Guide to Garden Gnomes

Garden gnomes are popular lawn ornament figurines of small humanoid creatures which are known as gnomes. These figurines traditionally depict male dwarfs wearing red pointy hats and they usually stand between one and two feet tall. But there are also miniature gnomes which only stand a few inches in height. Garden gnomes originated as a decoration for wealthy Europeans and they are now widespread in gardens and lawns throughout the western world and among all social classes.

But have you ever thought about when and why garden gnomes became popular? And what is a gnome anyway? If you’re also curious, then let us know more about garden gnomes.

What is a Gnome?

Garden gnomes are based on the legendary “Gnomes” which are historically described as small stout beings who live in nature, particularly underground. For European magicians, gnomes are the most common and important elemental spirits of the Earth element. They are said to wear conical hats and are able to move through the earth itself as easy as how we, humans do. And if they are caught out in the daylight, it was believed that the rays of the sun will turn them into stone.

Gnomes were also believed to have magical powers to protect or punish people and even to reward them with happiness. They were also said to be guardians of secret underground treasures such as gold.

The name “gnome” came from the Latin word “gnomus” which is thought to come from the Greek word “gnosis”, meaning “knowledge”. However, it is most likely rooted in the word “genomos” meaning, “earth dweller”.

Gnomes are also known by different names throughout different parts of Europe. In Switzerland and France, they are called “barbergazi”. In Prussia, they are called “kaukis”, and in Ireland, they are called “clurichauns” and “leprechauns”.

There are also other parts of the world that have traditions about very similar creatures. Examples are Japanese magical beings such as “bakemono”, “yokai”, and “tengu”. And when it comes to European myths and fairy tales, gnomes are often confused with dwarves, elves, and even goblins.

History of Garden Gnomes

The garden gnomes we see today were first created by Phillip Griebel in the mid-1800s. He was a sculptor of terracotta animals in Thuringia, Germany, in the town of Graefenroda. Legends about gnomes were very popular in Germany and the gnome statues were made by Griebel for people to enjoy the myths and stories better.

The first garden gnomes were molded from terracotta clay. Then, they were dried, fired in a kiln, and painted. They became more popular when several companies began producing them. However, during World War II, the gnome production in Germany dropped back. In the present time, most of the garden gnome manufacturers are located in Poland and China. But up until today, the descendants of Philip still continue to produce gnomes in Germany and they are the last manufacturer carrying on the tradition there.

Garden gnomes became popular after their creation. Sir Charles Isham, after his travels from Germany in 1847, brought twenty-one terracotta gnomes back to his home in the United Kingdom. But only one among the twenty-one gnomes survived until today. It is the centenarian-plus gnome named “Lampy” that is still on display and it is insured for one million pounds.

With their growing reputation in Germany, garden gnomes soon became popular in England and France and today, they have become a familiar sight around the world.

Types of Garden Gnomes

Garden gnomes are usually male, bearded, wear red Phrygian caps, and often have pipes. Most of them are shown pursuing pastimes like fishing and napping.

In the United Kingdom, gnomes have become controversial in serious gardening circles and they have been banned from the prestigious Chelsea Flower Show. But the ban was lifted in 2013 to mark the show’s centenary. With the banning or garden gnomes, gnome enthusiasts accused the organizers of snobbery, because garden gnomes are popular in the gardens of the working class and suburban households.

In the present time, there are many different variations of garden gnomes. There are even some humorous ones such as those lighthearted bikers or barbecuing gnome, and even dark ones like those stabbed in the back or those wearing an executioner’s hood.

Garden Gnomes in Popular Culture

Aside from being cute and colorful garden ornaments, gnomes are also included in movies. One of those is the 2001 French movie titled “Amelie” which story revolves around a garden gnome. Another one is the 2011 British-American CGI film titled “Gnomeo and Juliet” which features garden gnomes as the characters. It also had a sequel in 2018 called Sherlock Gnomes.

Gnomes are also lovable animated little characters in Harry Potter. Xenophilius Lovegood said that when a garden is infested by these creatures, it is sort of a blessing. His daughter was bitten by a gnome and he claimed that their saliva had many unusual beneficial properties like the ability to increase creativity. However, gnomes are deemed pests by the wizarding community. This is the reason why the Weasleys had to regularly de-gnome the garden by throwing them over the hedge. But the gnomes always sneaked back in because Arthur Weasley was kind to them and thought they were funny.

Garden gnomes are also featured in a 2005 episode of King of the Hill titled “Yard, She Blows!” The episode revolves around Bobby breaking Peggy’s newly acquired garden gnome.

Aside from movies and TV shows, garden gnomes were also featured in Travelocity’s Roaming Gnome advertising campaign that was launched on January 2004. It featured a 2-foot tall garden gnome with a long white beard, a red conical hat, and a blue coat.

The 2010 video game called Fable III also includes a side mission of collecting garden gnomes which gives magical properties. The goal of the player character is to collect garden gnomes throughout the world.  

In the present time, gnomes are still being featured in a wide variety of literature and other media. So, the next time you see a garden gnome, you’ll be able to tell a lot of things about them from who created them, how they are made, and even legends about them.