you want to go," Dargan says.

Garden gates need not be elaborate to be effective. In a sense, an opening in a hedge is a gate. Or sink a pair of posts on both sides of the front walk and you've established a threshold, a subtle mark in the landscape that defines the boundary between public and private space. Paint the posts blue, plant flowers at their feet or make an arch across the top and let roses clamber up. Then you've introduced some clues to the character of the landscape inside: The gateway becomes enticing.

The design of the gate, whether made of wood or iron, should match its setting. Magnificent iron gates with gilded spikes may be suitable for large estates of sweeping lawns and drives, but something less grand would be more appropriate for a cottage garden. If your house is made of brick or stone, gateposts of the same material emphasize the relationship between the house and the garden. An iron gate in a wooden fence is likely to look a little out of place.

The gate should also express the character of the garden, Dargan says. "If it were a wonderful, plain picket gate with roses around it, I would think it would be a very traditional garden behind it, with all the expected elements," he says. "If you see a contemporary gate, with no sense of tradition, I would expect to be wonderfully surprised with new ideas and unusual elements in the garden."

Gates can themselves be ornamental. A decorative iron grille on a tall wooden gate invites people to peep through into the garden. A bell is a nice touch, too, to let you know when a visitor is coming through. A handsome plaque, a nicely lettered welcome sign or even small pots of flowers can be hung on a gate. Dargan occasionally decorates the inside of a wooden gate with a mirror, like a window, but reflecting the garden within.

Fancy hinges or a hand-forged latch indicate the gardener's style and standards. "A good latch is as important as a good doorknob on the front door," Dargan says. "It just says 'stability' and 'quality.'"

Any gate you expect to use frequently should be easy to open and and close, and it should swing wide enough to admit a wheelbarrow or lawn mower.

If the gate needs to be wide enough for cars, Dargan suggests making a pair of gates. "That way you still have a sense of human scale," he says.

The gate should open into the garden, rather than out, Dargan says, so it leads one in. A garden bench just inside the gate, with a view over the garden, is a very welcoming gesture.

"A gate is important when you're entering," Dargan says, "but when it is the exit point, it also gives you a conclusion. You walk out, close that gate behind you, and you have left that whole experience."


Look for garden gates at garden shops, flea markets, shops specializing in garden antiques or in the basement or back lot of antiques stores. Building salvage stores sometimes have good old gates, too.

New wooden gates, and the hardware to mount them, can be bought at builder's supply stores.

* Gardener's Supply Co., 128 Intervale Road, Burlington, Vt. 05401, carries galvanized sap-bucket planters ($8.95) that can be mounted on gates or gateposts. Phone 800-955-3370. The catalog is free.

* Smith & Hawken, 1340 Smith Ave., in Baltimore, sells wrought-iron garden gates (48 inches tall and 36 inches wide) in three styles for $139 each, including hardware. Cedar gate posts painted white cost $115 a pair. Phone 800-776-3336; Internet, or; catalog is free.

* Hugh Dargan Associates, 2961 Hardman Court, Atlanta, Ga. 30305. Phone: 404-231-3889.

Pub Date: 3/29/98

Baltimore Sun Articles
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.