They’re kind of cute and cuddly-looking. Sort of strange and mysterious. And if you look at them just right when they’re cast in just-so lighting, they can even appear to be bit creepy-looking.
We’re talking about garden gnomes, of course.
Do you have some scattered about your landscape? Many homeowners do. Some homeowners just have one lonely gnome on lawn-patrol duty. Others have a veritable congregation of gnomes maintaining an ever-present, unwavering vigilance over their property.
But how much do you know about gnomes? Haven’t you wondered how the practice of planting gnomes in gardens came about?
If so, just keep reading…
Garden gnomes became popular as lawn art in the 1930s-1940s. But they had their beginning hundreds of years earlier. In fact, it’s thought that the word ‘gnome’ is derived from the Swiss word ‘genomos,’ which means earth dweller.
Gnomes were integral characters in many of the most popular fairy tales, fulfilling many important roles such as guarding treasure. Not surprisingly, gnomes were considered to be great gardeners.
And that lead to their greatest role.
Gnomes in the Garden
The first garden gnome was produced in Germany in the mid-1800s. The very first one was produced by Phillip Griebel . His descendents are still producing garden gnomes in Germany.
The popularity of garden gnomes spread from Germany to Britain, and eventually to the United States. But they remain most popular in Germany. It’s estimated that some 25 million gnomes populate the lawns and gardens of Germany.
In the old days, many people actually believed that gnomes could protect their gardens and crops from pestilence, plague, and theft. So gnomes were thought to be good luck charms.
These days, of course, gnomes are just thought to be charming (or not).
In recent years there’s been a virtual crime wave of gnome-napping. That’s when some mischievous scoundrel plucks a helpless garden gnome from his comfy garden home and carries him away.
Sometimes the poor gnome disappears for good, never to be seen again. But in some cases of gnome-napping, the hapless gnome is subjected to a whirlwind trip.
Murphy the gnome, for example, was gnome-napped from his peaceful garden in Gloucester, England. From there he was spirited away on a jaunt through 11 countries. The whole thing was documented with a photo log, showing Murphy bravely maintaining a stiff upper lip at each stop of the impromptu journey.
The story ended well for Murphy, though. He was returned to his Gloucester garden home after seven months, apparently none the worse for wear.
While you or I might think a garden gnome to be sort of a cute, harmless item of décor, not everyone is so tolerant. In some circles, in fact, garden gnomes – and presumably the people that display them – are held in rather low esteem.
For more than a century, the Royal Horticulture Society of Britain (sniff! sniff!) has even banned the use of garden gnomes in the Chelsea Flower Show – widely considered to be the most prestigious garden show in the world. They felt that garden gnomes – and for that matter, all “brightly colored creatures” – simply didn’t belong.
In protest of such royal snobbery, hundreds of garden gnomes have picketed the outer gates of the event in recent years.
Do You Gnome?
Is there a gnome standing guard in your lawn or landscape? If so, keep a vigilant eye out; you don’t want gnome-nappers to make off with your gnome. And certainly don’t let the Royal Horticulture Society of Britain know about your gnome.
Or…on second thought, maybe you should let the RHS know about your gnome. Maybe even send them a photo – just for the fun of it. In fact, you could send them a photo of you posing with your gnome. Maybe while drinking a cup of tea. And holding the teacup without your pinky finger properly poised.
That would sent the RHS into a right proper tizzy!