A Short History Of The Garden Gnome

Last updated on October 23rd, 2023 at 09:05 pm

Often the object of jokes for its kitschy side, the garden gnome resists and remains a tradition in some gardens, often suburban, whose owners may even be dwarfists, that is to say collectors of garden gnomes. And who says collection, says rare object likely to be stolen…or “released”. Let’s see it !

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Origin of the garden gnome
In the collective imagination, the garden gnome strongly resembles the gnomes that surround Snow White: small size (20 to 70cm approximately) but windy, cap in point frequently red, white beard, rosy cheeks, jacket with belt, shoes, etc.

A Short History Of The Garden Gnome

Origin of the garden gnome
In the collective imagination, the garden gnome strongly resembles the gnomes that surround Snow White: small size (20 to 70cm approximately) but windy, cap in point often red, white beard, rosy cheeks, jacket with belt, shoes, etc.

The origin of these little gnomes would be in the 15th century, at the beginning of the Renaissance: they were then in the form of small statuettes carved in wood used as amulets to protect from danger the workers of the mines of Cappadocia in Turkey who wore a cap lined with straw to protect themselves from shocks, like the statuettes! They were then carved in marble in the 17th century, which allows us to still have some precious examples.

A century later, the Swiss and the Europeans started the almost industrial production of garden figures in baked clay (ceramics): the little goblins, which were not yet called “dwarfs”, were to spread to the surrounding countries and regions such as Alsace, the Rhineland and Austria.

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As for England, it will play an important role in the generalized craze for these kinds of korrigans since Sir Charles Isham, landowner and English gardener installed in Lamport Hall, brought back about twenty specimens in the middle of the XIXth century to decorate his garden! The fashion was then launched and to decorate one’s garden with one or more garden gnomes became the “must”.

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The garden gnome anchored in popular culture
As early as 1797, Goethe wrote “Hermann and Dorothea” where he evoked a magnificent garden that passers-by admired for its colorful gnomes.

Soon after, in 1812, the Brothers Grimm’s “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs” featured Princess Snow White being welcomed into the little house of the seven dwarfs who hid her and protected her from the evil queen. When the Disney studios adapted this story into a cartoon in 1937, it was an immediate success and will never be denied.

In 2001, the garden gnome became popular again with Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s film “Le fabuleux destin d’Amélie Poulain” in which a stolen garden gnome travels. The following year, the singer Renaud released a song entitled “Mon nain de jardin”.

As for children’s literature, it is impossible to list all the works that feature garden gnomes. Today, even television series have adopted them (Martin Mystery, Spooksville…), not to mention the 2018 theatrical release of “Sherlock Gnomes” by John Stevenson, among others.

The garden gnome today: still trendy?
Nowadays, clay garden gnomes have become rarer because they are too fragile: they are usually made of molded concrete, resin or plastic. Over time, their naive male face has evolved towards more frightening or eccentric expressions before returning today to very realistic creations, sometimes humorous and even feminine! Around the garden gnomes, the most nanomaniacs won’t hesitate to install rabbits, pink flamingos, miniature windmills, etc. Everyone will appreciate it!

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However, collectors are always on the lookout for the rarest pieces: for example, the only surviving piece of Sir Charles Isham’s garden gnome collection, Lampy, is estimated to be worth more than one million euros!

Even better, a Garden Gnome Liberation Front (GGLF) exists, created in 1996, whose mission is to “give freedom” to garden gnomes. Thus, this “secret organization” takes the garden gnomes adorning the gardens of private individuals to deposit them in public spaces such as forests, where the gnomes are supposed to regain their freedom, like the stolen garden gnome who travels in “Amélie Poulain”. A prank that has met with followers and still spread in many European and American countries until the early 2010s!

Author

  • James Jones

    Meet James Jones, a passionate gardening writer whose words bloom with the wisdom of an experienced horticulturist. With a deep-rooted love for all things green, James has dedicated his life to sharing the art and science of gardening with the world. James's words have found their way into countless publications, and his gardening insights have inspired a new generation of green thumbs. His commitment to sustainability and environmental stewardship shines through in every article he crafts.

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