National Post

Through these gates lies paradise
Joanne Hatherly
CanWest News Service

If good fences make good neighbours, what do gates make?

A good welcome, says Dita von Aesch, woodcrafting artisan and gate maker.

"Gates are passageways," says Ms. von Aesch. "They prepare the visitor to leave the public world of the street and enter the private paradise of the garden. They're an invitation to step into another world."

Ms. von Aesch has spent some time thinking about gates. She started her adult life in art school but spent much of the ensuing years as a sous-chef, where she met partner Frances Sidhe, who at that time worked as a sommelier.

Ms. von Aesch's hunger for artistic expression never left her, so she hung up her spatula to enroll in a fine-furniture-making course. Together with Ms. Sidhe, she launched Victoria Wood Studio, a gate-and-passageway carpentry business.

Ms. von Aesch shows what an artful passageway can do by installing a few in her own backyard, a 4,000-square-foot property in Victoria.

Where once a flat grass lot surrounded the couple's 118-year-old heritage home, artisan gates open to pebble and brick pathways that lead around the house to a series of secret gardens.

It all begins at the backyard gate, a humble name for the passageway that Ms. von Aesch erected as a showpiece for her craft.

The covered structure shows how even an old house can profit from a new idea. The new gate starts where the old yellow picket fence leaves off with West Coast cedar pickets, bevelled and contoured to match the older fence.

The pickets run up to a covered gate, where Ms. von Aesch wed architectural aesthetics from the house --gabled roof and knee braces -- to a pair of gates fashioned in simple West Coast lines.

The style is new, but the detailed craftsmanship is Old World, with mortise-and-tenon joinery, precision trim work and bamboo pins to join the finer bones of the gate.

The gates open to a brick pathway, off which a second secret-garden gate is patterned in a graphic detail inspired by the works of Dutch artist Piet Mondrian.

A push through this gate reveals a large stone pond surrounded by young boxwoods, lavender and day lilies. A stone-lined rill feeds the pond.

It's more than just a tranquil vignette -- the sound of water falling into the stone pond reduces street noises to a whisper.

Ms. von Aesch and Ms. Sidhe found weathered red brick at a salvage yard for the pathway, which continues past the stone-pond garden and steps up to an outdoor dining area sheltered beneath an arbour. A turn to the left leads to a footbridge over the upper pond that goes to the garden shed.

Past the outdoor dining room, another gate takes a step down into a pebbled path

cut in squared angles and bordered by more day lilies, hydrangeas and gnarled old trees. The garden path ends at the house's main entrance. Aside from the boulevard, there's nary a blade of grass for the couple to mow.

The extensive restoration of the 1,100-sq.-ft. Queen Anne-style house earned former owners Jim and Cathie Stiven a Hallmark Heritage Award in 1981.

Ms. Sidhe says the restoration included the yellow picket fence that borders the property. "It's an exact replica of the original fence," says Ms. Sidhe. "It's amazing in its detail."

See it and other gates online at

  2007 CanWest Interactive, a division of CanWest MediaWorks Publications Inc.
All rights reserved.