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Gateways: Sunset readers open up about their garden gates.

A good garden gate makes you want to sneak a peek at the landscape beyond.. But a great garden gate goes further. It makes you want to meet the people responsible for its design. That was our conclusion after we asked readers to tell us about their one-of-a-kind garden gates, and the snapshots came pouring in. Regional character, handsome design, wit and whimsy--those things we'd expected. But we weren't prepared for the wonderful stories that came along with these gates. A few of them follow; perhaps they'll inspire you to look at gates in a fresh way as you choose one for your own garden.


Aptos, California * Cristie Thomas and Scott Lindberg, who design and fabricate arbors, gates, and other landscape ornaments under the name :L:M:N:O: Arts, describe their professional style as "eclectic and graceful." So what is the couple doing with this delightfully silly fence in their own backyard? Having a good laugh, says Thomas. "We were harvesting Walla Walla onions--we've been growing them for at least a decade--and I was suddenly struck by how beautiful they were," she says. "The wispy little roots, the sensuous bulbs, the floppy tops." So, on a whim, Thomas took several onions to the studio, made templates from them, and created this fanciful steel gate. The onion tops are made from flat bar, the roots are old welding rod bent to shape, and the gate frame is solid square rod. :L:M:N:O: Arts (831/728-3998 or


Centennial, Colorado * "Garden projects keep me off the psychiatrist's couch," says dentist Kent Sellers. With the pressure of staying on schedule all day long, Sellers craves slower-paced, contemplative tasks on his days off. Designing and building Japanese-inspired gates for his tea garden, for instance. This gate, one of three in his garden, is made of Russian olive branches and twigs from trees cut down along Interstate 25 in Denver when sound-barrier walls went in. "I'd been looking for wood with lots of joints and curves to inspire me," he says. "When I pulled over and saw these, I knew they were perfect." Sellers doesn't re-create any particular Japanese style. Instead, he lets the wood dictate the design. Because each junction is screwed in by hand, the gates are labor-intensive. Not that Sellers minds. Sometimes, time is not an issue.


Ross, California * The spirit of Muriel Waltz still haunts the land that Juliet and Ashford Wood live on. And that suits Juliet just fine. "Muriel has captured us completely," she says. From the 1 940s through the '60s Waltz was a famous fuchsia hybridizer who had a commercial nursery on the Woods' property. Juliet honors that garden. She's retained most of the plants, built a stone wall around the perimeter, and put in a gate--exactly in the spot Waltz had imagined, say Muriel's surviving friends. Muriel, we think, would have loved it. The gate is a tree of life design made from hand-forged steel and hand-tinted ceramic tiles, a trademark combination of Lake County gate designer-maker Brian Kennedy. The blooms, appropriately enough, are fuchsia buds. The Freedom of Craft by Brian Kennedy, Lake County, California (707/928-5124 or


Olympia, Washington * The gate Walter Penwarden made for his home in South Pasadena was a backdrop in family portraits for decades. Then it disappeared from photo shoots for a long time. Now, thanks to one of Penwarden's granddaughters, Luan Laws, the gate's back. Here's what happened: Penwarden, a professional ironworker, built the gate for his family sometime in the 1920s or '30s. When the Penwardens sold their home in the '70s, daughter Laura removed the gate but found she had no place to use it at her home in Huntington Beach. So it languished in storage for decades. Later, Laura's daughter DeAnn tried it out at her home in Utah, but it didn't work there, either. Then Laura's other daughter, Luan, brought it to her garden in Olympia, where, to the family's great relief, it looks perfectly at home. Once again, it provides a backdrop for family photos.


Cambria, California * Jeanette Wolff is an artist. Windows are a recurring motif in her paintings, and window frames hang throughout her garden. She also has a junk box full of intriguing objects waiting to be incorporated into new creations. Knowing these things, relatives and friends feed her collection. And that brings us to her gate. The starting point was a tiny window that her brother Richard salvaged from a demolished barracks at Fort Ord and gave to her. "It seemed magical," says Wolff. "So small, square, and 'Hobbity.'" She sketched out a design that incorporated the window, and her husband, Peter, built the gate, using redwood from an old deck. Then, Jeanette embellished it. The faux hinges and crown are from an old kitchen table, the aged handle from her junk box, and the tiny wolf knocker, a present from a friend. Assembled in her inimitable style, say the artists' admirers, the gate cries "Wolff."


Imagining your gate

Tell a story

Your gate can convey something about you--that you have a good sense of humor, for example, or that you love color or onions or wood, or that you have a fondness for old materials. While a gate may be a significant artistic element in its own right, it can also echo the design and color of your house, or an element of your garden such as a leaf, vine, blossom, or branch. To find a style that appeals to you, look for inspiration in books and magazines, and check out gates around your neighborhood.

Select appropriate hardware

Decide whether you want your gate to swing in, out, or both, and whether you'll need a lock. Use sturdy hinges and latches--the sturdier the better--to support the gate's weight and frequency of use. If you're not sure which hardware is most suitable to your gate's design, consult a professional gate builder or someone at your local hardware store.

Keep the gate in scale with its surroundings

If you have a small house and yard, don't choose a huge gate. Most garden gates measure about 36 inches across--wide enough for a wheelbarrow to pass through. The height will depend on how prominent you want it to be: An entry gate might be taller or shorter than the fence it intersects; a side gate could be the same height as the fence.

Julie Chal
COPYRIGHT 2002 Sunset Publishing Corp.
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Copyright 2002 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Author:Cohoon, Sharon
Date:Nov 1, 2002
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