A stone wall with a circular opening in a garden
(Image credit: plej92)

One of the most recognized elements in Chinese architecture and landscaping is the moon gate, or yuemen. A garden moon gate frames and emphasizes certain pieces of the landscape. It is the formal entry to the oriental garden and offers a welcome and good fortune to those who pass through the gate. The mimicry of this art form may come in the form of a wood moon gate, stone moon gate, or many other materials such as brick. The round entry provides a keyhole to the cultivated garden, outlining the beauty and splendor of the setting.

In Chinese landscape tradition, moon gates for gardens were often featured. These were in very formal, cultivated sites, and often were featured in the yards of noble persons. Chinese artistry features symbols which is reflected in the inclusion of a moon gate. The gate is a symbol of birth and renewal, and also acts as a formal invitation to enter the area. Traditional moon gates were often slightly raised, requiring visitors to step over the threshold and reinforcing the privilege of entering a private space.

A Simple DIY Moon Gate Arbor

Some moon gate construction can be costly and difficult to attain for the home DIYer. The aspect brings a Zen influence to the garden space and provides a quiet reflective point. So, if you want to construct your own moon gate, consider using an arbor. This can be purchased or made. A very easy method is to use slender willow boughs.

Weave these together into the arch. This is very popular for weddings where the couple exchanges vows. Another material that is inexpensive and easy to work with is PVC. These plumbing pipes can be forced into an arch form and anchored at each end. Cover up the PVC by training vines around the material. If you want a moon gate without any inorganic material, gradually widen a hole in an existing hedge. Do this gradually to avoid damaging the plants. Just as with pruning, do not take more than 1/3 off the plant at one time.

Building a Stone Moon Gate

This project will take a bit of masonry know how, but it is achievable. Select your material. This could be easy to acquire brick, large rocks, or stones. Brick is very easy to work with but will need some mortar between each piece to reinforce the structure. For a gate built from stone, making a plywood form is essential for early support. The form can be whatever size you wish. Use 2 by 4s as your base (legs) material and secure them to the ground. Top this with another 2 x 4. Slowly bend the plywood to form the top arch and screw it into the upper 2 x 4. Once this form is finished, decorate it with the stones, rocks, or other material by mortaring them around the form. This must be done with care, as an unstable setting could fall.

Moon Gate Ideas

There is a myriad of materials for moon gates. Many of these should use a professional for installation to ensure stability. An arch made of granite blocks offers not only oriental flavor but adds a twist of English classicism. Ceramic tile adhered to a form will produce a modern effect. Metal allowed to oxidize has a rustic feel that compliments the greenery it highlights. A wooden structure should be made of cedar or pressure treated wood to withstand the elements. Stacking cut wood rounds around a slender metal frame has country charm. There are many more design options and materials with which to work that will produce a gate that reflects the gardener's individual personality.

Bonnie L. Grant

Bonnie Grant is a professional landscaper with a Certification in Urban Gardening. She has been gardening and writing for 15 years. A former professional chef, she has a passion for edible landscaping.