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When you create a rectangle or text frame in Writer, you have two choices. You can use the draw toolbar to create a drawinglayer rectangle, and you can also insert a text frame. The drawinglayer shapes are shared between the LibreOffice applications, and already supported having not only a bitmap or a color but a gradient or a hatch as a background. The benefit of Writer text frames is that they can contain anything a normal Writer document can — think of columns, tables, etc. These features are not supported by drawinglayer rectangles.
So till now you had to decide what to pick, but it wasn’t possible to have both. LibreOffice 4.1 makes this situation better. Now it’s possible to have gradient backgrounds in Writer text frames as well:
The nice thing is that this feature was already supported by ODF, just not by Writer, so no such paperwork was needed this time. Also the OOXML filters are updated. As I already stated in this comment, the binary DOC and RTF filters are not yet touched regarding this feature — though I already looked into the RTF one, and have some idea what rework is needed there first.