Flamingo Crossing

better gnomes and gardens

Garden gnomes -- diligent garden workers

Garden gnomes -- diligent garden workers
Sometimes it can be difficult to tell if you have gnomes in your garden. They are only a few inches tall and skilled at hiding when they don't want to be spotted despite being bearded and wearing a conical red hat. Since they prefer to stay out of sight, it is easy enough for them to hide behind a tree stump or cover up with some leaves or flowers before they are discovered.

Everyone has garden gnomes though, whether they know it or not. The question is, how many gnomes live in your garden? A couple? A few? Dozens? Too many to count? The best to have an accurate count is to lure them out into the open.

History of garden gnomes

The earliest documented garden gnomes were made in the mid-1800s. August Heissner and Phillip Griebel, inhabitants of the town of Gräfenroda in Thuringia, Germany (known for its ceramics) produced the first gnomes. These early gnomes were made of terracotta based based on local myths of gnomes being willing to help in the garden at night.

Traditional gnomes are made from terracotta clay slurry poured into molds. The gnome is removed from the mold, allowed to dry, and then fired in a kiln until it is hard. Once cooled, the gnome is painted and sent off to work in someone's garden.

The garden gnome craze quickly spread across Germany. Gnomes arrived in England in 1847 when Sir Charles Isham imported 21 terracotta gnomes from Germany for his garden. One survives to this day, and resides at Lamport Hall in Northamptonshire. Lampy the gnome is the oldest garden gnome in the world, and is insured for £1 million.

Shortages of resources during WWII caused the decline of gnome popularity. Many producers went out of business, but Griebel's descendants still make them in the traditional fashion. They are the last of the German producers. Heissner gnomes are rare these days, and considered collectors' items by those fortunate enough to adopt one.

Note: Modern 'off-brand' gnomes are made from cast-resin rather than terracotta.

Types of garden gnomes

A gnome is not a jack of all trades when it comes to garden work. There are several types of gnome one is likely to encounter on the lawn.

Gnomes around the world

Roaming gnomes and gnome liberation

Gnomes are unfortunately the frequent target of pranks. Well-intentioned passers-by perceive gnomes to be held captive to perform forced unpaid garden labour. This results in gnome kidnappings (termed "gnome liberation"), after which they are released back into the wild. These "gnome liberators" are dedicated to promoting gnome welfare.

On some rare occasions, gnome kidnappers take gnomes on trips, sending the owner photos of the gnome in foreign parts. The most famous of these roaming gnomes is the Travelocity gnome.

International Gnome Day is 21 June!

Why you need a garden gnome

Further reading

How to Survive a Garden Gnome Attack How to Survive a Garden Gnome Attack: Defend Yourself When the Lawn Warriors Strike (And They Will) by Chuck Sambuchino (Ten Speed Press, 2010): This is an excellent guide to foiling garden gnome attacks on the unsuspecting. A bit tongue-in-cheek in its serious tone, but if you like lawn art, you will like this. My one quibble is the continual misspelling of a horde of gnomes as a "hoard".

This book can be difficult to find since it is out of print. Some great places to buy used books online include:

My garden gnome collection

  zen gnome

Zen gnome with mushroom

  A gnome in hiding

A gnome in hiding

  gnome on strike

Gnome on strike

  Stealth gnome

Stealth gnome behind the lawn flamingos

  Zombie gnomes

Zombie gnomes devouring a downed flamingo

  Blending in with terracotta pot

Gnome attempting to blend in with a terracotta pot


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