The Southern California garden is an outdoor room for many of us. We live there almost as comfortably as we do indoors.
In a garden warmed by the sun and cooled by Pacific breezes, the sky becomes the ceiling, the shrubbery and fences the walls. The garden gate becomes the front door, and every garden should have one.
Gates have function, keeping the family's pets in and others out, for example. They can also make a grand entrance for the garden, a delightful portal that welcomes or suggests that a really spectacular garden lies behind.
Through the years, we've seen some marvelous garden gates, but we had no idea how many were out there.
When we asked readers to send us photos of their garden gates, we were overwhelmed by the response. We could have filled a book. Not only did we get hundreds of photos, but the gates were clever, well-crafted and uniformly handsome.
Selecting just a few to photograph for these pages was difficult, but we appointed these as representatives because they show how imaginative a garden gate can be.
Our gates are elegant entries, and behind many can be glimpsed beautiful, beckoning gardens. But some gates hide the garden.
You can't see Cheryl Crane's Palm Springs garden until you open the gate, so the cool sanctuary inside comes as a complete surprise.
Gates can also simply veil. You can see Ron Lawyer's palm garden through the metal palm trees he used as the uprights on his gate in San Clemente.
Some gates frame the garden behind, none more dramatically than Susan Jasin's curving gate and arbor in Solana Beach that, together, frame a circular view of the garden.
Treasures were turned into gates by many readers.
Old tools and gears found at her father's home were made into a sculptural gate by Frances Vandal of Hawthorne. "One day, I just got them all together and welded them up," she said, as a commemoration of her father.
Many gates were found at junkyards, antique shops and even in the neighbor's trash. James Nelson's gate came from an old Laguna Beach garden that was being renovated. He stripped, repaired and rehung it in his own garden.
Ann Wachtel of Los Angeles made a gate out of an old bedstead that had been in storage for years.
"I had lots of time to figure out how to use it," she said.
Some gates are clever and thrifty. Michael Blatt and Alice Fung made a wavy, grass-like fence and gate from "cheap lumber and a powerful hand-held jigsaw."
Doug Orr and David Rodriguez were just as thrifty in fashioning a grand gate. The arched entrance is made from broken pieces of the old driveway it replaced and the mission-style gate was made from lumber salvaged from the old fence. After much looking, they found the terra-cotta bell at a swap meet.
The architecture of the house often inspired the design of the garden's gate. There were gates that copied everything from Colonial- to Craftsman-era details.
The town of Pyrgi on the Greek island of Chios inspired the design of Joyce Farmer's Laguna Beach home. She carried the carved-in designs (called sgraffito) on the house onto the garden walls and made a gate to match.
Most of our gates were home-built. Greg Lavers of Rancho Santa Margarita sells Fords by day, but in his spare time he built an elegant wood gate and trellis using just power hand tools. There are no nails to stain the handsome redwood, because everything is rabbeted.
"It takes me forever to do anything, but I have to do it right," he said.
Eugene Erman was torn between being a metal sculptor or a surgeon. He finally decided on surgery but kept metal working as a hobby. He made a gate for his Encino home that also shows the family's travels on a map of the world.
Sometimes, close friends or family made the gates. Mary Stoddard's daughter, Jennifer, gave her a solid sheet of steel for Christmas (imagine her surprise!) but later made it into a fanciful gate.
Robert Jaffe and Margaret Berger of Altadena built rock walls around their house and "a friend (who is also a sculptor) offered to fill all the openings with gates."
And these are just a few of the wondrous garden gates of Southern California. As we said, we could fill a book.